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Bluegrasser Billy Strings Completes Trifecta of Nashville Shows With Ryman Auditorium Homecoming

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In December 1945, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium hosted the meshing of sounds that was Bill Monroe’s mandolin, Earl Scruggs’ three-finger banjo-picking style and Lester Flatt’s guitar, along with Chubby Wise’s fiddle and Howard Watts’ upright bass, becoming what would become the exemplar for the sound of bluegrass music.


Just over 77 years later, on Sunday evening (Feb. 26), another Bill held court on that same hallowed stage, playing to a sold-out crowd of bluegrass aficionados, as an artist revitalizing the genre and taking it to greater heights. Since releasing his debut album in 2017, Billy Strings has won a Grammy for best bluegrass album (2021’s Home), been named artist of the year at the Americana Music Awards, picked up six International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards and performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Strings’ performance at the Ryman concluded a trifecta of Nashville shows over the weekend, which also included two sold-out shows at Nashville’s approximately 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena. The arena shows are among several such dates included on Strings’ current tour — a rarity in bluegrass, and a testament to Strings’ gut-punch vocals, fleet-fingered guitar prowess and high-octane approach to performing.

But on Sunday night, he told the fervent, sold-out crowd that had gathered at the 2,362-person capacity venue, that the Ryman had special significance for him and his genre. “This is hallowed ground. This is ground zero for bluegrass music.”

For the Ryman show, Strings teamed with Nashville-based clothing line Imogene + Willie for an exclusive merch collection — which was well-received, judging by a merch line that wound from the Ryman’s upstairs lobby into the auditorium itself, snaking behind the upper-most wooden pews. Last year, Strings performed three sold-out shows at the iconic venue.

During Sunday’s show, instead of diving deep into his own catalog of music, as he did with his Bridgestone concerts, Strings’ Ryman concert leaned heavily on the copious amount of songs he learned to play since first picking up a guitar as a child. Donning suits and their signature hats, Strings and his bandmates — banjo/vocalist Billy Railing, bassist Royal Masat, mandolin player Jarrod Walker and fiddle player Alex Hargraves — launched their Ryman show with the appropriate “Tennessee,” followed by the Dillards’ “Old Home Place,” and soon after, renditions of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Katy Daley,” and Larry Sparks’ “A Face in the Crowd.”

“Each of us has been playing this music since we were little kids so it’s fun to just play bluegrass,” Strings told the crowd. “We’re sure glad y’all like it, because we’d be sitting here doing this shit either way.”

His nearly-three-hour show did not feature an opener; instead, the evening was all Strings and his band, who played two sets with a brief intermission.

“Freeborn Man,” with its lyrics, “You may not like my appearance, may not like my song/ May not like the way I talk, But you like the way I’m gone,” drew especially fervent cheers, feet stomping and rafter-scrapping singing from the crowd. Strings also performed “Long Journey Home (Two-Dollar Bill),” which he recorded on his 2022 album Me/And/Dad, with his father Terry Barber.

His sole guest during the nearly three-hour show was banjoist Rob McCoury, who joined for a rendition of “Bringing Mary Home,” and “Eight More Miles to Louisville.” McCoury played banjo on Me/And/Dad.

Strings said of making the project, “It was so awesome to be in the studio with you and your brother to make that record. We made the whole record and Rob never had to overdub anything or change one part. Everything he played was just fine and I asked him, ‘How did you do that? You got through the whole record with every take was the one.’ He said, ‘Man, those notes are flying by so fast anyway that nobody notices the wrong ones.’”

Joking about letting a few curse words fly while onstage in the Mother Church, Strings said, “Gonna need to do a gospel number now. We could do that, or I could just get a haircut,” before introducing mandolin player Walker, who led the Clinch Mountain Boys in the Stanley Brothers classic “Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine.” Hargreaves led on “Ashland Breakdown,” while the band followed with another Monroe classic, “My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling.”

“Thank you for coming out tonight. We love and appreciate you,” Strings concluded the set’s main run, before introducing each member of the band once again. “I’m Bill. What a thrill,” he said. However, given that the audience had not sat down once during this nearly three-hour show, it was clear that wouldn’t be their last song.

From there, they offered another Monroe classic, “Roll On, Buddy, Roll On,” which seemed appropriate, given that’s just what Strings will be doing on tour for the majority of the year, bringing his celebrated brand of bluegrass to new converts. “Thank you and goodnight,” Strings offered in closing.

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