Billy Strings brought all the star power the Orion Amphitheater in Huntsville, AL could contain and more Friday and Saturday night. Strings’ rise to arena-sized sellouts has been more akin to a rising NBA phenom than a bluegrass guitar player over the last few years. He’s gone from a stellar prospect to Rookie of the Year to League MVP with the speed of a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or even Michael Jordan.

Strings certainly possesses all the same relative levels of skill and hallmarks of the next-level basketball icons. His style of play is unmatched. Mixing a degree of speed that has rarely been seen in the bluegrass world with an authentic, slightly mournful voice that gives him a style all his own, Strings displays the swagger of youth, but he’s first and foremost a team player who knows the entire team, or band, has to work together as a cohesive unit to truly win. As such, he’s more than willing to pass off the ball, or lead, to any of his rock-solid teammates. They, in turn, are wise enough to know when to jam it home and when to give their superstar captain the room he needs to work his magic.

The numbers even start to match up. Strings and company dropped 21 songs on the eager audience during the first of these two shows and followed that up with 27 songs the following evening. From the very first songs, “Taking Water” into “Ice Bridges”, Strings was in full control of the court—pardon, stage. When it came time for the first solo, it was delivered at a full gallop fast break speed, with fiddler Alex Hargraves to one side adding some emotive high-speed bowing and banjo player Billy Falling providing the pluck and twang needed for a proper bluegrass tune. Mandolinist Jarrod Walker pushed the groove forward with some mighty fine picking of his own, and at the center of it all was bassist Royal Masat, giving each player the strong backbeat they needed to do their things.

Billy Strings – “Taking Water” > “Ice Bridges” – 8/25/23

Yet, with the very next tune, “In The Morning Light”, Strings pulled back, slowed everything down, and displayed remarkable emotion, giving a heartfelt reading of the lyrics with soulful guitar playing that showed his range beyond just his quickness around the fretboard. The setlists each night were reflective of a young player who respects the game, its traditions, and storied past. Between his own evocative tunes, Strings is always ready to pay homage to past legends with covers of bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe‘s “Southern Flavor” and “Ashland Breakdown”, Ralph Stanley‘s “Riding The Midnight Train”, and the clever tour closer, “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” by The Carter Family.

At the same time, he’s not afraid to transform tunes, as he did with John Hartford’s “All Fall Down”, taking the song from toe-tapping bluegrass number into a light-speed psychedelic freak-out. Left-field choices like songs from Johnny Winter and Mother Love Bone showed he has love for more than just Americana and bluegrass. It wasn’t all covers, mind you, though they did make up a fair chunk of both evenings respective setlist. For every note-perfect translation of The Moody Blues classic “Nights In White Satin”, he had an arsenal of his own tunes, including “Wargasm”, “Red Daisey”, and “Turmoil And Tinfoil”, cocked back and ready to shoot into a ready and receptive crowd.

Billy Strings – “Long Forgotten Dream” > “The Cuckoo” (Traditional) – 8/26/23

Through both Friday and Saturday night, there was one uniting characteristic that underlaid every string plucked, picked, or strummed: Strings and his bands’ humbleness, humility, and thankfulness for the opportunity to have an audience ready to hear them do what they do, and what they have busted their asses for many years to perfect. Almost to a fault, Billy Strings reiterated time and again his love for the crowd, his appreciation of the beautiful new Orion Amphitheater, and most of all, the legion of smiling faces and cheering fans he could see before him. That lack of ego in the face of his newfound stardom is both astounding and inspiring.

Yes, Billy Strings has plenty of fans just there to see him play his guitar with the speed and grace of a Jordan or a Kobe, but anyone who looks beyond the flash, shock, and awe of his musical skills will see, and feel, the soul of a gifted person sharing their passion and creativity with the world. We’re all watching the birth of a legend right before our very eyes.

Strings and his band closed the two-night run with the aforementioned “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”, and for good reason. He and his brothers-in-arms have the next nineteen days off before they headline one night of Kentucky’s Bluegrass and Beyond Music Festival, and you know when the time comes to take that stage, they’ll make sure everyone in that audience knows the same joy they created over the last two nights. They love the game too much to do anything less.

Setlist (via BillyBase): Billy Strings | The Orion Amphitheater | Huntsville, AL | 8/25/23

Set 1: Taking Water > Ice Bridges, In The Morning Light, All Fall Down (John Hartford), Katy Daley, Ready For The Times To Get Better (Allen Reynolds), West Dakota Rose (Chris Henry), The Fire On My Tongue > Ridin’ That Midnight Train (Ralph Stanley), Psycho (Eddie Noack), Leaders > Wargasm

Set 2: Ernest T. Grass (The Dillards)> Know It All > Watch It Fall > Nellie Kane (Hot Rize), Everything’s The Same, Home, John Deere Tractor (Larry Sparks), Cabin Song, Crown Of Thorns (Mother Love Bone), Southern Flavor (Bill Monroe)> Dealing Despair, I’m Gone, Long Gone (Reno and Smiley), Away From The Mire

Encore: Feast Here Tonight (Rabbit In A Log) (The Prairie Ramblers), Y’all Come (Archie Duff)

Setlist (via BillyBase): Billy Strings | The Orion Amphitheater | Huntsville, AL | 8/26/23

Set 1: Long Forgotten Dream > The Cuckoo (Traditional), Libby Phillips Rag, This Old World, Must Be Seven > Pyramid Country, Hide and Seek, Ain’t Nothing To Me (Johnny Winter), Tom Dooley (Traditional), Alabama Jubilee (Chet Atkins), Be Your Man, Doin’ Things Right

Set 2: Meet Me At The Creek, Stone Walls & Steel Bars, Running The Route, Running, Open Up Them Pearly Gates (The Seekers), Heartbeat Of America, All Of Tomorrow, I’ll Be Gone A Long Time, Ashland Breakdown (Bill Monroe), All The Luck In The World (Neal Cassey), Red Daisey, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down (Charlie Pool & The North Carolina Ramblers), Nights In White Satin (The Moody Blues), Turmoil & Tinfoil

Encore: I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (The Carter Family)