One of the most exciting things about watching the ascension of a young, new artist is the tenacity that spawns from the combination of youth and unbridled creativity. In the live music scene today, there are few guitarists as tenacious as Billy Strings and Daniel Donato, and on Sunday night in Vermont, these two six-string tour de forces finally came together for the sit-in fans have waited years for.

It happened at the Double E Performance Center in Essex Junction, a three-mile drive from the Midway Lawn at Champlain Valley Expo where Billy Strings performed with his solo band just hours before. Crashing his own after-party, Strings joined Donato’s Cosmic Country backing band for an extended sit-in—following the lead of Dopapod guitarist and Burlington resident Rob Compa who made a surprise appearance the night prior.

Rather than diving into the Grateful Dead catalog (something Billy has explicitly avoided in recent months) or even nodding to local heroes Phish, the bolstered band took on an array of traditional American songs and even a Donato original. Ditching his trusty acoustic guitar and plugging in with an electric, Billy joined the band for the American pop standard “Alabama Jubilee”. Billy’s style of bluegrass playing lent itself perfectly to Donato’s chicken pickin’ format as they honored late country icon Waylon Jennings with “Ain’t Living Long Like This”. A visitor in the house of Donato, Strings obliged his host as they performed a pair of Daniel originals with “Luck of the Draw” seguing into “Sugar Leg Rag” to wrap up the 20ish-minute sit-in.

This isn’t the first time Billy and Danny have shared the stage (it’s the second) but a lot has changed since then. Back in 2019 when it was still possible for Billy Strings to play an 1,800-capacity room, he hosted his second-annual String The Halls concert at Marathon Music Works in Nashville. The guest-filled benefit for the Nashville Rescue Mission featured appearances throughout by Molly TuttleMichael ClevelandSierra HullLindsay LouDave Bruzza (Greensky Bluegrass), Kris Meyers (Umphrey’s McGee), and many more. However, one person who wasn’t on the original guest list was an intrepid young guitarist named Daniel Donato. A resourceful man, Donato texted Billy asking if he could sneak into the sold-out show. As Donato reported on Facebook days after the concert, “He texted me back and asked if I would play 4 songs.”

Check out pro- and fan-shot footage of Billy Strings’ sit-in with Daniel Donato in Vermont on Sunday and relive their initial collaboration from String The Halls in 2019.

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country, Billy Strings – “Luck Of The Draw” [Pro-Shot] – 7/23/23

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country, Billy Strings – Double E Performance Center – Essex Junction, VT – 7/23/23 – Partial

[Video: Matt Kolinski]

Billy Strings, Daniel Donato – “Up On Cripple Creek” (The Band), “Iko Iko” (James “Sugar Boy” Crawford & His Cane Cutters), “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal” (Billy Joe Shaver) – 12/21/19