Billy Strings and his band returned to Cincinnati, OH’s Andrew J. Brady Music Center on Saturday for the third time in as many nights for a tour-closing performance that showcased a bit of all the elements that have made them the hottest ticket in bluegrass by a wide margin. Throughout the well-balanced show, bassist Royal Masat, mandolin maven Jarrod Walker, banjo picker Billy Failing, and fiddler Alex Hargreaves sounded fully integrated into the improvisational activities, which wandered early and often into the sort of psychedelic haze that has made this outfit explode in popularity in jam band circles. Fans were also treated to both a brand new Billy Strings original and a first-time-played cover of an Alice In Chains gem.
Starting the show all energy and smiles, Billy Strings and company charged through a spot-on “On The Line” before neatly flowing into “Train 45”, and then “Ruby” without pause. The “Doin’ Things Right” that followed started slow but churned to an ominous boil as it went with thrilling detours into Led Zeppelin classic “Moby Dick”, the first of many jaw-dropping moments of the night. After a sparkling hat tip to John Hartford by way of “I’m Still Here”, Failing took over vocal duties on one of his original tunes, “So Many Miles”, an apt selection for the final night of a busy tour.
Billy Strings – “On The Line” (Traditional) > “Train 45” > “Ruby” (Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolk) [Pro-Shot] – 3/18/23
The tour’s impending conclusion seemed to have stirred some warm and fuzzy memories for Billy Strings, who introduced the next song, “Stone Walls And Steel Bars”, with tales of childhood campfire picking sessions with his dad at Barkus Park back in Michigan.
Related: Billy Strings Unleashes Fretboard Firestorm At Cinci Run Opener [Videos]
A sterling cover of The Infamous Stringdusters track “No More To Leave You Behind“ reminded Strings to shout-out ‘Dusters members Andy Hall and Chis Pandolfi’s side project, The Bluegrass Generals, and their upcoming two-night stand at Denver’s Cervantes’ on April 7th and 8th featuring Royal Masat on bass (get info and tickets here).
Billy’s mom, who had been in attendance all weekend, got a dutiful shout-out from her boy after a zippy “Nothing’s Working”. From there, the set wound to a close with a spacious “Meet Me At The Creek” featuring some satisfying call-and-response between the guitar and the banjo and a lip-of-the-stage fretboard free-for-all courtesy of Mr. Strings.
Surely exhausted after sprinting to the finish, the musicians excused themselves to give the fans a chance to scoop up melted faces, refill drinks, and get a head start on fawning conversations about how this had to be one of Billy’s best shows ever.
“Y’all wanna hear a new one?” Strings asked when the band returned to the stage. The new selection, “Cabin Song”, came across as well-polished despite Billy claiming he had just “showed it to the boys backstage.” The set flowed next through an impressive trio of “Taking Water”, “Ice Bridges”, and “Watch It Fall”. After another nod to a bluegrass icon, this time Bill Monroe via “Will You Be Loving Another Man”, Billy led the way into a pairing of “Living Like An Animal” and “Long Forgotten Dream”.
Billy Strings – “Cabin Song” (Debut) – 3/18/23
[Video: Doug Heck]
As if sensing the crowd’s need to catch its breath, the tempo mercifully slowed to meet the contemplative intro to the Alice In Chains Jar of Flies classic, “Nutshell”, perhaps best known for the version the band played on MTV Unplugged in 1996. This smashing cover debut benefited from some mournful and expressive work from Hargreaves before building up steam and powering into a “Wargasm” dance party.
Billy Strings – “Nutshell” (Alice In Chains) > “Wargasm” – 3/18/23
Strings took a couple minutes to give thoughtful, loving introductions to each member of the band, including a crowd-pleasing story about being high on acid and meeting Masat at a Phish show. Following a lightning-quick “Libby Phillips Rag”, a sentimental Strings opened up about his own heartbreaks, trials, and tribulations, thanking the fans for saving his life with unfettered gratitude—”I appreciate the hell out of each and every one of you!”—and closing out the second set with a pristine “Turmoil & Tinfoil”. An encore rendition of Jimmy Martin‘s “Tennessee” finally brought the show, and this landmark tour, to a close.
No matter how high he climbs, Billy Strings seems to continue growing in strength, speed, heart, and soul with each passing year, each passing tour. Fans, don’t forget to remind yourself that you’re witnessing something historic out here on Billy tour. This is a once-in-a-generation ascent we’ve been watching take place across the country (and beyond) for years, and it only promises to get more interesting from here.
Below, check out full setlist from the Saturday, March 18th Billy Strings show in Cincinnati. For a full list of upcoming Billy Strings shows, head here.
Setlist [via BillyBase]: Billy Strings | Andrew J. Brady Music Center | Cincinnati, OH | 3/18/23
Set One: On The Line (Traditional) > Train 45  > Ruby (Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolk), Doin’ Things Right , I’m Still Here  (John Hartford), So Many Miles  , Stone Walls & Steel Bars , No More To Leave You Behind (Infamous Stringdusters), Nothing’s Working, John Deere Tractor  (Larry Sparks), Met Me At The Creek 
Set Two: Cabin Song , Taking Water > Ice Bridges, Watch It Fall, Will You Be Loving Another Man? (Bill Monroe), Living Like An Animal > Like A Long Forgotten Dream, Nutshell  (Alice In Chains) > Wargasm, In The Morning Light, Libby Phillips Rag, Turmoil & Tinfoil
Encore: Tennessee  (Jimmy Martin)
 “Reuben’s Train” (Traditional) tease
 Moby Dick teases
 “Last Train To Clarksville” Tease, The Monkees
 Billy Failing vocals
 Billy recalled learning this around the age of 7, playing with his father, Terry Barber and Brad Lasco in Barkus Campground along the Stoney Creek
 Dedicated to Billy’s Mom
 “Fork In The Road” tease (Infamous Stringdusters)
 New Song
 First Time Played Alice In Chains cover