Marcus King and Billy Strings, two of the country’s hottest guitar players, will join forces this May for a first-time-ever collaboration at the Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival in Martinsville, Va.
King, a southern rock/blues star, will sit in for the full show with progressive bluegrass ace Billy Strings and his band on a midnight-2 am “King & Strings” set at Rooster Walk 10. The pairing of two guitar-shredding icons, each age 25 or younger, is sure to be a showcase of frenetic fretboard work, improvised from start to finish.
In addition, legendary drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit) will sit in during the latter portion of the set to give a little extra backbone to the big finish.
“I’ve never met Marcus, but I really love him, and I love his band, and I love what they’re doing,” said Billy Strings, a 25-year-old Michigan native. “It’s just awesome. I’ve seen that guy come up so quick, you know what I mean? That band, they’ve been out there touring relentlessly and just killing it at every show. And I think that’s incredible.“
King, a Greenville, S.C., native, has already sat in with a veritable “who’s who” of the world’s most famous rock, blues and jam bands, ranging from Gov’t Mule and Umphrey’s McGee to Widespread Panic. But other than a two-song appearance with Greensky Bluegrass at last year’s Rooster Walk, the 21-year-old hasn’t shared the stage with many bluegrass artists.
Even so, he has a long-standing love for the genre. “All the older relatives in my family were more bluegrass players, and I played a lot of gospel with them at my great grandfather’s house. I’ve always had a really deep respect for bluegrass players. I just think it’s an incredible art form, and I’m happy to be part of this set,” said King. “I think it’s gonna be a hoot, man. If I can be frank, I think it’s a great idea, and we’re gonna have a lot of fun with it.”
Though both artists intentionally plan to keep things loose and unscripted, they agree that a melding of the bluegrass and blues worlds will be an exciting way to fill two hours of music.
The impetus of the idea came from last year’s Rooster Walk, when guitarist Eric Krasno was the only member of his band who made it to the festival due to severe storms that cancelled flights across the country. In a pinch, Billy Strings and his band backed up Krasno on stage. The resulting set, though completely off the cuff and unrehearsed, was one of the most talked about from the entire weekend at Pop’s Farm.
“Kras, his band couldn’t make it last year because of the weather. So I heard about the set and I think that’s kind of the idea of this one, is just letting it be more spontaneous. And I’m sure (Billy and I) will have a couple phone calls to iron out some of the details, because we may want to go into it with some preconceived ideas,” explained King. “But other than that, just kind of leaving it up to everybody on stage as to how it turns out. And you know when you’ve got folks like Jeff Sipe on stage, you’re gonna have some spontaneous moments.”
Coincidentally, Strings has recently been seen playing electric guitar on-stage during a Greensky Bluegrass sit-in. This special King & Strings pairing creates the possibility of a 2-hour set that starts in the bluegrass/acoustic realm and explores its way toward a plugged-in, Sipe-backed finish that’s completely different and unique.
“We’re not gonna make a big plan,” said Strings. “Like, it’s not gonna be some epic set. Well, it might be. It probably will be, actually, but it will be fun and just kind of improv’d.”
“Hell yeah. I’m into it. Like I said, I just think it’s going to be a really good time,” he said. “I’m really jazzed up about it. I’m gonna practice up on my flat-picking!”
Rooster Walk 10 will take place May 24-27, 2018 at Pop’s Farm in Martinsville, Va. Headlining bands include The Wood Brothers, JJ Grey & Mofro and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. The festival’s full band lineup will be announced Thursday. To buy tickets or learn more information, visit the festival website.
[Video credits: Music City Roots – Billy Strings / Turmoil & Tinfoil; The Marcus King Band – Live at The Anthem Washington DC – February 15, 2018]