Photo | MarchOne Music
Band: Billy Strings
Date: April 9-11
Venue: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, 1621 Virginia St., laddpeebles.com
Tickets: $55-$75, available through Ticketmaster
Three years ago, Mobilians got acquainted with Billy Strings at Soul Kitchen. Now, this young master of modern bluegrass is returning for a three-day run at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. While COVID shutdowns affected many notable musicians, Strings seemed to acclimate to the pandemic world with stellar results. With a series of livestreams and a Grammy for his album “Home,” Strings’ career and listening audience flourished over the past year.
As he travelled to Columbia, S.C., for a run of live shows, Strings spoke with Music Editor Steve Centanni about his expanding bluegrass legacy and his upcoming shows in the Azalea City.
Steve Centanni: You’ve got your first live shows coming up, and it’s been a while. What are you most excited about, as far as getting back in front of crowds?
Billy Strings: Getting back in front of the crowds! You know, we’re a live music band, and that’s what we do. The more people who are up front hanging out with us, then the more fun we have and the better we play. Fans are in control of us sometimes.
Centanni: Last time we spoke, we talked about how you love the chemistry between you and the crowd in the live setting. You’ve done quite a few livestreams over the past year. I know some artists just couldn’t get into that format. With that being said, what kept you doing the livestreams?
Strings: It’s definitely more fun to play for people, for sure. It’s kinda hard to get it going sometimes. Like I said, we’re such a live music band. Live music is a two-way street. We are playing for people on the internet, but you have to imagine that. You have to say, “I know there’s people out there listening,” but you just have to imagine it. You can’t see their faces and the instant gratification of clapping and hootin’ and hollerin’ after the song. It’s definitely a lot tougher to play.
I just roll with sh*t, man. Whatever happens, you just gotta roll with it. So, it’s been like, “OK, well, I guess this is what’s going down. Let’s figure this sh*t out.” It’s been an internal thing. Instead for all the people now, it’s me and my band members goofing off together and playing off each other. Maybe it’s just a good band experiment. Maybe we’ll be a stronger band because of it.
Centanni: As far as rolling with things, a lot of artists struggled to maintain a career or relevance during COVID. You seemed to thrive. Through 2020 and 2021, you expanded your audience and capped it off with a Grammy. What do you think it was about “Home” that took you to another level?
Strings: Well, I don’t know. It’s kinda weird. We put that record out and there’s songs like “Watch It Fall” and “Away from the Mire” on there and the album itself is called “Home.” A lot of people have said, and I’m going to say it was a premonition, but it was a foreshadow of things to come. We put that album out in 2019. By March of the next year, sh*t was going down. We were all stuck at home. “Away from the Mire” had lyrics like, “Spring lied to us again.” That was so relevant. It’s like everybody had their spring laid out, and their plans came crashing down when the pandemic dropped down on us. With any good music, if you’re into it at the moment, then it’s because you can relate to it. I think a lot of people could relate to that album during that time because it was so related to the time.
Centanni: I love songs that stick out on albums. “Home” is filled with all those flat-picking runs and off-beat progressions that you’re known for. Then, you get to the end with “Freedom” with its beautiful, old-school, gospel-bluegrass sound. It’s almost like you jammed and raised hell for 13 tracks, and you decided to take a rest. What made you want to end the album that way?
Strings: On the previous record, “Turmoil and Tinfoil,” I had one song that was claw-hammer banjo and old-timey. On the next record, I wanted something like that but not necessarily old-timey. It can’t all be alien space grass. There has to be something true in there as well. At my live shows and on my records, I have to put some organic stuff in there, so it doesn’t get completely lost in the space jams. It’s almost like a palate cleanser.
Centanni: You mentioned the space jams. If there was ever a track to drive bluegrass purists insane, then it would be “Guitar Peace.” It sounds like it was free-for-all in the studio, then it was like, “OK! Let’s throw some electronics on it!” What was it like throwing that one together?
Strings: It was a stream of consciousness. I kinda got really high and played my guitar for a while in the studio. The night before I recorded that, I went home, and my girlfriend was watching this documentary about George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. They were talking about Indian music with the sitar. They don’t necessarily have the song planned out. They’re playing from their spirit. They take the instrument and they play whatever is coming from within. I thought that was pretty cool and just wanted to try that. The next day when I went to the studio, everybody went to lunch, and me and the engineer just hung back. He played a little harmonium. I smoked a little grass, picked up the guitar and played it.
Centanni: It’s funny that you mentioned Harrison because it reminded me of that jam of his called “I Remember Jeep.”
Centanni: With the Grammy in hand and the world getting back into concert mode, what’s it been like behind the scenes getting ready?
Strings: We’re just trying to lock down gigs and figure out what we’re doing. My team has been really stretched hard this year. My booking agent and manager have been working really hard. We book so many gigs, and then they get canceled. Then, you book more gigs, and they get canceled. We’ve booked three years worth of gigs this year, and they all got canceled. As soon as the gates open up, we’re ready to roll. We can’t wait to get back out there and play. It’s what we do. It’s our entire life. I’m on the bus right now with my buddies and playing video games and going down the road. It’s just the best. This is my family here.
Centanni: As far as your show in Mobile, what do you have planned for the sets? Will it be different each night?
Strings: Absolutely! Most of the time, people will come to all three shows. So, you won’t hear any repeats. We play roughly about 20 songs per night. So, we’ll play 60 songs during that run.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.