REVIEW: Billy Strings salutes Kentucky bluegrass legends in Lexington return

Story by Matt Wickstrom
Photos by Sarah Cahill

Billy Strings performing at Manchester Music Hall on Feb. 6, 2020. Sarah Cahill | KY Cahill Photography

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings brought his psychedelic, string-fed rock’n roll circus to Kentucky this past weekend, kicking off his three-night sold out run through the Commonwealth in Lexington at Manchester Music Hall before heading up I-64 for two nights at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville.

Arguably the most sought after and hyped up artist currently touring in the scene, Strings is leading the charge in making bluegrass music great again. That surge is no more evident than here in Kentucky, where after a handful of sold out shows at smaller venues such as The Burl and Zanzabar he is now returning to fill venues three and four times the size, with tickets selling out in mere minutes.

Strings kicked off his Kentucky reunion with a chilling recital of the Stanley Brothers’ “Bound to Ride” before reaching deep into his musical lexicon for “Slow Train” and “Thirst Mutilator.” The band then jumped into “Sorrow is a Highway,” a song penned by the late Jeff Austin for Yonder Mountain String Band’s 2001 album Town By Town before morphing into the blistering jams of “Dealing Despair” and Bill Emerson’s “Home of the Red Fox” before closing the set on “Must Be Seven.”

Following a brief intermission that afforded the capacity crowd the opportunity to catch their collective breaths Strings and Co. returned to the stage, jumping into “Taking Water” before shifting into a cover of MuleSkinner’s “Going to the Races,” a song fans who attended the inaugural Railbird Festival last August at Keeneland will recall Strings opening his set there with.

The band later kicked up a harmonic cover of Bowling Green native Sam Bush’s “Whisper My Name” and Larry Sparks’ “Kentucky Girl” before firing up “Home,” the titled track from Strings’ latest critically-acclaimed album, that built into an epic, jam-fueled medley that moved into a cover of the Grammy Award winning Infamous Stringdusters’ “No More To Leave You Behind” before ending on an emphatic, howling rendition of Blackfoot’s “Train, Train.”

After stepping away from their instruments and taking a bow to a barrage of applause the band retrieved their weapons of mass psychedelia and kicked into an encore spearheaded by the old-time instrumental “Gold Rush” prior to ending the night on a poignant performance on Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Following the show in Lexington Strings and his band moved on the Louisville for two nights at Headliners Music Hall, where they were joined on both nights by Michael Cleveland, a Southern Indiana native and dynamite fiddler who last month won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for his latest effort Tall Fiddler.

Set List

Set 1:
Bound to Ride (Stanley Brothers cover)
Slow Train
Long Forgotten Dream
All of Tomorrow
Thirst Mutilator >
Sorrow is a Highway (Yonder Mountain String Band cover)
Dealing Despair
Watch it Fall >
Home of the Red Fox (Bill Emerson cover) >
Must be Seven

Set 2:
Taking Water
Going to the Races (Muleskinner cover)
Away From The Mire
Love Like Me
Whisper My Name (Sam Bush cover)
Highway Hypnosis
Kentucky Girl (Larry Sparks cover)
No More To Leave You Behind (Infamous Stringdusters cover) >
Train, Train (Blackfoot cover)

Gold Rush
Blue Moon of Kentucky (Bill Monroe cover)

Leave a Reply