Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings fired up The Intersection in Grand Rapids on Friday, the same night that Greensky Bluegrass wowed fans at Kalamazoo’s State Theatre. Both acts do it all again Saturday night.
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One thing’s for absolute certain: Billy Strings loves nothing better than to tear it up musically on stage with his top-drawer comrades.
On Friday at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, he even referred to it as a “good old-fashioned guitar-mageddon,” after inviting concert opener and North Carolina flatpicking guitarist Jon Stickley to jam on stage for “Dust in a Baggie,” which launched the second set.
And William Apostol, aka Billy Strings, certainly revels in coming home to Michigan to jam for family, friends and longtime fans who jammed the Intersection’s main showroom for the first of two straight homecoming shows at the sprawling venue.
“It’s good to be back in this room,” the Ionia native and breakout bluegrass star told the audience. “I used to come to metal shows here when I was 16. … I saw a lot of good shows here. So it’s an honor to be here to play.”
Joined by his Nashville bandmates Billy Failing on banjo, Royal Masat on bass and Jarrod Walker on mandolin, plus fiddler John Mailander, the group proved there are no boundaries to Billy’s version of bluegrass. The band weaved in elements of various genres, discordant stuff, eye-popping runs, harmony-hued hillbilly country, psychedelic passages and much more — all of it appreciated wildly by a mostly young and revelrous crowd packing the room.
As always, one of the evening’s highlights was an extended version of “Turmoil & Tinfoil” (the title track from his full-length debut album) that ended the first set, with that happy crowd reacting exuberantly to the various twists and turns rolled into the instrumental solos and jams.
It was another homecoming triumph for a powerhouse player who moved to Nashville, but whose heart remains in West Michigan. And he’ll do it all again for his hometown fans at The Intersection on Saturday night. (Get details, $20 tickets online at sectionlive.com.) – John Sinkevics
PHOTO GALLERY: Billy Strings at The Intersection
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEO: Billy Strings at The Intersection
Video by John Sinkevics
GREENSKY BLUEGRASS IGNITES FANS AT STATE THEATRE
About 50 miles to the south, another bluegrass powerhouse was enjoying a rousing homecoming blast of its own.
Kalamazoo hometown heroes Greensky Bluegrass kicked off a sold-out, two-night run at the Kalamazoo State Theatre, regaling its diehard fans with help from another Michigan-bred bluegrass fave.
Greensky Bluegrass started as a three-piece at a Papa Pete’s open-mic night in 2000.
In the intervening 18 years, they have headlined Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Northwest String Summit, played Fuji Rock Festival, Bonnaroo and countless other festivals, but Thanksgiving weekend has always been a hometown throwdown. And Friday night, Greensky delivered.
After an opening set featuring Michigan native Lindsay Lou and both of her bands — the Sweet Water Warblers and what was once known as the Flatbellys — Kalamazoo’s most famous bluegrass band took to the State Theatre stage in front of a packed house, opening with “Old Barns” and rolling through classic cuts such as “Against the Days,” “Broken Highways,” and “Lose My Way,” along with songs off their forthcoming album, including “What You Need” and “Like Reflections.”
The Kalamazoo quintet saved the best for last, however, closing out the second set with its two biggest hits, “Windshield” and “Living Over,” before shredding Cris Jacob’s “Bone Digger”for the encore. GSBG will conclude their two-night run at the State tonight. Tickets are sold out, but last night there were a limited number of tickets released at 6:30, so don’t give up hope if you don’t have one. – Ryan Boldrey
PHOTO GALLERY: Greensky Bluegrass, Lindsay Lou at Kalamazoo State Theatre
Photos by Derek Ketchum
VIDEO: Greensky Bluegrass, “What You Need,” at State Theatre
Video by Ryan Boldrey
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