One of the hottest acts in the business rolled into the music haven of Asbury Park, New Jersey last night as Billy Strings brought his eponymous quartet to Stone Pony Summer Stage for a one-off performance.
Billy Strings has been performing in the colorful beach town for many years now. Each year, the crowd’s capacity has grown exponentially. In 2017, Billy and company played within the intimate confines of the Saint. In 2018, Billy moved closer to the beach to perform to twice as many people inside the Wonder Bar. Two years ago, the multi-faceted bluegrass prodigy progressed to the indoor stage of the Stone Pony. On Thursday evening, Billy Strings performed on the outdoor stage at the Stone Pony to a sold-out crowd of 4,000.
The night featured blazing originals and traditional bluegrass covers from Jimmy Driftwood, Bill Monroe, and the Stanley Brothers with Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic sprinkled into the setlist for added zest.
Strings was accompanied onstage as always by Billy Failing on banjo, Royal Masat on bass, and Jarrod Walker on mandolin. The quartet incorporates vocal harmonies into almost every song—each of the band members can hold their own individually, but they are divine as a group. They are poised to release a lengthy, 16 track-album entitled Renewal next month on September 24th and performed five songs from the upcoming release in Asbury, with four of which comprising the meat and potatoes of the second set.
Aromas from the zeppoles, popcorn, pizza, and boardwalk grills wafted lazily amidst the salty sea breeze as Billy Strings and his band took the stage. As the scorching licks of “Long Forgotten Dream” opened the first set, the sun was setting behind the stage and provided breathtaking aesthetics to accompany the music.
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Billy Strings and his fellow musicians blended the melody from 2019’s Home into “New Country Blues” before performing Renewal track “Hellbender”. The crowd-favorite from his eponymous debut, “Dust in a Baggie”, blazed like a bonfire as the audience kicked their sandy feet to the jubilant energy onstage. The bluegrass traditional “Reuben’s Train” rolled on down the tracks before the band melded the melody into another original cut from Home with “Away from the Mire”.
Billy Strings paid tribute to Widespread Panic next with a fiery take on “All Time Low”. Ever since appearing onstage with Panic at the band’s 2019 acoustic run at the Ryman in Nashville , Billy has incorporated “Ride Me High” and “All Time Low” into his repertoire. When asked about Billy, Jimmy Herring had nothing but love toward the up-and-coming musician and extended an open invitation to join them anytime, anywhere.
Per tradition, Billy honored the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, with a fingerpicking run through “Will You Be Loving Another Man”. To round out the first set, Billy Strings and his cohorts jammed “Ernest T. Grass” into the Stanley Brothers’ “Little Maggie.”
With the sun down below the horizon, the stage lights burned bright as Billy Strings and his band retook the stage. Smoke swirled from on and off the stage, as they opened with John Hartford’s “I’m Still Here” before transitioning into “Running the Route”, one of several tracks off next month’s release. Another off Renewal, “Hide and Seek”, followed before the quartet returned to their more traditional repertoire with Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud”.
“Red Daisy”, also off Renewal, set the stage for a raucous cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” (“I can hear the drums / voodoo all night long!”).
Of note, Billy Strings has been earning his Grateful stripes this year with a series of performances with Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Billy & The Kids, both in Hawaii as part of Grateful Mahalo and at Red Rocks.
Another Renewal tune, “Know It All”, followed before the band worked through a cover of “My Love Come Rolling Down”, a song written by Eric Von Schmidt and popularized by Doc and Merle Watson. The highlight of the show came via a mammoth jam during “Meet Me at the Creek” that meandered like a switchback mountain trail with several elevation changes, precipitous peaks, and sprawling valleys.
Due to a strict curfew, Billy was forced to wind down the show early with the stand alone encore “Y’all Come”, the Arlie Duff tune he had previously featured as part of his “String The Halls” 2020 holiday series.
Billy Strings and his crew roll ever forward throughout the remainder of the year. Blazing like a meteor across the night sky, majestic and powerful, with finger-lickin’ finger-pickin’ chops hotter than midday sand on a summer day, this is Billy’s world— you’re just living in it.
Next up for Billy and company is a two-night run at New Haven, CT’s Westville Music Bowl this weekend. For a full list of upcoming Billy Strings tour dates, head here.
Listen to a full audio recording of the 8/5/21 Billy Strings show in Asbury Park, NJ below.
Billy Strings – Stone Pony Summer Stage – Asbury Park, NJ – 8/5/21 – Full Show
[Audio: Rich Stoler]