From swinging by Local Spins on WYCE to firing up a big crowd at The Intersection, the kid from Ionia proved his instrumental prowess with help from ‘a killer band.’ Photos, videos, podcast.
The thing about Billy Strings is that he never stops.
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Maybe when he sleeps, and even then, odds are that he’s dreaming of another wondrous jam.
The Michigan-bred bluegrass star who’s been tearing up stages across the country and earning national media accolades the past year after moving to Nashville is never far from his guitar and never far from another flat-picking blitz of genre-melding bluegrass.
So it’s only natural that Billy Strings would spend the weekend back in his home state in all-day jam mode, something that even included trading licks with family members gathered for dinner on Thanksgiving Day in Traverse City.
The next day, in the guitarist’s much-ballyhooed return to Grand Rapids for a rousing show at The Intersection, the kid who grew up as William Apostol in Ionia got things rolling early: He and his ultra-talented four-piece band spilled into Studio X at WYCE at lunchtime after making the journey down from Traverse City and within minutes were cranking out the title track from Billy Strings’ new album, “Turmoil & Tinfoil.” (Video here, podcast below.)
VIDEO: Billy Strings Live for Local Spins on WYCE (11/24/17)
Video by Paul Sinkevics
And just moments after the band’s appearance for Local Spins on WYCE wrapped up, Billy strapped his guitar back on to show new bandmate and violinist John Mailander another riff.
‘THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE’
“It’s the most important thing in my life this music. My dad (Terry Barber) taught me bluegrass as a kid and kept me going and I’ll never stop,” he said in explaining his ceaseless mission to perform and push the boundaries of the bluegrass genre.
Indeed, when it comes to the traditional bluegrass community, Billy concedes, “We freaked them out, I think. We swim in all the ponds. It’s not just bluegrass festivals, it’s jam-band festivals, whoever will have us.”
Several hours later, Billy and his comrades – Billy Failing on banjo, Royal Masat on bass, Jarrod Walker on mandolin and Mailander on fiddle – dynamically demonstrated that boundary-pushing approach on stage at The Intersection for a fervent throng of 1,000-plus who pumped fists and howled with delight at every twist and turn and at every eye-popping solo.
The exuberant Friday night performance ranged from epic, 12-minute-long progressive bluegrass gems to genre-defying selections that uncorked ‘60s-styled vocal harmonies courtesy of Billy and Failing. (Check out the amazing solos in the video below.)
At times, Billy leaned on the heavy metal band experience of his youth, with fierce leaps and a fiery pounding of his acoustic guitar, or as one fan put it, a “punk bluegrass” attack. (Billy had quipped earlier that fans could expect “sweat and tears and blood and anger” on stage.)
All of it earned roars of approval from an audience that clearly appreciates this New Millennium-styled take on bluegrass, proving not only that it’s grown beyond some niche musical category but that Billy Strings has merely scratched the surface with his burgeoning career.
“It’s my dream. It’s all coming true,” he said. “We’ve just been rambling around playing lots of gigs, got a killer band, making lots of friends, it’s just awesome. We’re loving it out here.”
Billy Strings wraps up his Michigan run with a sold-out show Saturday night at the new Mt. Mancelona venue in Mancelona, followed by a Sunday show at The Ark in Ann Arbor.
(A fan of bluegrass? Check out a review and photo gallery from Friday night’s sold-out Greensky Bluegrass concert at Kalamazoo’s State Theatre here: Greensky Bluegrass electrifies hometown fans with wide-ranging State Theatre show
PHOTO GALLERY NO. 1: Billy Strings and Mark Lavengood at The Intersection
Photos by Anthony Norkus
VIDEO: Billy Strings & Band at The Intersection
PHOTO GALLERY No. 2: Billy Strings and Mark Lavengood at The Intersection
Photos by Anna Sink
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