Billy Strings welcomed another member of the Trucks musical family, this time Widespread Panic‘s Duane Trucks, to the stage for a wild Athens, GA show that gave every aspect of this multi-faceted band time to shine. It’s only fitting to have Duane come out in the birthplace of Panic and so near where his legendary drummer uncle, Butch Trucks, helped co-found Georgia’s beloved Allman Brothers Band.

Of note, this also marked the second time in as many weeks that the names “Billy Strings,” “Widespread Panic,” and “Trucks” made headlines together: Late last month, Duane’s brother, guitarist Derek Trucks, joined Billy Strings during a show in Nashville, TN for renditions of Widespread Panic’s “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” and more.

Strings and his stellar band, including Billy Failing on banjo, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, Royal Masat on bass, and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, put on a show of differing styles, genres, and even instrumentation that was stunning to behold…and yet, as hard as it is to believe, for them it was just another Tuesday on the job.

At every turn the charismatic guitar-picking force of nature made human, Billy Strings, gave props and shared the sound space with the rest of the band as equals—when they were present, that is—and they showed how well they deserved that faith with rock solid support and impressive skills of their own. That said, it’s the guy with the lightning-fast fingers that has mesmerized audiences of ever-growing sizes wherever they go and whose name is on the marquee, and Strings simply seems incapable of disappointing. Tuesday’s benefit for local mental health non-profit Nuçi’s Space (a frequent charitable partner of Widespread Panic) saw Billy Strings trade the vast arenas he has been playing as of late for the intimate 1,028-capacity Georgia Theatre.

From the simple boyish smile of glee he always flashes upon greeting the audience, the guitar wunderkind laid more notes, clicks, scales, chords, and joyous grins at the crowd than some musicians will manage in a good week. From the “Everything’s The Same” opener onward it seemed like Strings and his coterie were on a personal crusade to make as many minds melt as possible.

Billy Strings – “Everything’s The Same”, “Thirst Mutilator” – 3/7/23

There were plenty of stand-out moments in the first set. “Heartbeat Of America ” featured some exemplary work from Masat before fiddler Hargreaves showed off why adding his violin to the band was the key to expanding the unit’s sonic range. When not sawing away at an amazing clip, he is capable of adding layers to the psychedelic explorations that the other players just can’t replicate. “West Dakota Rose” and perennial crowd favorite “Fire Line” also stood out as set anchors before “Ice Bridges” and “Hollow Heart” closed out a wide-ranging, free-wheeling first set.

After a short set break, Strings reappeared for a solo, six-song acoustic set-within-a-set that showed the “seasoned beyond his years” element Strings brings to everything he plays or does onstage. Almost seeming to pick songs at random in his mind before flawlessly executing them, he quickly reeled off covers from the likes of Tony RiceBlaze FoleyTownes Van Zandt (who would have turned 79 on Tuesday), and others before being rejoined by the rest of the band.

After a couple of nods to the late Jeff Austin, including Bad Livers‘ “Pretty Daughter” and one of Austin’s own, “Run Down”, it was time for the night’s big surprise, the aforementioned Duane Trucks to join the festivities. Duane, who officially took over for founding Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance in 2016, previously sat in with Billy for the finale of last year’s Away From The Shire Halloween run in Asheville.

While the road crew quickly threw together a stripped-down-to-the-essentials drum kit for Trucks, Billy vamped for the crowd and paid fine homage to the hard work his team did, noting “We couldn’t do it without them. Well…we used to do it without them but it used to suck a whole lot more.”

Now firmly ensconced, Trucks and the band stretched the farthest toward the psychedelic it had gone all night with a spacey cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” before taking that cosmic vibe to yet another level into the unsuspecting Flatt & Scruggs by way of Charlie Monroe cover “Bringing In The Georgia Mail” that nearly brought the house down. From there it was time for a quick “Running The Route” > “Running” before closing out the second set with a fitting cover of Widespread Panic’s “All Time Low” that saw every last bit of energy the band had left wrung out to the cheers of a delighted audience.

A loving nod to the traditional bluegrass, single mic gathering days of yore got the encore started with old-time hymnal “If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin In Your Heart)”. Not only did it again show off the range of the band, but a comic lyrical reference to Widespread Panic also earned Strings a hearty cheer for his showmanship.

After a ghostly “Standing in The Need Of Prayer” they hurriedly grabbed their instruments for one last tune. Strings broke out his rarely utilized Casio DG-20 digital guitar, an ’80s hybrid that makes the occasional onstage appearance for “Home of the Red Fox 3000”, a take on the Bill Emerson tune updated to the 31st century with Billy’s electronic instrument.

At first treating the guitar/synth retro relic as the novelty it actually is, dancing a wee jig in front of the rest of the band, Strings dropped a few lightning licks while dialing through modes to show the wizardly effects available and just what the oddly shaped instrument is capable of in the right hands. Sunglasses on and smiling ear-to-ear Strings told the crowd “I think you guys can leave now. I think we’re done!” before wrapping up the show with a flourish.

It’s the first-order goal of any performer to entertain and Billy Strings did just that and more. Strings showed off his many weapons and demonstrated his effectiveness regardless of genre. Judging from how quickly Strings and company have taken the music world by storm on their way to the top of the heap it’s going to be a wild time watching just how far this guitar superstar can go in the decades to come.

Billy Strings, Duane Trucks – “Fearless” (Pink Floyd) – 3/7/23

[Video: Concert Club]

Billy Strings – “If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin in Your Heart)” (Bobby Davidson) – 3/7/23

[Video: Richard Vining]

Billy Strings – “Standing In The Need Of Prayer” (Traditional) – 3/7/23

[Video: Richard Vining]

Billy Strings – “Home Of The Red Fox 3000” (Bill Emerson) – 3/7/23

[Video: Richard Vining]

Setlist: Billy Strings | Georgia Theatre | Athens, GA | 3/7/23

Set One: Everything’s The Same, Thirst Mutilator > Taking water, On The Line > Train 45 (Traditional), Rock Salt And Nails (Utah Phillips) [1], Heartbeat Of America, There Is A Time (The Dillards), Slow Train, John Deere Tractor (Larry Sparks), West Dakota Rose (Chris Henry), Fire Line [2], Ice Bridges, Hollow Heart

Set Two: Church Street Blues (Tony Rice) [1] [3], Let The Cocaine Be (Traditional) [3], Cold, Cold World (Blaze Foley) [3], Two Girls (Townes Van Zandt) [3], Lonely At The Top (Jamey Johnson) [1] [3], Beaumont Rag (Traditional) [3], Pretty Daughter (Bad Livers) > Run Down (Jeff Austin), While I’m Waiting Here > Hide & Seek, Fearless (Pink Floyd) [4], Bringing In The Georgia Mail (Fred Rose) [4], Running The Route [4] > Running [4], All Time Low (Widespread Panic) [4]

Encore: If Your Hair’s too Long (There’s Sin In Your Heart) (Bobby Davidson) [5] [6], Standin’ in The Need Of Prayer (Traditional) [5], Home of the Red Fox 300 (Bill Emerson) [7]

[1] LTP 4/4/20 (250 show gap)

[2] w/ “Red Hot Mama” (Parliament-Funkadelic) tease

[3] Billy Strings solo

[4] w/ Duane Trucks on drums

[5] Single mic

[6] Lyrics changed to “You’ll live a life of fear and manic, if you listen to Widepread Panic”

[7] Billy Strings on Casio DG-20