The lineup announcement for the Oct. 31 bluegrass spectacle at Van Andel Arena — dubbed the “Van Andel Scramble” — features pals Mark Lavengood, John Mailander and other special guests.
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Billy Strings’ mammoth West Michigan homecoming show just got bigger — a true “bluegrass brouhaha.”
The Ionia County-bred guitar superstar announced this week that his Halloween-night spectacle at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena will also feature appearances by several powerhouse names in bluegrass: Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, John Mailander, Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringusters, Bill Nershi of The String Cheese Incident, Duane Trucks and West Michigan’s own beloved Dobro whiz, Mark Lavengood.
Billed as the “Van Andel Scramble,” the Oct. 31 concert comes just ahead of a European tour for Billy Strings and his band, with a series of shows kicking off in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Nov. 6.
Some tickets ($49.50-$59.50) are still available for the Grand Rapids show — available online at Ticketmaster here — and Tuesday’s lineup and theme announcement will likely push sales higher.
“One of the biggest shows of my life, no doubt,” said Mark “Huggy Bear” Lavengood, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who now operates The Bear Den recording studio outside Coral, Mich.
“I was literally shouting at everybody around me with glee when I got the call to come and pick with Billy and the boys. Being that it’s the Halloween show and that it’s at the Van Andel is just so surreal. I remember back in the day when everyone was just growing into the scene and all the picking sessions in between the travels. It will be great to get back at it with all of these legends.”
Indeed, Lavengood and William Apostol, aka Billy Strings, go way back when it comes to their emergence amid Michigan’s music scene, often performing and jamming together, including a 2015 Local Spins Wednesdays session at Grand Rapids’ cozy SpeakEZ Lounge.
“I’ve been buddies with Billy since around 2012ish, shortly after joining forces with Lindsay Lou. We were both fellow pickers and always enjoyed a session together when we were able to get one in between shows and tours,” said Lavengood, who featured Billy on his 2014 studio album.
“I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in with the band a handful of times over the years, but this will be my first arena show experience and I’m ready to rawk!”
Along with the other musicians on board — and many in the audience — Lavengood plans to dress the part for Halloween, with his costume still to be revealed.
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The rest of the Oct. 31 lineup is an impressive one, especially for bluegrass devotees.
Like Billy Strings, Tuttle is a Grammy Award-winning bluegrass star who most recently co-headlined northern Michigan’s Hoxeyville Music Festival. Tuttle and Apostol have been frequent collaborators and recently released a new single together, “Listen to the Radio.”
Tennessee singer-songwriter, mandolinist and guitarist Sierra Hull, meanwhile, topped Billboard’s U.S. Bluegrass Chart with her last two albums, 2020’s “25 Trips” and 2016’s “Weighted Mind,” while also performing regularly with Billy.
Guitarist Bill Nershi is a founding member of Colorado’s The String Cheese Incident, a wildly popular and eclectic jam band that essentially serves as the “house band” for Rothbury’s annual Electric Forest festival. He’s also recorded and performed with his wife, Jilian Nershi.
Acclaimed Nashville-based fiddler John Mailander — a member of Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers — has toured with Billy Strings and released his most recent solo album, “Look Closer,” in 2021.
Banjoist Chris Pandolfi of Nashville’s The Infamous Stringdusters was the first-ever banjo principal at Berklee College of Music in Boston and has also released solo albums, including 2021’s “Trad Plus Presents Trance Banjo.”
Drummer Duane Trucks, brother of Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, is a member of Widespread Panic and Hard Working Americans.
Check out a playlist of these artists below and read more about Apostol as part of Local Spins’ Billy Strings Month here.
What’s your favorite Billy Strings song and why does he deserve such attention and adoration as a bluegrass artist? Email your response to email@example.com with BILLY STRINGS in the message field and your name will be placed in a drawing for a special Local Spins/Billy Strings gift pack.
BILLY STRINGS & FRIENDS AT VAN ANDEL ARENA 2023: The Local Spins Playlist
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