Twenty-seven-year-old bluegrass sensation Billy Strings and his eponymous band took the stage at the prominent The Stone Pony on Sunday to pluck his chops in front of a sold-out crowd in Asbury Park, NJ. Joining Billy onstage were the other three talented members of his quartet, banjoist Billy Failing, upright bassist Royal Masat, and mandolinist Jarrod Walker. With a repertoire that spans well beyond his three decades of life, Billy Strings focused on original tunes off his latest release, Home, mixed in with old traditional numbers as well as covers of songs by Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and The Rolling Stones.
Getting down into the dirt, the quartet kicked things off with “Taking Water” (off his most recent release) and Doc Watson traditional “Red Rocking Chair”. A country pluckin’ segue blazed the way into a lightning-fast “Southern Flavor”, a Bill Monroe composition off his 1988 album of the same name.
From there, the quartet returned to Home for a run through “Hollow Heart” before playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” off his 1982 album, Nebraska. It was an appropriately fitting tribute to The Boss in his old musical haunt, as The Stone Pony and Springsteen put this little beach town on the musical map years ago. Going back to his most recent release, “Watch It Fall” preceded a harmonized cover of the Stanley Brothers’ “Goin’ to the Races”.
Billy Strings mesmerized the audience from there with a performance the new album’s title track before diving into “The Train that Carried my Girl from Town”, a traditional tune popularized by rustic legend and fellow flatpicker Doc Watson and blues singer Frank Hutchison. A sizzling transition carved a path back to Billy’s debut album one last time for a take on Doc Watson’s “Black Mountain Rag”.
To round out the first set, Billy Strings resurrected the old traditional “Walking Boss”. The tune was first released by Clarence Ashley but made further popularized Doc Watson and the Pigpen-era Grateful Dead. To follow, “On the Line” from 2017’s Turmoil & Tinfoil continued smoothly into “Train 45” (written by G.B. Grayson and made popular by the Stanley Brothers) to close the first set.
Upon return from set break, Billy Strings performed a tribute to yet another New Jersey music icon with Bon Jovi‘s “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Three more cuts from “Home” laid the foundation of this second set with a run of “Long Forgotten Dream”, “Everything’s the Same”, and “Away from the Mire” being interrupted by another Stanley Brothers cover “Stone Walls and Steel Bars”. The sorrowful tune was written by Ray Pennington and Roy Marcum and recorded by the Stanley Brothers in 1963.
Billy Strings – “Wanted Dead or Alive” [Bon Jovi cover] – 11/10/19
After a short pause, Billy led his band through Rolling Stones classic “Wild Horses”, off 1971’s renowned Sticky Fingers. The flurry of “Highway Hypnosis” from Home begat a performance of Jimmy Driftwood’s 1959 tune “Tennessee Stud”, which has been covered by everybody from Doc Watson to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Jr.
Billy Strings and his musical craftsmen closed out their second set with “Likes of Me” and“Meet Me at the Creek” for a jam-heavy, boot-stomping whirlwind full of ravenous energy. For their solo encore tune, Billy and the band emerged on stage once more for a romp around the traditional, “Roving Gambler”, which was recorded as early as 1909.
Billy Strings displayed an impressive, multi-generational knowledge of a mélange of compositions with heavy influences credited to Doc Watson and the Stanley Brothers. It is no surprise that Billy Strings’ meteoric rise into mainstream culture is due in no insignificant part to his expansive knowledge of the history of music. He’s been accepted by more established bands (Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic) as the future torch bearer of not only bluegrass but rock and roll music as a whole. (Read what Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring had to say about playing with Billy here).
You can listen to a full audience audio recording of the performance below:
Billy Strings – The Stone Pony – 11/10/19 – Full Audio
Billy Strings tour rolls onward for two nights at The Sinclair (no relation) in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 13th and 14th before headlining two nights at Brooklyn Bowl on November 15th and 16th. These will sure to be can’t-miss shows for any music enthusiast. For a full list of upcoming Billy Strings tour dates, see here.
Setlist: Billy Strings | The Stone Pony | Asbury Park, NJ | 11/10/19
Set 1: Taking Water, Red Rocking Chair > Southern Flavor, Hollow Heart, Atlantic City, Watch It Fall, Going to the Races, Home, The Train that Carried my Girl from Town > Black Mountain Rag, Walking Boss, On the Line > Train 45
Set 2: Dead or Alive, Long Forgotten Dream, Stone Walls and Steel Bars, Everything’s the Same, Away from the Mire, Wild Horses, Highway Hypnosis, Tennessee Stud, Likes of Me > Meet Me at the Creek
Encore: Roving Gambler