After what was initially intended to be a one-off show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre ballooned into a two-night run, there was a pervasive feeling throughout Tuesday night’s Billy & The Kids show that we were all on borrowed time.
Once again bolstered by special guests Billy Strings and James Casey, the extended ensemble headed by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann squeezed out every last drop of excitement out of its final scheduled performance.
Tuesday’s show began with another slow build, as each member of the quartet-turned-sextet dialed into the collective frequency, eventually emerging with Traffic‘s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” lead by Strings. It didn’t take long for the jam to descend into some smooth jazz by way of Casey’s saxophone before keyboardist Aron Magner ultimately laid the groundwork for Strings to take vocals on the “Hey Jude” coda that the Dead would often pair “Mr. Fantasy” with from 1988 through the end of the Brent Mydland era.
The tale of “Cassidy” came next as Magner and guitarist Tom Hamilton shared vocal duties in a mellow blend before the jam got exceedingly spacey for the predominantly lyric-driven song. Watch a pro-shot video of the song’s opening segment below.
Billy & The Kids, Billy Strings, James Casey – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” > “Hey Jude” > “Cassidy” – Morrison, CO – 7/13/21
Billy & The Kids snapped back to reality just enough to ease into a “Jack Straw” that once again saw Magner and Hamilton control the mic. The rollicking “Jack Straw” carried a noticeable tinge of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead energy as the improvisation emitted sparks from every corner of the stage, with Strings delivering a blistering solo that actually looked like it hurt.
Meanwhile, in the skies above Morrison, CO, some light showers resulted in a rainbow against the dying sunlight. Down below, Billy & The Kids reached the first stoppage in play of the night as “Jack Straw” came to a tranquil conclusion and offered a brief respite from the seemingly never-ending train of segues that began the show.
That tranquility carried on to the next song as Casey took vocals on a soulful take on the Charles Johnson-penned live Jerry Garcia Band favorite, “My Sisters And Brothers”. The band then welcomed yet another special guest as Hamilton introduced Red Rocks veteran Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass to the stage, joking that this could be his “big break”. The tongue in cheek comment heralded a full circle moment, as Billy Strings’ first-ever Red Rocks show had come back in 2019 as support for Hoffman and Greensky.
The mandolin player joined in on a rustic “My & My Uncle” that gave Strings the vocals and left Hoffman the solo. The Bob Weir cowboy tunes kept coming with “Mama Tried”, where Magner provided a rootin’ tootin’ piano solo ahead of “Dire Wolf”, which completed a three-song run of tunes Strings frequently covers in his solo endeavors.
After Hoffman departed the stage, Billy & The Kids were able to resume more electrified jams, an ability of which they took full advantage for a hard drop into “Shakedown Street”. The crack team at FANS knew exactly when to start kicking in with the psychedelic visuals, adding a bit of flair to an already transcendent sax solo from James Casey. This streaming viewer became concerned for a moment as beside Casey, Billy Strings appeared to have frozen mid-sol. After nearly a minute-long sustained note, however, the multitalented picker finished his musical buffering and helped close out the number as well as the first set.
Set two immediately got off to a rocking start with an off-the-wall cover of The Who‘s “Join Together”, belted out by Billy Strings. Billy & The Kids clearly threw out the rulebook for the second set, as a freestanding “Franklin’s Tower” came next. With Tom Hamilton on vocals, one could perhaps surmise that he was merely completing the unfinished “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” movement he left hanging with JRAD at The Peach Music Festival two weeks ago.
Billy & The Kids, Billy Strings, James Casey – “Join Together” > “Franklin’s Tower” – Morrison, CO – 7/13/21
Following a funkified jam courtesy of James Casey, Strings picked up his trusty acoustic to slow things down with “To Lay Me Down”. Meanwhile, across the stage, a newly-sleeveless Tom Hamilton donned a slide to cultivate a mood as the band settled in for a long night with no hurry to get to any place in particular.
Things began to gradually pick up steam with another JGB favorite in “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, before the band sidearmed another curveball by nailing the F minor chord to sound off “Help On The Way”, only to be joined by its eternal partner, “Slipknot!”
With “Franklin’s Tower” already played earlier in the set, the band instead took a detour into a grooving “The Music Never Stopped” featuring Aron Magner belting out the lyrics to a song that has found new meaning in the return of live music.
The musical train never stopped moving as the speeding locomotive rolled right into “Peggy-O” where Magner’s passion from the previous song filtered through the air and was intercepted by Strings who delivered yet another stimulating vocal performance.
Things then began to wind down with one last segue into the second Beatles cover of the evening, a contemplative “Dear Prudence”. Following a brief stoppage in play, Strings took the mic for one more with an emotional “Brokedown Palace” before the band took off for a well-deserved encore break.
As with the previous evening, the encore began with a “Drums” segment from Kreutzmann that once again saw him joined by Jeff Franca (Thievery Corporation). The rest of the band then joined in as the further-extended ensemble kicked off a truncated Terrapin Station movement by cutting straight to the meat with “Lady With A Fan” to be followed by the titular “Terrapin Station”.
It wasn’t yet time for this engine to roll into the station, however, as Billy & The Kids, Billy Strings, James Casey, and Jeff Franca pooled all their collective artistic and energetic resources together for a fiery crescendo of “I Know You Rider” to bring the evening to a close.
With no more Billy & The Kids dates on the horizon, Kreutzmann’s children—and his newfound kin—will once again disperse to travel the country with their respective bands. Like any good children, however, the day will come when they will need a home-cooked meal or their laundry done and they will return home. Hopefully, it won’t take another five years.
Billy K, too, will be getting down to business this summer with a hefty schedule of Dead & Company tour dates. Check out a full list here.
Full-show audio of the concert is available below thanks to taper Coloartist, as is a gallery of photos from the performance courtesy of Conrad Meyer. Scroll down to check out a highlight reel of memorable moments from throughout the weekend.
Billy & The Kids, Billy Strings, James Casey – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/13/21
Billy & The Kids – Dead on the Rocks Recap
[Video: Billy Strings]
Setlist: Billy & The Kids with Billy Strings, James Casey | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 7/13/21
Set One: Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hey Jude > Cassidy > Jack Straw, My Sisters And Brothers, Me & My Uncle , Mama Tried , Dire Wolf , Shakedown Street
Set Two: Join Together > Franklin’s Tower, To Lay Me Down, That’s What Love Will Make You Do, Help On The Way > Slipknot! > The Music Never Stopped > Peggy-O > Dear Prudence, Brokedown Palace
Encore: Drums , Lady With A Fan  > Terrapin Station  > I Know You Rider 
 w/ Paul Hoffman
 w/ Jeff Franca