In the BURGH with Billy Strings

In the BURGH with Billy Strings

Billy Strings, a performer known for blending high-energy bluegrass music with progressive elements, took the stage on December 12 and 13 at Petersen Events Center. Upon arriving at the venue, located on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, I was greeted by hundreds of passionate fans. The demographic of the crowd resembled that of a Grateful Dead concert, with colorful attire. Many folks danced and swayed to the tunes played by Strings. This was the second Billy Strings concert my family and I attended at the same venue.

My brother and I anxiously waiting for Billy Strings to come on stage. According to my brother, we sat in the best section acoustically to hear the show. (Heather Hill)

The five-piece band included Strings (acoustic guitar), Royal Masat (upright bass), Billy Failing (banjo), Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), and Jarrod Walker (mandolin). From the moment the lights dimmed, the band performed with accuracy and energy. The mandolin was a great touch that delighted me because of the added beauty and energetic atmosphere.

The band opened with “Born to Ride,” a Stanley Brothers cover before launching into five Strings originals from his 2021 album, Renewal. The bunch dropped into “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” from Bob Dylan’s 1978 record Street-Legal.

The tone of the show suddenly shifted to one of psychedelia with a 10+ minute “Highway Hypnosis,” featuring distorted instruments and dexterous fingerpicking. By this time, the crowd was fully picking up what Strings and his band were putting down.

After a short break, the second set began with a retrospective “Must Be Seven,” followed by a beautiful cover of the Doc Watson Family’s “My Love Comes Rolling Down.” The next tune, “Hide and Seek,” proved just how far Strings can push the boundaries of bluegrass music, a genre known for its stoicism. This rendition in particular sounded like metal and progressive music.

Strings also let his stage presence shine on the cold December night. Strings wasn’t still for a minute, moving around and engaging with the crowd on most of the songs. After a few more classic, traditional bluegrass tunes, the fiery guitar picker performed another Dylan tune. This time he performed “Drifter’s Escape,” a semi-deep cut from Dylan’s 1967 LP John Wesley Hardin.

The band united and sang into one microphone for the encore. (Quinn Hill)

The roaring crowd welcomed Strings and his band back on stage for an encore performance. The five musicians gathered around a single microphone at the front of the stage and three more bluegrass covers. These included John Kee’s “Standing In the Need of Prayer,” the traditional song, “If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin in Your Heart),” and Doc Watson’s “Riding That Midnight Train.” The grateful Strings said a few words of thanks to the audience and departed for the next stop of the tour, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

The concert was phenomenal, and I urge those interested in country, rock, and even metal music to pay them a listen. Most of all, it is electrifying to see bluegrass presented in a new, exciting way.

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