Grammy winner Billy Strings took the stage Saturday night to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Factory in Deep Ellum. The 28-year-old Michigan native was named the Entertainer of the Year in 2021 by the International Blue Grass Music Association, which also bestowed on him his second Guitar Player of the Year award. Strings can also add to his mantel a 2021 Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album, for which he was nominated for a second consecutive year along with a nomination for best American Roots Performance.
Some call his style of playing “heavy metal bluegrass.” Though Strings did get his start in music playing metal, he earned the comparison for his custom of shredding on the acoustic guitar and not for his sound. His live set-up is fairly standard for a bluegrass band with Strings on acoustic guitar, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, Royal Masat on upright bass and Billy Faliling on banjo. The entire band lends detailed harmonies as well. Although they served a lot of traditional, foot-stomping tunes, Strings took the traditional sound to new heights, incorporating his love of rock music. The result is the feeling that you’re hearing more instruments than there are on stage. The fact that there were no drums probably evaded the crowd as the instruments do the job.
The venue was filled with spontaneous dancing among the audience, and even some of the staff joined in. Strings and his quartet matched their energy — and then exceeded it.
Much like a jam band, Strings played two 12-song sets plus a double encore. Every night his setlist changes dramatically so no two Billy Strings shows are the same. The band kept on their high energy, dipping into an occasional ballad, mixing in originals, covers and traditional songs including six songs from String's 2021 release Renewal.
Earlier this year at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, Strings played the “Jerry Garcia” role in original Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kruetzmann’s side project Billy and the Kids, and to honor the Dead, Strings has added some of the band's tunes to his live rotation of award-winning original material.
The guitarist also surprised the crowd with a guest appearance by North Texas outlaw countryman Paul Cauthen, who'd just finished his set at neighboring venue the Studio at the Factory and whom he also supported by donning a Paul Cauthen hat. Cauthen sang backup on the Merle Haggard tune "Mama Tried," which is also a Dead staple, and lead vocals and guitar on the Dead’s "Friend of the Devil."
And they did. Strings' power to unite disparate cultures through music is growing with each show, along with his legend.