Flat-pickin’ bluegrass firebrand Billy Strings bodyslammed his well-documented love of Halloween and affection for prime-time pro wrestling for a once-in-a-lifetime night of four-corner mayhem at the massive Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI last night.

It was a wild, sold-out, jam-packed, eye-gougin’, top rope launchin’ procession of guest stars like guitarist Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident), drummer Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic), Grammy Award-winner Molly Tuttle, mandolinist Sierra Hull, and banjo picker Chris Pandolfi (The Infamous Stringdusters). Fueling the nearly four and a half hours of musical mayhem was a loaded 31-song setlist of tried and true cover tunes along with plenty of debuts from the likes of Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, String Cheese, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds …not to mention a dense undercard of classic Billy originals. To say this show was as stacked and packed as an all-day pay-per-view barely does it justice.

Billy Strings – Van Andel Scramble – Halloween 2023 Official Recap Video

Strings, his band, stage manager/heel of the matchup Nate Flores, his road crew, and the production team went “ALL IN” on the theme in a zealous, over-the-top way that showed a level of love, humor, and attention to detail of the sport and the Halloween spirit that is as rarely seen as it was splendid to behold. Billy Strings, as promised in the numerous, hilarious promo posters and video trailers released in the lead-up to the show, assumed the persona of legendary “Real American” Hulk Hogan, right down to the luxurious faux blonde Fu Manchu mustache.

The rest of his band and his special guests weren’t letting Strings have all the fun with his “Rasslin’ Legend” costume shenanigans and each emerged in character, with title card intro videos and spot-on costumes and antics galore. There was even a running “backstage feud” video series showcasing a comically acted, clearly staged beef between Strings and the usually amiable stage manager Flores and guitar tech Toby Bean thrown in for good measure.

Following a pretaped intro by the actual, gazillion title-holding wrestling living legend, the one-and-only “Nature Boy” himself Ric Flair, rock steady bassist Royal Masat came correct as “undead” squared circle terror The Undertaker, complete with manager Paul Bearer. Mandolinist Jarrod Walker morphed himself into a late stage, “Crow”-esque, make-up-wearing Sting and barely managed to take the stage before fiddler Alex Hargreaves arrived, sporting an unnervingly realistic bald skull cap and muscle suit, for his “Stone Cold” Steve Austin getup. Finally, looking buff in a pastel fringed “Macho Man” Randy Savage jacket, banjoist Billy Failing came to play, though, sadly, minus a stand-in for his manager “Miss Elizabeth” who apparently didn’t make the cut.

Following countless nods to classic TV wrestling shows, including some hilariously spot-on intros by an over-caffeinated duo of show hosts, clearly staged backstage videos, and the epic walkouts to the massive wrestling ring-themed stage, the time finally came for the starting bell with a one-two of Bill Monroe‘s “Bluegrass Breakdown” and Billy’s “Dealing Despair”.

Billy and the band then welcomed their first guest of the evening, Widespread Panic sticks Duane Trucks. Trucks clearly got the memo and came out after his own introductory video, in what is likely an extremely hot Kane outfit for a jamming “Secrets”. Molly Tuttle strutted out dressed as red-haired WWE diva Becky Lynch and dueled with Billy on a high flyin’, pitch-perfect take on Chumbawamba‘s signature anthem “Tubthumping” for the night’s first of many cover debuts, flowing seamlessly into a rendition of Molly’s own “Dooley’s Farm”.

Upon her departure, Strings took a moment to welcome the crowd and, in, perhaps, an overshare, reveal “My nipples hurt.” After that non-sequitur, the show resumed a semi-normal format with a pair of densely psychedelic runs at Strings faves “Fire Line” and “Reuben’s Train”.

Jet flyin’, gator sportin’, limo ridin’, slide guitarin’ Mark Lavengood then graced the stage in full-on Ric Flair neon fluffed and fringed robe, jivin’ and profilin’ as one would. As Billy explained between songs, he and the Grand Rapids native Lavengood spent plenty of nights busking outside that very same arena they’re now playing, with Mark’s Flair-inspired WOOOO-ing giving a heartwarming exclamation point to this rags-to-riches saga fit for a WWE storyline.

Befitting of the presence of the Nature Boy himself, the old friends knocked out Johnny Horton‘s “Ole Slewfoot” before jamming out Lavengood’s own “Sliding Rock” instrumental. The backstage silliness took center stage as Strings made a show of stage manager Flores coming out to adjust a conveniently well-timed errant cable…going so far as to actively encourage the fans to “Boo this man!” as he slunk back to side stage anonymity before tossing in a rambunctious “Turmoil & Tinfoil”.

John “The Hitman” Mailander then made his grand entrance for a stellar center-of-the-ring fiddle duet “Northern White Clouds” with the always excellent Hargreaves that got the blood pumping. The additional fiddler, who is heard throughout Home and sat in with Billy on many occasions as a special guest prior to Alex’s full-time inclusion, stuck around for a tough take on The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ classic “Tuff Enuff” that kept the muscle body suits flexing.

Masat and Trucks had managed to keep their respective performances in character as hated rivals inside the sanity margins while they shared the rhythm during “Away From The Mire” but, sadly, things boiled over after set closer “All Fall Down”. Though the returning manager Paul Bearer tried to keep the two apart eventually the undead-inspired Masat threw the Kane stand-in Trucks physically off the stage for a perfect act break!

Set break itself was a treat with more violence and drama from Masat and Trucks, video shoots that included a face-off between Mailander and Hargreaves, and a note-perfect Macho Man from Failing. Finally Hoga…sorry…Billy Strings ACTING as Hogan (The lines between reality and fantasy got a little blurry there thanks to how hard Strings was selling it) called out Flores’ multiple supposed transgressions such as breaking a guitar and not even dressing up for the gig.

Strings kicked off the second set with the Rick Derringer-penned Hulkster theme song “Real American” before a rocking series with Trucks throwing down massive mats of percussion for Masat into Chuck Berry‘s classic “Johnny B. Goode”. New challenger “Nate Fuego”, a 4/20-friendly heel inspired by luchador Rey Mysterio, appeared to challenge Strings but was quickly tossed offstage as well. Violence subsided, Strings and company nailed Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” while Fuego received much-needed medical attention.

Badass mandolinist Sierra Hull came out as equally rough and tough diva Rhea Ripley for a wild ride of her own hit “Poison” that saw her pick up a storm. Despite the fact that this was Billy’s party, he was a gracious host to his many friends who came all this way and gave his special guests ample time to showcase their own originals.

Hull stayed out to help deliver a stellar sandwich of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” wrapped around a spicy Hendrix classic, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” center. From there the crowd was pleased to see a wild duo of a disturbingly heartfelt “Psycho” and a pert near runaway “Hide And Seek” dropped in their goodie bag. The Infamous Stringdusters’ own Chris Pandolfi, in full Jerry “The King” Lawler kit, came out and dropped stellar runs through the Bill Emerson instrumental “Home Of The Red Fox” while home five stringer Failing challenged Pandolfi center ring with a few sonic flying elbow drops of his own. Pandolfi closed out his main ringside jam with a spirited run at his own home bands’ track, “No More To Leave You Behind”.

Winning the “Had to do the least amount of prep work to play their character” award for the evening was the nights’ final guest, String Cheese Incident frontman Billy Nershi who stood in for beloved country boy Hillbilly Jim. Nershi blew a “Restless Wind” and “Black Clouds” into the arena and helped close out set two with his beloved boundless energy and good time-inspiring antics.

Related: The String Cheese Incident Howls At The Full Moon For Hulaween Shebang [Photos/Videos]

Finally, to kick off the encore in what was surely a surreal experience for Strings as a “Local Boy Done Good” the guitar madman from nearby Muir put down his instrument and delivered a moving, acapella version of the traditional “Talk About The Suffering”. Completely unexpectedly, a neckbrace-clad “Nick Fuego” returned once again only to take an acoustic guitar to the head as Strings vanquished the villain for good with a hard three-count.


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The final tune of the night was easily the wildest…a bench-clearing jam of all the guests for a rousing round of Queen’s ode to victory “We Are The Champions” that saw the crowd and full band completely united in spirit and song. Fuego would occasionally rouse himself, only to be beaten down by a chair-wielding Tuttle. After the crescendo, the entire picking party was presented with their own, sure-to-be prized championship belts, Strings and Fuego hugged it out and…at last…the stage was cleared.

After a short wrap-up with the “in-studio“ hosts” to complete the cable program/PPV conceit the show was adjourned and the exhausted audience spilled out into the chilly Grand Rapids evening. Odds are the fans didn’t even notice the temperature drop thanks to the lingering warmth of the heater of a show they had just beheld. The amazingly loving and captivating attention to detail, all in the name of fun, can’t be over-stressed.

Strings and company should and surely will be commended for their efforts on Halloween night, and the months of planning it must have taken are mind-boggling on their own…but actually raise one huge concern…how do they possibly top this magical amalgamation next year? I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.

Check out a collection of fan-shot videos from Billy Strings’ Halloween Van Andel Scramble from Ohio Grown Live Music Archive.

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks – “Reuben’s Train” (Traditional) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Mark Lavengood – “Ole Slewfoot” (Johnny Horton) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ John Mailander – “Northern White Clouds” (Bill Monroe) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks, John Mailander – “Tuff Enuff” (The Fabulous Thunderbirds) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks, John Mailander – “All Fall Down” (John Hartford) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks – “Real American” (Rick Derringer) > “Johnny B. Goode” (Chuck Berry) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks – “Enter Sandman” (Metallica) – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks, Sierra Hull – “Rusty Cage” (Soundgarden) > “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (Jimi Hendrix) > “Rusty Cage” – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks, Sierra Hull – “Poison” – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Duane Trucks, Chris Pandolfi – ‘’No More to Leave You Behind’’ – 10/31/23

Billy Strings w/ Molly Tuttle, John Mailander, Bill Nershi, Sierra Hull, Mark Lavengood, Chris Pandolfi, Duane Trucks – ‘’We Are The Champions” (Queen) – 10/31/23

View Videos

Setlist: Billy Strings | Van Andel Arena | Grand Rapids, MI | 10/31/2023

Set One (116 minutes): Blue Grass Breakdown (Bill Monroe) > Dealing Despair, Secrets [1], Tubthumping (Chumbawamba) [2] [3], Dooley’s Farm [2] [4], Fire Line [1] > Reuben’s Train (Traditional) [1], Ole Slewfoot (Johnny Horton) [5], Sliding Rock [5] [6], Turmoil & Tinfoil [1], Northern White Clouds (Bill Monroe) [7] [8], Tuff Enuff (The Fabulous Thunderbirds) [9] [10], Away From The Mire [7], All Fall Down (John Hartford) [11] [12]

Set Two (141 minutes): Real American (Rick Derringer) [13] [14] > Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry) [13] [15], The Fire On My Tongue [16] > Know It All [16], Enter Sandman (Metallica) [13] [17], Leaders [13], Poison [18] [19], Rusty Cage (Soundgarden) [20] [21] > Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Jimi Hendrix) [20] [22] > Rusty Cage [20], Psycho (Leon Payne) [16] > Hide and Seek [23], Home Of The Red Fox (Bill Emerson) [24] [25], No More To Leave You Behind (The Infamous Stringdusters) [24], Restless Wind [26] [27], Black Clouds [26]

Encore: Talk About Suffering (Traditional) [28] [29], We Are The Champions (Queen) [30] [31]

[1] With Duane Trucks on drums
[2] With Molly Tuttle on guitar and lead vocals and Duane Trucks on drums
[3] FTP- Chumbawamba
[4] FTP- Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
[5] With Mark Lavengood on dobro and Duane Trucks on drums
[6] FTP- Mark Lavengood
[7] With John Mailander on fiddle and Duane Trucks on drums
[8] FTP- Bill Monroe (battle of the fiddles between Alex Hargreaves and John Mailander)
[9] FTP- The Fabulous Thunderbirds
[10] With Billy Strings and Jarrod Walker on electric guitar, John Mailander on fiddle and Duane Trucks on drums
[11] With Billy Strings on electric guitar, John Mailander on fiddle and Duane Trucks on drums
[12] Set ended with a fight between Royal and Duane with Royal tossing Duane off the stage.
[13] Billy Strings and Billy Failing on electric guitar, Jarrod Walker on electric mandolin, Royal Masat on bass guitar, Duane Trucks on drums
[14] FTP- Rick Derringer
[15] Last Played 2019-12-21 | 342 show gap
[16] With Royal Masat on bass guitar and Duane Trucks on drums
[17] FTP- Metallica
[18] With Billy Strings on electric guitar, Royal Masat on bass guitar, Sierra Hull on mandolin and Duane Trucks on drums
[19] FTP- Sierra Hull
[20] With Billy Strings on electric guitar, Royal Masat on bass guitar, Jarrod Walker on aucustic guitar Sierra Hull on mandolin and Duane Trucks on drums
[21] FTP- Soundgarden
[22] FTP- Jimi Hendrix
[23] With Royal Masat on bass guitar, John Mailander on fiddle and Duane Trucks on drums
[24] With Royal Masat on bass guitar, Chris Pandolfi on banjo and Duane Trucks on drums
[25] Battle of the banjos between Billy Failing and Chris Pandolfi
[26] With Royal Masat on bass guitar, Bill Nershi on guitar and shared lead vocals and Duane Trucks on drums
[27] Last Played 2021-10-16 | 225 show gap
[28] Billy Strings a cappella
[29] FTP- Traditional
[30] FTP- Queen
[31] With Royal Masat on bass guitar, Molly Tuttle on guitar, John Mailander on fiddle, Bill Nershi on guitar, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Mark Lavengood on dobro Chris Pandolfi on banjo, and Duane Trucks on drums