Billy Strings | 1st Bank Center | 2/3/23

Article Contributed by Jake Cudek | Published on Thursday, February 9, 2023

On February 3rd, Billy Strings completed the second of three nights at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. Capping out at 6,500, this venue with great sight lines, private suites, and a whole lotta comfort was packed wall to wall without feeling crowded, filled to the brim with the smiling faces and hearts that travel near and far to catch Billy and Company.

Arriving a few hours before doors, there was already a pillar of people staking their claim in line to have the opportunity to get down on the general admission floor, while a second line was as equally apparent, populated with those looking to fulfill the need for merch. Walking through both lines, it was great to catch conversational snippets of these fine folks sharing their excitement for what was to come as well as their stories of yesteryear, all reinforcing that the Strings phenomenon is not just a flash in the pan, but carries its own culture and community.

Billy Strings | Broomfield, CO

With doors opening at half past six, a third of the floor filled quickly and the conversations continued. Hugs and joy were the commodity and everyone was sharing in it. Some sat, others stood, while all nodded and smiled at strangers and familiar faces alike. The positive energy was palpable and the music hadn’t even started yet. As the hands of time circled the face, a little before eight, a swirling tye-dye graphic appeared on the back drop screen and was accompanied by a distorted, repeating voice from the speakers, “15 minutes until fuzzy rainbows, 15 minutes until fuzzy rainbows”, a sight and sound that elicited a giddy response. This display continued, reappearing every five minutes until it was finally showtime.

Walking on to an explosive, enduring applause, Billy stood at the microphone and paused, looking out over the excited crowd. Taking it all in with a face full of appreciation, he finally waved at the fanfare and greeted everyone with a simple, “Hello there!”

Glancing around the stage to make sure the rest of the band was good to go, the group took off running with a great “Dusty Miller”. Hitting all the marks, the quintet burned through the instrumental and got everyone to their feet. In perfect juxtaposition, the emotional “While I’m Waiting Here” got some great jamming and with its reflective, heartfelt lyrics, many were singing right along. Turning the ending and the crowd on their heels with a quick shift in perfect time, Robert Hunter’s “Thunder” electrified the room, full of bright flashes and searing jams, this one would be the longest tune of the set, coming in at just under fourteen minutes and encompassed chaos, gentleness, and everything in between.

With everyone reeling from the musical outpouring, Billy stepped to the microphone to check in with the crowd:

Billy Strings | 1st Bank Center

Yeah baby! You guys feeling good? Feels like you’re feeling good. I’m feeling good. Let’s all feel good together! Thank you so much for coming out to hear some music tonight. We are so honored to be here to play it for you. We’re gonna play a little bit of bluegrass for you right now.

The group then took the room through a sweet triad of Appalachia with “How Long Have I Been Waiting For You”, “Secrets”, and “Hellbender”, each filled with top notch playing, inspired harmonies, and that high lonesome sound.

Showing off the talent of the band with a shift, a cover of The Bad Livers’ “Lumpy, Beanpole, and Dirt” changed the atmosphere from Sunday picnic to Friday night swagger with its hip shaking, bluesy drive. Billy Failing got the first chance at rolling out the solos and boy did that resonator sing! Alex Hargreaves picked up where Failing ended and masterfully cut through that fiddle, eyes closed and smiling. Jarrod Walker shredded an extended lead on mando and brought Billy back into the lyrics with an excited crowd who just kept boogieing down. Royal Masat’s masterful bass work kept the whole piece thumping as the unit climbed mountains and slid through valleys, cohesive and on target, noticeably blissing out on the endeavor.

Royal Masat | 1st Bank Center

The sweet drone of “In The Morning Light” received a very warm welcome from the crowd. For many, these personal songs of Billy’s really get the heart strings and goosebumps going. The accessibility and emotional movement of the piece empties the soul and fills it up again, over and over.

Loving to share the history of the band, Billy took a moment to give some backstory to the crowd:

Our last record we made together as a band, Renewal…… we had a really good time coming up with the songs for it. It was one of the first times we kind of held up together in a cabin somewhere and tried to come up with some music together as a band. It was awesome, we had a good time. We watched movies, we ate pizza. We found a little ID card underneath the couch and it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to any of us. Because, within that little ID card that we found under the couch was one of the funniest little fiddle tunes that we ever could think of. We are talking about the one, the only, “Libby Phillips Rag”!

And with that, the band and crowd jumped in. Flat picking like someone was chasing him, Billy tore into this one and everyone held on for the ride. At its end, Billy recognized Jarrod Walker’s equally remarkable mando slaying, raising a smile from Walker and an applause from the onlookers.

Alex Hargreaves | 1st Bank Center

The darker feel of “Fire Line” lit the crowd up, igniting the fanbase with strong lyrics, deep grooves, and a thick structure. Hargreaves’ violin talents tilted the temperature upward, employing a synth effect, fanning the flames higher and higher before the reprieve of the final stanza. Lyrics out of the way, the final minute of the piece got spacey under the influence of Hargreaves, changing his voice from synth to celestial. As “Fire Line” dwindled into cosmic ashes, the band rose again through the Failing penned and led “So Many Miles”. Strings put on another flat-picking clinic early on before this one began to drift and shift. This time, Failing engaged his five-stringed mesmeric machine of morph and took center stage, leading the space exploration with short rolling blasts and infinite lines, liftoffs and descents, the rest of the band pushing it all to the limit. Without a breath and edging the tempo ever skyward, it was no wonder that band closed the three song jamfest with a great cover of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage”. Playing it at least twice as fast as the original authors ever did, the recognizable piece had the whole of the room dancing, laughing like lunatics, and living their best lives.

Set two opened with a bright and full “Hollow Heart" and with a set break and a chance to revitalize behind them, the crowd was certainly ready for more. An energetic rendering of Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding” came in next and Billy emulated Vedder’s phrasings remarkably well. John Hartford’s “With a Vamp in the Middle" kept the party moving and with all the fiddle references in the tune, Hargreaves got a lot of spotlight time. As Hartford faded in the rearview, “Love and Regret” came up on the horizon. As Billy sang the first lyrics, the whole venue sang right along and reveled on queue when the “heartbroken, lonesome coyote howls” lyric arrived, baying in unison. The mid-section solo produced by Strings was deep, touching, and flowed like sweet wine. From single notes to fanning strums, his creativity fit neatly in the perfect frame of what his partners were putting up. As the tune drew to a close, he welcomed the audience to take over the lyrics as he fell silent and let the listeners lead the room.

Billy Failing | 1st Bank Center

Pausing for a drink and an opportunity to cheers the crowd, the band picked up the pace once again with the high stepping “Everything’s the Same”. “West Dakota Rose” was another great example that this group of gentlemen is a band of equals and although Billy’s name is the one hanging on the establishment, pieces like this offer the opportunity for these players to fully demonstrate their musicianship and no one is stepping on each other’s lines.

Checking in with the audience, Billy belted out, “Are we having any fun tonight, Denver?!?! We love playing out here. It almost feels like HOME!”, followed with a wide grin and a reciprocating ovation. With that, the vibration and rumble of “Home” brought an other-worldly feel to the set, touching on the psychedelic and unsettling.

Stopping again to share, Billy introduced the band and followed up with his personal feelings on the subsequent Doc Watson number:

We don’t play it much or anything, but it is such a beautiful song. I think it is on the Portrait album. This song has my favorite dobro solo in the world by Jerry Douglas on it. So later on when you all get home and you feel like finding the best dobro solo in the world, just listen to the Doc Watson Portrait album and look up the song “Leaving London”, find the dobro on that, and that will give you a little twinge in the end of your nipples….and I will stand on that flux!”

Billy Strings | Broomfield, Colorado

Following Watson’s “Leaving London”, Billy kicked up Carter Stanley’s “Think of What You’ve Done” next and changed the Virginia lyric to Colorado, the alteration met with the expected response as everyone cheered and dug in deeper. The instrumental “Running the Route” shifted and slinked through a multitude of attitudes, at times traditional, at others jazz. Regardless of the flavor, the whole thing was just plain tasty. Reaching the end, the band proved again their talent at seamless transition, dropping in from the Route right into “Running”. The change was downright perfect and seemed executed without a preceding context or anchor. Incredible!

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Whispers of the North” just continued the mastery of the night. After performing at break-neck speeds on the prior back-to-back tunes, the delivery on this cover just restated what so many have already figured out about the inexhaustible formative force that is this quartet. Laying it out with just as much verve as they did from the start and playing the Lightfoot tune for only the second time ever since last year, these artisans proved their caliber once again at their medium. The finish of the arrangement meandered and bobbed through accents and imagery, a variable wellspring of creation. The last minute lit the fuse for a slow burn that climbed to the big finish of “Meet at the Creek”. Timing out at over twelve minutes of ecstasy and energy, this one brought the house down. The barn burner got everyone stomping at the foot and chomping at the bit as the band and fans were back off to the races. The middle peaked at dizzying heights, transformed into a straight rocker, pulled out all the stops, and just when you thought it was over, it just kept lifting the room higher. Drenched in sweat and joy, when the room finally came to a stop, nothing but smiles were found in any direction one looked. The band paused in the wake and took a moment to witness the emotion they had bestowed.

Jarrod Walker | 1st Bank Center

The encore took it back to the traditional, closing out the night with the instrumental “Sally Goodin”, which eventually fed into the Johnny Horton cover of “Ole Slew Foot”. With eight minutes of final fun, the crowd called out for more until the house lights came on and with sweet glee on their faces, they made their way into the February night.

From the sparkle in their eyes to the cadence in their tone, this band demonstrates appreciation to the Nth degree. Their talent has shown no bounds and their presence is a blend of professionalism and awe by where they are. On and off stage, they present as brothers and watching them exchange, it is apparent that the connection is more than skin deep. It seems that the love of music is first and foremost with a love for those who turn out nightly to take in their acoustic acrobatics a close second and it is likely the combination of the two that holds the key to their success. Admittedly, this was my first experience with the whole of The Billy Strings Band and from fan to performance, I was impressed through and through. There is palpable energy and positivity that is surrounding this creative machine and at many turns, the outlook is towards longevity. From keeping ticket prices reasonable and accessible alongside a merchandise practice model that keeps the end user in mind, the whole of the experience leading up to the main event breathes with life. Once inside, the relative newness of the experience keeps everyone engaged, regardless of age or number of shows attended. There are no jaded vets, only people enjoying people watching people getting their faces melted and loving every minute of it.