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Michigan's Billy Strings is ready for a steamy, streamy July

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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A global pandemic did not prevent Billy Strings from doing some kayaking in southeastern Tennessee.

And it's not keeping him from "touring," either.

With the concert world in a prolonged shutdown, the award-winning Americana artist from Michigan, now residing in Nashville, is launching his Streaming Strings Tour 2020 — nine ticketed shows at venues throughout Nashville, played without audiences and streamed online. It kicks off Thursday, July 16, with the first of two nights at Brooklyn Bowl, and runs through July 26 at 3rd & Lindsey, with a pair of full-band sets each night.

The shows will also be simulcast to independent music venues in several states to help allay losses they're suffering by not being able to host live performances.

It's something different for Strings, who's used to a heavy road schedule and a busy summer festival circuit. But that makes the prospect even more exciting for him and his quartet.

"I haven't played any shows or anything since the beginning of March — I haven't even been jamming with anybody else, just playing at home, so I'm itchin'," Strings (née Apostol), 27, says by phone from the kayaking trip near Chattanooga. The main challenge, he anticipates, will not necessarily be logistics or technology but not having a crowd to feed the energy of the shows.

"I'm not really approaching them much differently, but I’m curious to see how much differently they approach us," Strings explains. "Playing for an audience is exciting. We give as much energy as we can and the audience gives it right back to us and you're receiving energy from that side. ... That's how we do what we do.

"So it'll be interesting to see what happens, musically, without an audience there. I don't know if we'll be more reserved or kind of close our eyes and go into our own little trances and stuff. I'm not sure what to expect — and it may be different from night to night."

As is his wont, too, Strings plans to play different sets for each of the shows on the "tour."

"Every show always gets its own set list, wherever we're playing," he says. "I come up with a set list and run it by the guys and we kind of craft something special for each night.

"And we play differently for the spaces we're in. The Station Inn is a really classic bluegrass joint, and the Exit/In is more of a punk rock place. Then you have the City Winery, which is classic — you can have a nice meal and get a nice glass of wine and watch Emmylou Harris and stuff. We try to cater to the venues and come up with something suitable for each one."

The Streaming Strings Tour is the latest adventure in what's been an eventful career for Strings — dating back to growing up in Muir, Mich., where his stepfather introduced him to bluegrass music alongside the rock Strings favored. By the time Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the Top Ten New Country Artists to Know in 2017, Strings was on his third album — including two with Traverse City mandolinist Don Julin — and had already made a name for himself in the bluegrass and Americana communities. His 2019 release "Home" topped Billboard's Bluegrass and Heatseekers charts, and he's nominated for the Emerging Act of the Year prize at the 2020 Americana Music Association's Honors & Awards this fall.

"Y'know, just traveling around and meeting so many different, great people, seeing all different parts of the country, playing on stage in front of thousands of people and having them know the lyrics to your songs and all that ... I can't describe it," Strings says. "And then having someone come up to me and say, 'Hey man, your song helped me through a tough time,' that's the greatest reward of all."

Strings' plan now, not surprisingly, is to keep the ride going. The pandemic quarantine has been a time of "diving into some other hobbies that have taken a back seat" to his music, such as fishing and working on cars. But he's also been creative during the down time, and he predicts new music is on the way, even if he can't say exactly when that will be.

"I just pick up my guitar and play a lot — that's how I've always learned and progressed," Strings says. "I think what I've done with the last couple of records I've made, and pretty much with everything I've done, is follow my heart and my intuition, try to make honest music I truly feel is real — and usually it turns out all right. It has so far, so that's the way I'm gonna keep doing it."

Billy Strings' virtual Streaming Strings Tour 2020 kicks off Thursday, July 16, from Nashville and includes eight other shows through July 26. Tickets and other details via billystrings.com or streamingstrings.com.

Web Site: www.streamingstrings.com

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