In a moment that was as symbolic as it was incendiary, Billy Strings strapped on his Gibson Les Paul, cranked up the Orange amps, and rolled into a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” the six-string phenom howling, “Move over, Rover, and let Billy take over.”
Halloween night capped off an unforgettable three-night run for Strings & Co. at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Dressed as characters from The Lord of the Rings (the shows were dubbed “Away from the Shire”), the band blasted through a collage of acoustic and electric melodies — a rollercoaster Middle-earth soundtrack seamlessly fusing bluegrass and rock-n-roll.
The sold-out weekend was not only the hottest ticket the city has seen in recent memory, it also marked the transition into the next level for Strings, who just announced 15 headlining arena shows for 2023 — including two nights at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Feb. 24-25, which will be coupled with an intimate Ryman Auditorium appearance Feb. 26. A March 3rd show in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, doubles as a celebration of Doc Watson’s 100 birthday.
For Strings, Asheville has been his Halloween home base for several years now, graduating from small clubs around town like the Grey Eagle and Asheville Music Hall to the Orange Peel, and now to the 7,600-plus seat Harrah’s Cherokee Center. In recent Halloween outings, Strings has paid tribute to films like The Wizard of Oz and A Clockwork Orange.
And yet, even the massive Harrah’s space felt too small to contain the pure energy and raw emotion of what Strings, who turned 30 less than a month ago, has created. While he served up his usual dose of high-octane bluegrass gems, it was the back-and-forth between his acoustic and electric guitars that threw gas on the fire. The first set opened with an electric take on Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” while the second included a musical spider web of Zep’s “Battle of Evermore” into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” into Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.”
Cellist Rushad Eggleston and flutist Anh Phung fleshed out Strings’ band for the Halloween weekend shows, with Phung re-creating the chilling harmony vocals of Sandy Denny on “Battle of Evermore.” Widespread Panic drummer Duane Trucks, fresh from Panic’s own Halloween run in New Orleans, also backed up Strings and his band for the Monday night showcase.
The pinnacle of the evening came when Strings dove deep into Mother Love Bone’s “Crown of Thorns.” While hundreds of white balloons cascaded down from the rafters and confetti cannons exploded, Strings crooned into the microphone, “And this is my kind of love / It’s the kind that moves on.”
As the last of the balloons was popped, Strings hopped off the production rig and walked up to the front row, hugging folks and shaking hands as he made his way stage right before disappearing behind the curtain.
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The die-hard fan embrace was poignant, as if Strings himself was saying goodbye to this chapter of his rocket-ship career and looking ahead. Where to from here?
Billy Strings 2023 winter tour dates:
Feb. 2 — Denver, CO @ 1STBANK Center (SOLD OUT)
Feb. 3 — Denver, CO @ 1STBANK Center (SOLD OUT)
Feb. 4 — Denver, CO @ 1STBANK Center (SOLD OUT)
Feb. 16 — Atlantic City, NJ @ Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena
Feb. 17 — Atlantic City, NJ @ Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena
Feb. 18 — Atlantic City, NJ @ Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena
Feb. 21 — Charlottesville, VA @ John Paul Jones Arena
Feb. 22 — Charlottesville, VA @ John Paul Jones Arena
Feb. 24 — Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
Feb. 25 — Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
Feb. 26 — Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
March 3 — Winston-Salem, NC @ Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Doc Watson’s 100th Birthday Show
March 4 — Winston-Salem, NC @ Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum
March 7 — Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
March 10 — Atlanta, GA @State Farm Arena
March 11 — Charleston, SC @ North Charleston Coliseum
March 12 — Charleston, SC @ North Charleston Coliseum
March 16 — Cincinnati, OH @ Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center
March 17 — Cincinnati, OH @ Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center
March 18 — Cincinnati, OH @ Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center