Concert Review: Billy Strings’s Streaming Strings Tour — Virtual but Unbridled

By Scott McLennan

If the first set was all about reminding us of the breadth and depth of the talent in Billy Strings’s combo, the second set was all about dynamics and power.

Billy Strings on the Streaming Strings “tour” in Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl with guest Marcus King. Photo: Jesse Faatz.

Billy Strings hasn’t been in hiding during the shutdown of live music caused by the coronavirus crisis, but he hasn’t exactly been in his element either.

The guitar virtuoso has aired his distinctive brand of modern bluegrass in a few solo live-streams and had some archival concert footage available. So there were offerings for fans of the concert experience who comb through the internet for something to feast on.

But Strings is going all out with Streaming Strings, a virtual tour of sorts that presents nine concerts spread across a 10-day period (through July 26), with Strings’s full band performing in different venues around Nashville.

There are even tour T-shirts and custom-designed posters for each date.

The only thing missing are the crowds and, of course, that is the wild card. Strings has made his name on the live circuit because his concerts celebrate symbiosis: band and audience feed off of each others’ frenetic energy. Strings and crew were explosive in the small confines of the Sinclair in Cambridge when they played there in late 2019. Strings had sold out a show set for the larger Royale in Boston in April before COVID-19 shutdowns hit.

Night one of Streaming Strings took place July 16 in an empty Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville. The streaming service Fans carried the first two nights of the tour; others will step in on different nights, and they may be worth waiting for if you don’t care for Fans’s shtick of splicing in Zoom footage of viewers who want you to see them or their kids dancing around in their living rooms. But, to Fans’s credit, the service lets ticket buyers rewatch concerts within a 48-hour window.

Strings, banjo player Billy Failing, bassist Royal Masat, and mandolin player Jarrod Walker shuffled on stage and worked through “Watch It Fall” in fine, if somewhat prescriptive, fashion. But that mid-tempo lament was a smart choice for a reunited band that wanted to calibrate its performance game: everyone jammed a bit and played off of each other, limbering up after not playing together for months.

The show took off in earnest with the the second song, “Slow Train,” which ramped up in intensity and displayed the breathtaking prowess of the band in full flight.

Strings and company then swerved into the tender “While I’m Waiting Here,” showcasing this crew’s deft skill at slowly building a song to an emotional peak.

From there on there was no looking back: it all looked, felt, and sounded like a Billy Strings concert. Strings, Failing, and Walker traded fiercely picked solos and Masat held down the groove through a succession of songs, originals and revelatory covers. Failing also stepped up to handle lead vocals on “So Many Miles,” augmented by one of Walker’s expansive mandolin solos.

The show’s first set showcased a sequence that reflected the rustic and cosmic influences fueling Strings and company: Flatt and Scruggs’s “Doing My Time,” Doc Watson’s “I’m Going Fishing,” and the Grateful Dead’s “China Doll.” The originals — “Dealing Despair” “Enough to Leave,” and the searing “Away from the Mire” —  displayed just how well Strings infuses sturdy traditions into tunes that are wholly contemporary.

If the first set was all about reminding us of the breadth and depth of the talent in Billy Strings’s combo, the second set was all about dynamics and power.

Billy Strings on the Streaming Strings “tour” in Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl. Photo: Jesse Faatz.

“Pyramid Country” and “Ernest T. Grass” are two of the band’s big improv-stoked instrumentals and both received extensive workouts; if there were a crowd at this show, it would have been levitating,

Around those two epics, the band peppered in popular cuts such as “Dust in a Baggie” and “Must Be Seven,” and it also delivered a wonderful, rambling cover of J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High.”

The second set also featured a guest appearance by fellow guitar wunderkind Marcus King, who stuck to the acoustic format of the show. He joined in on covers of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” which he sang. King and Strings tastefully traded licks, not so much trying to outdo each other but with the aim of lifting these well-known songs to new heights.

After more than two hours, the band brought the show home with a fiery rendition of “Little Maggie,” layering rock ’n’ roll muscle into bluegrass finesse.

Strings and his band looked and sounded unbridled despite the sterile setting, which could not replace the exhilarating feel of a concert gathering — but at least it gave everyone a front row seat.

Streaming Strings continues with 8 pm concerts on July 18 and 19 at Station Inn, 22 and 23 at City Winery, 24 and 25 at Exit/In, and 26 at 3rd & Lindsey. Tickets are $9.99 per show and available at

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.


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