Billy Strings performed in Wilkes Barre, PA, on Friday night in the penultimate show of his 2023 Fall Tour. The tour, which began in Buena Vista, CO, at the end of September, covered the West Coast and Midwest, barnstormed through Europe in November, and concluded with several East Coast dates in December. Friday’s sold-out show was hosted at the Mohegan Sun Arena, an 8,500-person venue that doubles as the home of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton “Baby” Penguins when not hosting musical extravaganzas like the one Billy and his crew put on Friday night.
The quintet, featuring Billy Strings on lead guitar and vocals, Billy Failing on banjo, Royal Masat on bass, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, took the stage amid palpable anticipation and excitement. Fans of all ages, from Deadheads to dedicated bluegrass enthusiasts to those discovering Billy for the first time, came together with a shared enthusiasm for his music.
The first set consisted almost exclusively of originals, featuring the opener and fan favorite 'Dust in a Baggie,' 'Hollow Heart' and 'Watch it Fall' from the Grammy-award-winning 2019 album 'Home,' the Walker-penned 'Red Daisy' from 2021's 'Renewal,' and 'California Sober,' a track he famously collaborated on with Willie Nelson earlier this year. The set concluded with one of the highlights of the evening, a 16-minute musical journey through 'Turmoil & Tinfoil.' This piece opens in outer space, offers enough structure to tell the all-too-common story of dealing with addicts and addiction, launches Billy into about 7 minutes of lead exploration, and then resolves the experience with the closing verse and chorus.
Through the turmoil and the tinfoil
Just the way it used to be
But I have the strength and I will learn
How to fly on broken wings
The second set was a dramatic shift from the first, largely comprising covers and tributes. It kicked off with the Stanley Brothers' original 'Think of What You’ve Done,' and included David Grisman's 'E.M.D.,' along with traditional folk/Appalachia songs 'John Hardy' and 'Little Maggie.' Musical exploration, a common theme throughout Billy Strings' shows, was emphatically displayed in the 15-minute take on 'Running the Route' > 'Running.' Each artist had ample room to showcase their unique and dynamic approaches to playing traditional instruments in non-traditional ways. The set also featured a solo session with Billy Strings and the audience during 'Catch and Release,' a story about a fishing adventure with Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon. Billy Failing then joined for some joint banjo work on 'Dos Banjos,' before the rest of the band rejoined to close out the set. The encore featured the night's biggest surprise with the 'Van Scoy Jingle,' a song deeply rooted in the Wilkes-Barre area, and concluded with The Osborne Brothers' 'Spike Hammer.'
Don't miss the chance to catch Billy Strings during his New Year's performances in New Orleans or on his Southeast tour this winter.