A passion for live music is one of the key reasons I started Source Audio 16 years ago. From the Beacon Theater to Red Rocks to the Blue Note in Tokyo and a hundred points between, I have seen some epic performances. On rare occasion, I find myself so inspired that I need to write about it immediately. That happened last night at a stunning new outdoor Manhattan venue called The Rooftop at Pier 17. It’s located at the mouth of the East River on top of a pier next to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Billy Strings might just be the most exciting new thing in live music at the moment, and he is a strong contender for future entrance into the hallowed hall of guitar gods. In a three hour plus show, split into two sets, Billy and his super-tight band leapt from one music style to another with the grace and precision of a frog going from one delicate lily pad to the next. But this is not about offering “something for everyone;” it is about making each experience so fresh and engaging that one sees new beauty in something that could easily be overlooked. There was old school flat-picking with intoxicating speed and precision. At another point I witnessed a masterclass in distorted metal shredding. I almost became teary during a Bill Monroe cover about lost love, as Billy’s unique and lovely voice hit twangy soulful notes. Spacious jams with clear purpose spiked with a wide range of effects pedals applied to guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and upright bass were sprinkled throughout the night at just the right moments. And when the band brought the jams to a peak and ripped back into the song, the crowd went berserk. A former front-man in a high school metal band, Billy makes an authentic connection with the audience. “Glad I’m downwind”, he joked as second hand vape smoke washed over center stage. During a long show like this my mind can wander when things get repetitive or lack inspiration, but last night I was hanging on every note. It was almost worth not drinking beer to eliminate bathroom breaks! (Emphasis on “almost”).
Billy and his team create radically different sets night after night centered around different renditions of their increasingly deep catalog of compelling originals, but they also mix in a wide range of covers. Last night included songs from bluegrass legends like Monroe and Doc Watson, Pink Floyd, a very rare track from David “Dawg” Grisman (one of my favorites), and a tune by Phish. Speaking of Phish, guess who made a guest appearance for “Back on the Train” midway through the second set and stayed around until the closer? Trey himself! In keeping with the theme of crisp and thoughtful execution, it was clear that Trey, Billy, and the Band had practiced and carefully selected the songs on which they collaborated. So often “sit-ins” stay on safe ground with worn-out rock n roll classics (Johnny B. Boring at times….). This was not the case when Trey sat in with Billy and the Band. Trey was an instantly effective partner in the evening’s sonic journey.
I learned about Billy Strings roughly four years ago from our Warehouse Manager, Matt. It seems that Billy was using our Nemesis Delay and needed some support. I met with him shortly thereafter at the Sinclair in Cambridge. In a sign of the humility he brings to his life on-stage and off, he greeted me at the door himself. I found him to be gracious, engaging, smart, and funny. By all accounts he is wearing his increasing fame with surprising maturity, and it seems he is surrounded by lots of love, wise restraint, and competence when on the road. In addition to Nemesis, Billy uses our EQ2, all housed in a beautiful new rack rig. Jarrod Walker on Mandolin, Billy Failing on Banjo, and Royal Masat on Bass also employ a range of Source Audio pedals. Fidler Alex Hargeaves sat in for the entire night, and also used effects pedals.
There are times when I worry the magic of live music is wearing off for me. I was reminded last night that I have lots of runway in front of me. Thank you, Billy. And a big heartfelt congratulations from me and our entire team behind you and your team at Source Audio.
-Roger Smith (Source Audio President).
June 29, 2022