Billy Strings & Don Julin played one of their few remaining Michigan shows Friday at Seven Steps Up, the day after Billy Strings lit up One Trick Pony in a surprise gig with his dad. (Photo gallery)
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY & VIDEO FROM BOTH SHOWS
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Billy Strings, aka William Apostol, never seems to stop – often picking away at his guitar before and after his shows.
And while the jaw-dropping Traverse City acoustic guitarist plans to move to Nashville as the acclaimed Billy Strings and Don Julin bluegrass duo winds down, he made sure West Michigan audiences this week got a good look at the breadth of his non-stop talent, his musical roots and the collaborative nature of his approach.
On Thursday, he made a “surprise” guest appearance at the Ralston Bowles & Friends show at One Trick Pony, performing with his father, guitarist Terry Barber, as well as other relatives and members of Bowles’ band, showing off tight familial harmonies on old-time bluegrass and folk faves that he grew up with in Ionia.
The 23-year-old guitarist – who insisted he’ll still perform regularly in Michigan despite the impending Nashville relocation and who has a solo gig on New Year’s Eve at Grand Haven’s Grand Armory Brewing – told Local Spins that one of his priorities is to perform more often with his father, something he said he’d regret if he didn’t do it now. They also plan to record together.
The joy he displayed while performing at One Trick proved the point, a show that Bowles described as a “once-in-a-lifetime” pairing of musicians. By the end of the evening, it had featured – among others – Hugo Claudin, Robby Jewett, Eric Engblade, Fred Willson, Kathy Lamar and members of Fauxgrass.
“And everyone jammed like a Grand Ole Opry finale. Crazy night,” Bowles remarked. “It was incredible.”
The next night, the lively and engaging Apostol kept right on rolling, pairing back up with Julin on mandolin and Kevin Gills on standup bass to wow a sold-out crowd for a Billy Strings & Don Julin bluegrass spectacle in the intimate confines of the Seven Steps Up listening room in Spring Lake.
The “Pin Drop Concerts” atmosphere was the perfect environment – with unblemished acoustics – for 120 or so aficionados of acoustic guitar and mandolin virtuosity to watch an improbable pair of masters at work (a 20-something and a 50-something), starting right from the get-go with the fiery “Little Maggie” that launched the two-set show. It also offered an ideal platform for Apostol’s voice, which is nothing if not the authentic-sounding, drawl-drenched voice of a much older and seasoned artist.
Friday’s concert represented one of the last West Michigan appearances currently scheduled for Billy Strings & Don Julin, with the duo playing Winter Wheat at The Intersection in Grand Rapids on Jan. 9 and playing its final official show together for Merlefest in North Carolina in late April.
And if it was one of the final salvos from this explosive two-year-old group, it was a fitting bluegrass barn-burner that concertgoers will long remember.
Billy Strings & Don Julin @ Seven Steps Up: Photos by Anna Sink
Ralston & Friends with Billy Strings and Terry Barber: Photos by Tori Thomas
VIDEO: Billy Strings at One Trick Pony and Seven Steps Up
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