Billy Strings brought his fall tour to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Friday night. Promising to do his “best to pick and grin” for the audience, Strings debuted two songs and welcomed Jake Shimabukuro (ukulele) to the stage during the second set.
Starting things off with one of the oldest covers in his arsenal, “Ole Slewfoot”, Strings got the crowd moving its feet early and often. He followed the Johnny Horton cover with an original, “This Old World”, a slightly slower more melodic tune that prominently featured Strings’ vocals.
Billy Strings – “Ole Slewfoot” – 11/19/21 [Fan-Shot]
[Video: Ben Wilson]
The band, comprised of Strings, Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), and Royal Masat (upright bass), then proceeded to an older original, “While I’m Waiting Here”. Here came the first extended improvisation section of the evening, as Failing’s banjo navigated the creeping valleys before the ice-picks of Strings’ distorted guitar lifted the group out of the sprawling crevice and back to the safe confines of the chorus. Another original, “Heartbeat Of America”, stretched for over nine minutes, and again, saw the eponymous frontman guide the jam section with the high-gain of his acoustic guitar after Masat’s bass dropped them into uncharted territory.
A traditional cover of “Come Down The Mountain Katy Daly” then led to original takes on “Ice Bridges”, “In The Morning Light”, and “Libby Phillips Rag”. The latter saw a debut on February 24th, 2021 during the band’s Deja Vu Experiment at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. Strings and company followed up this high-flying instrumental with David Grisman‘s “Unwanted Love”, before finishing the first frame with “Leaders” and “Wargasm”.
Arriving back to the stage wearing Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins hockey jerseys, Billy Strings tipped a cap to the city with its first debut of the night. This quick, sub-one-minute run through the Van Scoy Jewelers jingle paid homage to a legendary Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area business.
Billy Strings – “Van Scoy Jingle” – 11/19/21 [Fan-Shot]
The jam-heavy second set truly started with Billy’s original musical composition bearing the words of Robert Hunter, “Thunder”. A couple of minutes of picking set up the song’s vocal sections before blasting off to the outer reaches of the atmosphere, covered in flame-repelling psychedelia. This jam contained teases of Jimmy Cliff‘s “I Can See Clearly Now”. Strings then flexed his limitless knowledge with “Know It All”, before the group segued to a cover of The Dillards‘ “Ernest T. Grass”.
The psychedelia continued with the help of an envelope filter on Billy’s acoustic guitar as the band settled itself into a nearly 13-minute telling of “Ernest T. Grass”, which eventually found its home in the traditional standard, “Little Maggie”. Deep exploration continued before Failing, Masat, and Walker left the stage. At this point, the Japanese-American ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, joined Billy for another debut, “Smokin’ Strings”.
Wearing a Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins jersey of his own, Shimabukuro traded lines with Strings in a segment full of exquisite interplay and off-the-top-of-the-head improv. What started slow and melodic quickly evolved into a fastly-strummed, quickly-picked instrumental the lifted the set to its highest point yet.
Billy Strings w/Jake Shimabukuro – “Smokin’ Strings” – 11/19/21
Shimabukuro remained on stage as the rest of the band rejoined the fun with “Nothing’s Working”. This short original setup the longest jam of the night, a cover of John Hartford‘s “All Fall Down”. Masat drew the audience in with an elongated intro. Here, Shimabukuro found his rightful place amid the mix while Strings laid down some high-flying distorted leads from the upper neck of his fretboard. This first section lasted nearly four minutes before Billy’s delay-infused vocals appeared. His envelope filter returned during the extensive jam, which somehow found even more untraveled territory at Mohegan Sun Arena.
As the night drew to a close, Strings asked Shimabukuro to stay on stage before telling the crowd that there was a hard curfew and there would not be an “official” encore. He then treated the audience to the third-ever take on Pearl Jam‘s “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” (per Phantasy Tour), which followed a cover of the band’s “In Hiding” on Wednesday night in Boston. Finally, Strings, Failing, Masat, Walker, and Shimabukuro ended with a cover of New Grass Revival‘s “This Heart of Mine”.
Billy Strings – “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” (Pearl Jam)”, “This Heart Of Mine” – 11/19/21 [Fan-Shot]
[Video: Ben Wilson]
Listen to full-show audio of Billy Strings at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaze courtesy of taper Papaphunk. Billy will continue his fall tour tonight, November 20th, at The Fillmore in Detroit, MI. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit his website.
Billy Strings – Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza – Wilkes-Barre, PA – 11/19/21
Setlist: Billy Strings | Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza | Wilkes-Barre, PA | 11/19/21
Set One: Ole Slewfoot (Johnny Horton), This Old World, While I’m Waiting Here, Heartbeat Of America, Come Down The Mountain Katy Daly (Traditional), Ice Bridges, In The Morning Light, Libby Phillips Rag, Unwanted Love (David Grisman), Leaders, Wargasm
Set Two: Van Scoy Jingle , Thunder (Robert Hunter) , Know It All > Ernest T. Grass (The Dillards) > Little Maggie (Traditional), Smokin’ Strings , Nothing’s Working , All Fall Down (John Hartford) , Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town (Pearl Jam) , This Heart Of Mine (New Grass Revival) 
 First Time Played
 “I Can See Clearly Now” (Jimmy Cliff) Tease
 Billy Strings duo w/Jake Shimabukuro
 Full band w/Jake Shimabukuro
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