Steeped in centuries-old traditions and songwriting, bluegrass is a discipline as much as it is a musical genre. It’s rare to hear artists that break the mold. But Billy Strings – one young, steadfast Mid-Westerner, has recently exploded onto the Americana scene and caught the ear of many veteran musicians with his punk-rock spirit, arresting voice and sheer virtuosic ability with guitar and banjo. Recently named as one of the “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” by Rolling Stone, audiences at Levitt AMP Sheboygan will experience the up-and-coming talent of this bluegrass and folk maestro this Thursday at 6PM, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center’s Festival Green!
Like many Americana musicians, Billy Strings learned his chops playing the bluegrass and folk canon with his family. Born and raised in small-town Michigan as William Apostol, Strings’ father, Terry Barber – a talented musician in his own right – bought him his first guitar at the age of four for $25. “There was always picking going on…sitting around the fire playing music. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. Music is what my life revolved around – I was never interested in school or sports,” said Strings, in an interview with The Northern Express. The same article describes Strings as “blessed with the voice of an old soul from the mountains…and the ability to sling hundreds of notes with razor crisp precision.”
Virtuosic ability is indeed the hallmark of Strings’ music – it’s what gave him the opportunity to collaborate with renowned mandolin player Don Julin and work on an upcoming debut album, “Turmoil and Tinfoil.” The eponymous single from that album is a display of what sets Strings apart: conventional bluegrass rhythms and picking patterns are disrupted by dark, apocalyptic harmonic structures that give the song an otherworldly atmosphere. Then, of course, there’s Strings’ soaring, assured voice and lyrics that show wisdom beyond his years.
Strings ascribes his unconventional style to eclectic musical experiences. At the age of 16, he joined a metal band called To Once Darkened Skies – a style that greatly influenced the way he plays bluegrass. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he describes the connection: “There’s a similarity, not so much as far as the actual licks you’re playing but just the sound of it. Fast banjo music, you could compare that to Slayer.” Similar to metal music, Strings’ concerts are known to be high-energy, raucous and a whole lot of fun.
Del McCoury, David Grisman, Greensky Bluegrass – these are just some of the legends of bluegrass Strings has performed alongside in his still burgeoning career. Now playing coveted slots at festivals like Pickathon, High Sierra Music Festival and MerleFest, Strings is quickly gaining nationwide attention for his craft. Levitteers in Sheboygan – be sure to experience this spectacular performance by one of the freshest acts in bluegrass and folk music!