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It’d be hard to argue that anyone has changed their sound as much as Billy Strings has in the last 10 years. If you reference the pre-war traditional collaboration albums he first did with Don Julin (Rock of Ages and Fiddle Tune X), and his solo debut EP Billy Strings, and then witnessed one of his recent high-voltage shows, the songs and sounds are both worlds apart … yet familiarly rooted. He went from opening on the Bluegrass circuit to a crossover festival headliner that’s more Dead than Doc. He’s now filling arenas and amphitheaters as an evening-with performer that often crushes for over three hours by incorporating sideways jams and creative covers. However, each set still includes moments where the four musicians onstage stand around a single mic, just as their bluegrass forefathers did generations ago. So, even as he sends bluegrass into the cosmos, he keeps one foot planted in Appalachia.
Strings shared his thoughts on that juxtaposition during a 2019 PG interview: “Before writing my own music, I used to be boxed in by bluegrass, but enjoying other musical genres made me realize it’s a self-made, transparent box,” he said. “Music should be freeing, with no borders. I want to express myself emotionally with my guitar, however it pours out of me.”
When the Rig Rundown team traveled north to Indianapolis’ TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, we didn’t know what to expect, but Strings’ full-monty setup did not disappoint. His rig still has delightful dreadnoughts, including some new old friends from Martin, but the many tricks rolled up his sleeve (or in his rack) allows this psychedelic sorcerer to cast spells over audiences all night long. Billy gave an hour to PG’s Perry Bean, where they covered electrifying acoustics, just whose ashes are in his 1945 Martin D-28, and how he continues coloring outside the traditional lines with stompboxes and modelers.