The much anticipated new album Renewal by Billy Strings was released at 12:00am ET Friday morning and the festivities that followed were quite a treat: a two-day mini-festival in the beautiful mountain town of Buena Vista, CO with supporting performances by Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass), Lindsay Lou, Fences, Tyler Grant, and the Renewal house band; multiple sit-ins; debut originals and covers; and plenty of good ol’ pickin’ by Billy Strings and his stringsmen, Billy Failing on banjo, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, and Royal Masat on stand-up bass.
Paul Hoffman kicked off the festivities, livestreamed for the fans at home via FANS, with Greensky Bluegrass classics “Living Over” and “Windshield” as well as a slew of new songs. Hoffman spoke on how he was inspired by Billy and the band’s new record, so he kept playing some new material—just days after GSBG announced a new album, Stress Dreams, coming out January 2022.
Paul Hoffman — Cottonwood Meadows — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/24/21
With the crowd primed, blood flowing from phoffman’s set, it was time for the main act Billy Strings to hit the stage. After a pause to take in the beautiful scenery of mountain peaks scraping the clouds in the big blue Colorado sky, the band dove into a proper opener, the first song off their new album “Know It All”.
Billy Strings — Set One Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/24/21
Next came a couple odes to their bluegrass roots with “New Camptown Races” and “Unwanted Love” by Muleskinner and David Grisman, respectively. This was followed by a couple more grassy tracks from Renewal, “This Old World” and “Hellbender”, which Billy eluded is “…about a killer headache”.
The bluegrass kept flowing, as did the adjacent Arkansas river, as Billy led us through the rapids of reverberation with covers of “This Heart Of Mine” by New Grass Revival and “I’ll Remember You, Love, In My Prayers” by William Hayes.
The mood started to change about 30 minutes in, maybe it was the medicine starting to take, or perhaps how the mountainous surroundings started to reveal an early dusk that brought us our first hint of psychedelia halfway through “On The Line” from Turmoil & Tinfoil.
Next Billy brought up dobro player Andy Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters) who led us through one of his band’s tunes “No More To Leave You Behind” which led to an impressive display of dueling guitars. Billy then dipped into heavy electric distortion for a powerful ending.
The ensemble ended set one with the jam catalyst “Turmoil & Tinfoil”, beginning with an ethereal prelude then hitting the opening lick that got the crowd cheering because they knew they were about to go on a sonic journey. For those streaming the event, this visual experience was enhanced by FANS.live’s kaleidoscopic effects with images of stringed instruments folding into oblivion.
Billy Strings and the usual suspects returned for the second set to open with Chris Henry’s “West Dakota Rose” before diving into the original “Hollow Heart”. The rumbling guitar riff of “Thunder” set the mood as Billy belted out Robert Hunter’s lyrics like they really were his own. Strings’ guitar solo got super spacey and there was nothing to do but drift away.
Billy Strings — Set Two Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/24/21
Paul Hoffman hopped on stage and joined the ensemble for a couple bluegrass tunes including “The Gold Rush” for the third time ever and first time in front of a free-range crowd (streamed first time, drive-in show second time), and Greensky Bluegrass’s tune “Reverend” led by Hoffman. Then it was time for the song Paul Hoffman helped Strings write for the new album, “In the Morning Light”, a tune about Billy’s beloved girlfriend and their deep loving connection.
Paul stepped off as the lights turned ember orange for “Fire Line” and the music men took us on a journey to the inferno with Billy Failing leading us from the ashes with a gravitas banjo line that gave way to the rest of the band piping up and Strings’ voice punching through the last lines of the tune.
The quartet ended the set with a tasty instrumental from the new album titled “Running the Route”.
Billy Strings and company started off the third set of the night with “Taking Water” from the band’s Grammy-winning Home. Then into the slippery instrumental “Ice Bridges” featuring Jarrod Walker sliding across his mandolins strings in calculated chaos like a drunken Kung-Fu master.
Billy Strings — Set Three Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/24/21
Next came a few odes to some of the bluegrassers of past with The Stanley Brother’s “Nobody’s Loves Like Mine” with Walker on lead vocals, then Bill Emerson’s “Home of the Red Fox” and Flatts and Scruggs‘ “Bringin in the Georgia Mail”.
Another Renewal track came next with “Show Me the Door”, a song Walker told viewers in the live Q&A Thursday he wrote with friend and fellow musician Christian Ward mostly over the phone during early quarantine.
Strings sped things up a bit with lightning-fast licks and powerful vocals on “Pretty Daughter” before dropping into a much-awaited live debut of “Nothing’s Wrong” featuring special guest Lindsay Lou splitting vocals with Strings. Lou stayed up for a few more songs including a debut cover of “What Does the Deep Sea Say” by Doc Watson.
Lindsay then showed her vocal prowess for a surprising cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” which she admitted Billy showed her for the first time years back with him and his mother singing it to her. Lindsay Lou stayed on stage in support for a dip back into classic bluegrass for Bill Monroe’s “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky”, then Billy set the guitar down and showed he doesn’t need any gimmicks to capture a crowd when he went a capella for “And Am I Born to Die” to close out the evening.
Setlist: Billy Strings | Cottonwood Meadows | Buena Vista, CO | 9/24/21
Set One: Know It All, New Camptown Races > Unwanted Love, This Old World, Hellbender, This Heart of Mine, I’ll Remember You Love In My Prayers, On The Line, No More To Leave You Behind , Fireball Mail , Turmoil & Tinfoil
Set Two: West Dakota Rose, Hollow Heart, Thunder, Gold Rush  > Paul And Silas , Reverend , In The Morning Light , Fire Line, Running The Route
Set Three: Taking Water > Ice Bridges, Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine, Home Of The Red Fox > Bringing In The Georgia Mail, Show Me The Door, Pretty Daughter, Nothing’s Working , What Does The Deep Sea Say , White Rabbit , I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky  Am I Born To Die 
 w/ Andy Hall
 w/ Paul Hoffman
 w/ Lindsay Lou
 a capella
Fences started things off night two with a sharp contrast as he and his girlfriend provided an intimate set of very personal and vulnerable songs that was not short on banter between numbers. Things were a little tense during the set as Fences took on a combative tone with the crowd after several audience members expressed displeasure with his stage banter. Fences responded by encouraging those people to go into the port-o-potties and listen to Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun”. Per Instagram comments/stories from the artist, he was removed from the venue by Billy’s manager following his set.
Fences — Cottonwood Meadows — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/25/21
When Billy Strings hit the stage it was business as usual when they started off the night with long-time crowd favorite “Dust in a Baggie” and another tune from his first LP “Thirst Mutilator”. Next came “Running” and “Watch it Fall” from Home.
Billy Strings — Set One Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/25/21
The first deviation from the band’s catalog of the night came with a cover of Charlie Monroe’s “Rosa Lee McFall” which was played by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman as well as the Grateful Dead during the occasional acoustic set.
Next, the quartet played “Love and Regret” from the new album followed by another original “Slow Train”. A bluegrass standard came next with “A Robin Built a Nest On Daddy’s Grave” before things slowed down for “My Love Come Rolling Down” by The Stanley Brothers and Doc and Merle Watson respectively.
Things really heated up for the jam vehicle “Meet Me at the Creek” when Billy Failing plucked his way up the neck and just kept on going, and then the band accompanied to end in an epic crescendo.
Billy Strings and company returned for their second of three sets with the enthralling Renewal track “Secrets”. After Billy finished the lyrics in the next song, “While I’m Waiting Here”, the boys decided to let their instruments do the talking for a bit, and then some more for the instrumental “Pyramid Country”.
Billy Strings — Set Two Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/25/21
The signature riff of “Away from the Mire” signaled to the crowd they were in for a quintessential Billy Strings experience of lyrical potency matched by masterful musicianship, with a side of psychedelic enlightenment.
Then Billy asked us about our “Long Forgotten Dreams” and just when things were getting a little too spacey Billy snapped us back to reality with some downhome bluegrass for “A Good Woman’s Love”.
An absolute highlight of the night came when the band debuted “Heartbeat of America”, the last song on the new album that a live audience has not heard yet. The crowd’s sway from side to side quickly changed to twisting, rocking, and jumping about that was only heightened when Billy busted into the hot-stepping lyrics after an extended instrumental opening. A new Billy Strings song to chase around the country has arrived.
For the last two songs of the set, the band went into “Everything’s the Same” followed by the RMR-assisted song “Wargasm” with no RMR in sight this time sadly.
For the final set of the festivities, Billy Strings opened with the “Fire on My Tongue”, leaving only one more Renewal track to be played for the weekend. The quartet hopped right into “a song about a bass” for the instrumental “Bronzeback” that is yet to appear on an album.
Billy Strings — Set Three Preview — Bueno Vista, CO — 9/25/21
Billy brought it “Home” next for the 2019 album’s title track before bringing fellow picker Tyler Grant up for a few bluegrass standards. Billy and Tyler traded licks on Keith Allison’s “Freeborn Man” and Jarrod Walker chimed in with a tasty solo that somehow escalated the picking tune into an even higher gear. The five stringsmen then kept the grass flowing for “Ernest T. Grass” and “How Mountain Girls Can Love” by The Dilliards and The Stanley Brothers respectively before Tyler Grant exited the stage.
And for that Deadhead in the crowd that was trying to guess what Grateful Dead song Billy would play—it was “Cassidy” and hopefully you called it. The “Fare Thee Well” lyrics struck especially hard knowing time was almost up on this glorious engagement.
All that was left on the Renewal checklist was “Hide and Seek” and the audience was treated to a proper live exploration of the longest track on the new album.
Billy showed his perfect pitch and sustain as he started off the last song of the night “Ole Slew-Foot” with an elongated nasally note that echoed throughout the valley. Strings, Failing, and Walker flexed their plucking dexterity one last time as Masat kept them honest on the upright.
What an incredible two days of music by Billy Strings, supporting artists and the festivities in beautiful Buena Vista, CO, that encapsulated this amazing fan base and culture. Until next time.
Billy Strings – Renewal Buena Vista – Full Recap
Setlist: Billy Strings | Cottonwood Meadows | Buena Vista, CO | 9/25/21
Set One: Dust In A Baggie, Thirst Mutilator> Running, Watch It Fall, Rosa Lee McFall, Love And Regret, Slow Train, A Robin Built A Nest On Daddy’s Grave, My Love Come Rollin’ Down, Meet Me At The Creek
Set Two: Secrets, While I’m Waiting Here> Pyramid Country> (1) Away From The Mire, Long Forgotten Dream, A Good Woman’s Love, Heartbeat Of America (2), Everything’s The Same, Wargasm
Set Three: The Fire On My Tongue, Bronzeback, Home, Freeborn Man (3), Earnest T. Grass> (3) How Mountain Girls Can Love (3), Cassidy, Hide & Seek
Encore: Ole’ Slewfoot
(1) I Can See Clearly Now tease
(3) with Tyler Grant