No one on the 2016 Appaloosa festival crowd will forget the unforgettable picking styles of Billy Strings, who graced the intimate music workshop stage then later rocked the main stage. The music recording studio, Baltimore Sound Shack made the comparison that listening to Billy was like entering another century, or maybe hopping onset of the movie O Brother Where Art Thou: You take a high energy, youthful, super talented guy that hits as heavy as metal but with a completely authentic, fast-paced acoustic bluegrass sound and you’ve got one of the best young performers to date. Billy’s tattoos give him a hard-edged look, but you can tell when you hear him that his soul is 100 percent committed to the arts of songwriting and performing. Billy first learned to play at 3 years old, developing the kind of fast flat-picking style that’s a rarity with even the most seasoned of musicians.
With an artist heavily influenced by such bluegrass greats like Flatt and Scruggs and Billy Munroe, you can’t help but deeply feel the music when you see it live; not only does it come from a deep place, but the sound is unaltered, raw and untouched. It doesn’t need production. To this end, producing a clean and organic sound can sometimes be more difficult than actually producing sound that is supposed to sound…well, produced. So the Appaloosa sound crew had a simple-yet-difficult task which required some sensitive and intuitive equipment to pull it off. The Yamaha M7 mixer worked well for this. This particular balance was especially important during Billy’s solos: he works out tight changes during dazzling acoustic guitar riffs at lighting speed, creating breaks so dynamic that they come out sounding more like electric-guitar “shredding” solos than they do acoustic picking.
Billy Strings performing on Stageline SL250 at Appaloosa Music Festival (Owned by www.klassicsound.com)
You need some solid engineering and equipment to manage sound like this in an open air setting, and the techs certainly tend to not get enough credit for these amazing shows. Audio professionals with the best equipment are a must with an artist like this, and the Yamaha M7 handled well. The intuitive interface brings digital mixers to a whole new level, with a surprisingly user-friendly setup. Sound techs were able to manage reverb and EQ at the switch of a button, optimizing sound control. during shows like this, the audience typically doesn’t—and shouldn’t—-notice the sound mix. Not noticing is a good thing, especially with artists whose strength is in their organic sound.
As far as Bluegrass goes, Billy Strings is probably as tight as you get: you need to hear him live to understand how remarkably talented he is. Seeing someone so young work a guitar with such clarity and precision is a delight to say the least. I guarantee, after you see him once you will be checking www.billystrings.com for tour dates.