Billy Strings On Bluegrass
Jan 21 2020

Billy Strings On Bluegrass

By: Emily Hingle

Bluegrass fusion prodigy Billy Strings will take to the stage at Tipitina's on Friday, January 24th to thrill and amuse his adoring fans. Billy does have some detractors, however, but he never lets that stop him from growing and experimenting with brand new sounds.


WYAT: Do you feel that traditional folk music is becoming popular again?

Billy Strings: I think our version of it is. I think we're turning a lot of younger folks onto to bluegrass music. But it's always been popular to the folks that know about it. It's just not a mainstream music that you hear on the radio. A lot of the bluegrass shows that I grew up around and went to, they were much smaller. There were older people, the festivals were really small. It's hard to say what's really happening, but we're seeing a lot of younger people come out to our shows. That's feels really good to have people jive with what we're doing because we are younger cats and we're experimenting with different sounds. But it's all rooted in bluegrass.

WYAT: So you're seeing a wider range of fans?

Billy Strings: Back in the day, it was like the crowd that went to church, sixty years old. Then sprinkled in, there's some young kids in there that learned about the music from their grandparents. For the most part when I was growing up, I went to traditional events. And they're just smaller. I feel like there's a whole 'nother culture that we're a part of, like the more psychedelic or jamgrass-type of scene. A lot of younger folks are into that stuff like Leftover Salmon and Green Sky Blue Grass. These are all people that know all about bluegrass and traditional music,but they're songwriters and they're improvisational artists. They're not necessarily boxed into just traditional bluegrass.

I get a lot of love from the fans, but I also get a lot of backlash from the traditional crowd. I don't even know what it is. For a lot of those traditional bluegrass crowd, I feel like they just want it to be one certain way and that's it. Really music is boundaryless. There's freedom in music. Bill Monroe &The Bluegrass Boys are really the trunk of the tree and we're just all the little branches that keep growing. It's almost like a bucket of crabs. Whenever one crab starts going near the top to try and escape, all the other crabs will grab his ass and bring him back down. Whenever someone in bluegrass music starts to experiment and go outside the box a little bit, it really pisses people off. Change is inevitable. It's the only thing you can count on.

WYAT: How many instruments do you play?

Billy Strings: I'm mostly just a guitar player. I play mandolin, banjo, a little bit of fiddle, that's pretty much it. I'm still trying to learn how to play the guitar. I've been playing it for since I was 3 or 4 years old, and I'm still nowhere near the level of the people that I look up to like Bryan Sutton and Jack Pearson. To be honest, I'm nowhere near that level. I'm just trying to focus on that and get better at the guitar. To really dive into another instrument, you really have to commit to it. And I haven't even mastered the guitar yet. There's a lot more that I could learn out there. I gave up on skiing for that reason.

WYAT: Does touring impede that?

Billy Strings: Sometimes I feel like, when you play so many shows with the same band or with the same material… I think of it as standing out in the cold and having ice build up on you. Going to play a different kind of music is like breaking all that ice off. You can get stale on stuff if you play it all the time. I mix it up and play with different people. I play with Bela Fleck sometimes, and he really pushes me outside of my comfort zone. And I feel that makes me a better player. The band is getting tighter and tighter, but on a personal level, I don't feel like I'm getting any better. But I am. It happens very slow. If I listen to something from two or three years ago, I notice the progress. You can't notice it on the day to day.

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