Credit: Charles Donelan

The second night of Billy Strings’ two-concert stand at the Santa Barbara Bowl included a special dividend–a seven-song solo set by Billy between the first and second halves of the regular show. Strings, along with his bandmates Billy Failing (banjo and vocals), Royal Masat (bass and vocals), and Jarrod Walker (mandolin and vocals), kept up a steady stream of unchecked virtuosity for nearly three hours, all of it relished by an enthusiastic crowd. 

For those who may not be familiar with Strings or his music, he’s a young guitar player, singer, and songwriter who has reimagined the bluegrass tradition for a broader, more classic rock-influenced audience. Strings demonstrated his affinity for the Grateful Dead on Sunday with a magnificent cover of “Wharf Rat.” He inhabits a musical space where bluegrass, jazz, and improvisational rock commingle and combust. 

Strings and his band share a knack for miraculous transitions. A traditional bluegrass tune can turn into an audio journey to outer space and back in seconds. Yet through it all, Strings keeps a firm grasp on the tone and direction of the night. He sings well in all kinds of idioms, and his boundless enthusiasm for the wild side of guitar-based music makes him an ambassador welcome in many scenes. Two nights later, Post Malone jumped on stage with him in Orange County for a cover of Johnny Cash. It’s impossible to predict where this phenomenal young musician might go next, but one thing is sure–he’s taking more fans with him every night. 

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on July 5, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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