By Matt Wickstrom
If for some reason it wasn’t apparent to you prior to Wednesday night’s show just how eclectic and diverse Billy Strings’ musical palette is, let last night’s show, which included an old-timey John Hartford cover, a cut from reggae icon Jimmy Cliff and an epic Widespread Panic reinterpretation, be a prime example of the bewildering talent that was performing from the City Winery stage in Nashville.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg of what the show, and the entire first half of Strings’ virtual “Streaming Strings” tour, has seen, with over 100 songs performed through five shows (and counting) with not a single repeat.
In a night full of covers the set opening “I’m Still Here” by John Hartford was perhaps the most conventional of the bunch, albeit still a scorching hot cover that Strings and company wasted no time cutting up trippy, otherworldly jams on, with everyone but bassist Royal Masat taking an opportunity to solo before eventually segueing into an instrumental version of the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville.”
Still yet without a breather, Strings and company aptly jumped into “Running,” with Strings singing “I am running and running as fast as I can go / I am running and running from all the things I know” all the while being outrun in the moment by he and the band’s own lightning quick string pickin’ before moving straight into “Everything’s The Same,” the second straight track from Strings’ 2019 effort Home, before the night’s first break in the action.
The first set’s ebbs and flows between originals and covers evened it self out for the show’s next two songs, retellings of The Dillards “There Is A Time” and the Leftover Salmon’s “Down In the Hollow,” the later of which heard Strings gritty howls echo throughout the City Winery building enough to make Drew Emmitt grin.
Strings then veered back to original “Doin’ Things Right” singing”We gotta stick together baby / Through thick and thin / If we’re gonna see the sun come up again,” in a anthem of love, community and togetherness before moving into “Run Down,” the first of two songs penned by the late Jeff Austin.
Following was a rendition of the String Cheese Incident’s “Black Clouds,” which featured a prolonged and lingering jam brought to a near silence before slowly being resuscitated by Strings’ six-string wizardry, eventually mended back to full health and back on the fast track, barreling ahead with a high-strung ferocity to cap the first set of the evening.
Despite the magnificence of set one, the night’s concluding set took the jams to new heights, kicked off with a performance of “On The Line” leading into covers of Widespread Panic’s “All Time Low,” Hot Rize’s “Midnight On The Highway” and a Jamaican reggae icon Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo.”
The next two songs, a reimagining of Old & In The Way’s Bill Monroe inspired “Blue Mule” and Strings’ own “Highway Hypnosis,” the last of which’s hypnotic jams draw the listener in before being beckoned back to reality by Strings’ chilling barks, were the last two of the night prior to welcoming the show’s special guest musician, multi-instrumentalist Mimi Naja of Fruition.
Upon taking the stage Naja immediately stood out, taking over vocals whilst wielding a mandolin for a cover of Flatt & Scruggs’ “Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky,” a vintage bluegrass ballad of love lost, in advance of “Labor Of Love,” a heartwarming song from Naja’s Fruition, who preceded the tune by saying “Someone asked me in an interview yesterday what song I want to play first when I get back together with the [Fruition] guys, and this is it.”
Staying on stage for the night’s final two songs, Naja remained on lead vocals for the chilling, Gillian Welch penned murder ballad “Caleb Meyer” before handing the reigns back to Strings for another nod to Jeff Austin on the show-capping “15 Steps.”
Billy Strings 7/22/2020 at City Winery Nashville
I’m Still Here —>
Last Train To Clarksville —>
Everything’s The Same
There Is A Time
Down In The Hollow —>
Doin’ Things Right
Run Down —>
On The Line
All Time Low —>
Midnight On The Highway —>
Sitting In Limbo
Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky $%
Labor of Love % —>
Caleb Meyer $%
15 Steps %
% w/Mimi Naja (of Fruition)
$ Mimi Naja lead vocals