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Strings puts psychedelic light on bluegrass

The Belasco, Los Angeles, September 8, 2021

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Billy Strings opened his Los Angeles tour date quite appropriately with New Riders of the Purple Sage's "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy." It was appropriate because Strings played lots of old-fashioned bluegrass music for this cosmopolitan, contemporary music town.

Furthermore, Peter Rowan (Grateful Dead associate) wrote it, and there's a strong connection between Strings' old-meets-new music and the mixed styles the Dead created. He may have related to that song's lonely character, but Strings sure knows how to perform engaging acoustic music and gave this enthusiastic audience plenty of modern traditional music to enjoy.

The Belasco was packed – even on a Wednesday night – which meant there are a whole lot of Strings fans in Los Angeles. It may have also been a sign that we Angelenos have been cooped up in our houses way too long. Strings' Dead connection was immediately obvious, as many in the audience wore tie dye shirts and other hippie apparel. Once Strings started playing, many went right into that spaced-out sort of dancing you see at Dead-related shows. Strings clearly has a large jam band loving fan base, and many of these showed up for his show. Then again, a guy was spotted wearing a Dolly Parton t-shirt, so he also has a lot of traditional country music fans, too.

It was fascinating to watch how the audience responded to Strings' music. Accompanied by a banjoist, mandolinist and stand-up bassist, Strings would often times push his band performances to a thrilling musical build, which would cause the audience to roar with applause. These reactions were surprisingly similar to the way EDM fans respond to sonic musical builds. Both styles can't be more different, instrumentally, yet both receive very similar responses. Each gives audiences a kind of aural high, yet one is electronic, while the other is completely acoustic.

Most of Strings' selections leaned toward the traditional bluegrass side of the musical spectrum, exemplified by his performance of the traditional "Little Maggie," but he also performed "Just Because," which incorporates both country and rockabilly elements. Even while he was playing these acoustic songs, though, the stage was illuminated by swirling, psychedelic lighting. Even visually, Strings presented an intersection of both the old and the new.

With his boyish good looks, Billy Strings has given bluegrass music a youthful boost. He's not just a pretty face, though. The boy can play! With Strings, bluegrass-inspired music has a bright, albeit slightly psychedelic, future.



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