Home Live Review Live Review: Billy Strings @ CFG Bank Arena — 12/9/23

Live Review: Billy Strings @ CFG Bank Arena — 12/9/23

Live Review: Billy Strings @ CFG Bank Arena — 12/9/23
Billy Strings performs on the second of two nights at CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore on Dec. 9, 2023. (35mm Film Photo by Casey Ryan Vock)

Bluegrass is making its way to bigger stages and to more listeners than it ever has before, and no one deserves more credit for this escalation than Billy Strings.

The skillful flatpicker has in the matter of only a few years become a household name as he’s collected a Grammy, filled increasingly large venues, and unquestionably turned countless listeners on to a style of music that they might have never appreciated otherwise.

Billy and his band packed CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore on back-to-back evenings this past weekend, drawing thousands of fans to the storied, recently renovated downtown venue for what manifested as two monumental nights of revelry in the Charm City.

On the second of the two, Dec. 9, Billy curated a pair of celebratory sets comprised of songs from his three solo studio albums along with compositions still unrecorded and a variety of select covers, giving attendees not just every reason to boogie, hoot and howl, but an educational dose of songwriting history, too.

Listen to Billy Strings’ Grammy-winning 2021 studio album, Renewal, via Spotify:

By the end of the first set Saturday night, Billy and his mates had shared favorites from each of his records — Turmoil & Tinfoil (2017), Home (2019), and Renewal (2021), which won Best Bluegrass Album at the 2022 Grammy Awards.

But at that point, fans in Baltimore had also already heard the band’s take on heroes from within the bluegrass space — nods to the Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson — and those from outside it with festive covers of Widespread Panic (appropriately, “All Time Low”) and the legendary Grateful Dead poet Robert Hunter.

The thousands of fans on hand cheered or gazed at ahead-of-its-time cinematography projected onto towering high-definition screens, decked by a stunning, artfully allocated light display that illuminated the very best of what was happening on stage.

Mr. Strings was accompanied by his impressive and accomplished team: Billy Failing on the banjo, Royal Masat playing upright bass, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, and fiddler Alex Hargreaves, who was asked to join the group during Billy’s last visit to Baltimore, a kaleidoscopic two-night bash at Pier VI in July of 2022.

More than three times the capacity of his last Charm City stop, CFG Bank Arena smelled a wee bit like the reefer Saturday night as it showcased blazingly fast tunes and some that waltzed as well. And as the most ambitious compositions billowed and elongated, each player found a turn to portray the melody with precision, passion, and extraordinary character, only to return in total lockstep with the rest of the gang.

Moving from buddy to buddy, using his wide eyes and non-verbal cues to grow and intensify any moment, Billy displayed his dynamism as a guitar player, vocalist, and one-of-his-kind leader. With fingers that never stopped and a willful spirit, he proved he’s built to engage audiences for the long haul, as if being named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year for three consecutive years isn’t proper validation.

A setlist featuring some of his most popular cuts and the bonus of several traditional classics, every tune Saturday night was nothing short of triumphant, delivered with radiance and a lively strut to a rollicking crowd.

Billy addressed “Baltimore City,” sharing his gratitude for those who’ve embraced him and his music.

“Thank you, folks, so much,” the 31-year-old Michigan native said during the second set. “Thank you not just for coming and hearing us play, but for all the love and support making it possible for me and my boys to get up here and do what we do best. We just love you and appreciate you very, very, very … very, very much.”

A stop on a tour extending from late summer to late fall, this past weekend in Baltimore was yet another victory for Billy, who’s battled against far more than his newest supporters might realize.

Listen to Billy Strings’ 2022 album recorded with his father, Me / And / Dad, via Spotify:

Born William Apostol, he overcame a great deal of adversity as a youngster that stemmed from family challenges and led to some nomadic teen years before he ultimately kicked hard drugs and booze. While it might not be at the forefront of an epic double-header like this past weekend, Billy’s story makes him that much more remarkable and his achievements even more applaudable as he’s taking bluegrass higher than it’s ever been before.


Set 1
Libby Phillips Rag
Red Daisy
Heartbeat of America
In The Morning Light
All Time Low (Widespread Panic cover) >
Harbor of Love (Stanley Brothers)
This Old World
Texas Gales (Doc Watson)
The Likes of Me (Jerry Reed) >
Pyramid Country >
Must Be Seven >
Thunder (Robert Hunter)

Set 2
Sophronie (Jimmy Martin)
Living Like an Animal >
New Country Blues (Emmit-Nershi Band)
Love and Regret
I’ll Be Gone a Long Time
A Face in the Crowd (Larry Sparks)
Tipper (Tony Rice)
Hollow Heart
Old Swinging Bridge
Ernest T. Grass (The Dillards)
Ole Slew-Foot (Jonny Horton)

Sharecropper’s Son (Carter Stanley)

Below are five approved home-developed, home-scanned 35mm motion picture film photos of Billy Strings performing at CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore the night of Dec. 9, 2023. All shots copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.

Billy Strings @ CFG Bank Arena Baltimore MD 12.09.23 35mm Film Photo by Casey Ryan Vock Billy Strings @ CFG Bank Arena Baltimore MD 12.09.23 35mm Film Photo by Casey Ryan Vock



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