Greensky Bluegrass & Billy Strings Take Manhattan: Recap, Photos & Videos

By Scott Bernstein Jan 28, 2018 12:39 pm PST

Images by: Adam McCullough

Words by: Scott Bernstein

Greensky Bluegrass & Billy Strings :: 1/26/2018
PlayStation Theater :: New York City

Venue Segues – Greensky Bluegrass Headlining Shows In New York City 2012 > 2018: Sullivan Hall 1/19/2012 > Highline Ballroom 7/13/12 > BB King’s 4/17/2013 > Bowery Ballroom 9/21/2013 > Music Hall of Williamsburg 1/30/2014 > Gramercy Theatre 9/13/2014 > Brooklyn Bowl 1/28 & 29/2015 > Music Hall of Williamsburg 9/12/2015 > Irving Plaza 1/30/2016 > PlayStation Theater 1/28/2017 > Ford Amphitheatre At Coney Island Boardwalk 8/3/2017 > PlayStation Theater 1/26 & 27/2018

On Friday night, Michigan-formed jamgrass act Greensky Bluegrass resumed a long-standing tradition of visiting New York City in January. The band continued their rise from playing in front of dozens of NYCers to multiple thousands as this time around GSBG performed two nights (they returned to the venue on Saturday) at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square. Greensky has a knack for picking perfect opening acts and on their current tour, the five-piece has brought along talented youngster Billy Strings and his band. The result was a wonderful evening of bluegrass in a setting as different from the hills and mountains of Appalachia as it gets.

Strings’ set on Friday night was a winner that showed off the 25-year-old’s exuberance and talent. Billy has put a dynamite band together featuring Billy Failing on banjo, Royal Masat on bass and Jarrod Walker on mandolin. The foursome was similar to Greensky Bluegrass in that they take a more rock-oriented approach to bluegrass, yet the similarities stop there. Strings, sporting bright red sunglasses, jumped around the stage without abandon and clearly reveled in the moment. Masat played Upright Bass, but often fed the tone through effects including an envelope filter that gave an incredibly distinctive sound. Royal’s wobbly bass sound was at the heart of a jam that gave way to a frenetic cover of “Back On The Train” by Phish, a highlight of the band’s set – a set that seemed to be over in the blink of an eye and left many in the crowd wanting more.

Thankfully, the audience would get another dose of Billy Strings as the guitarist sat-in for a two-song stint during Greensky’s first of two Friday night sets. Billy emerged to a hearty welcome from the crowd. The Nashville native added to “I’d Probably Kill You” and “Little Maggie.” Dobro player Anders Beck did his best to instigate a lyric change in the former from “Might burn your house down, if I was somehow sure your things were in it” to “Might burn your house down, if I was somehow sure Billy Strings was in it.” While the lyric change was met by surprise during the initial performance of the song, Greensky let fans witness “the creative process of music” as they followed the full version with portions of the tune that saw the group sing “I’d probably Bill you” and “Burn your house down, if I was somehow sure Billy Strings was in it.” Mandolin player Paul Hoffman joked he wrote the song about Billy, while guitarist Dave Bruzza noted “he was still in pre-school” about where the youngster was at the time Hoffman penned “I’d Probably Kill You.” Hoffman then told Billy, “We are your father” in reference to The Empire Strikes Back.


While “I’d Burn Your House Down” was all fun and games, “Little Maggie” – a song the Stanley Brothers made famous after originally being penned by G.B. Grayson – was a pure picking party. Greensky Bluegrass and Billy Strings extended the set-closer to nearly 10 minutes. The five-piece returned sans guest to open the second set with “Just Listening” and “Train Junkie.” GSBG shows off two varied styles of singing between Bruzza and Hoffman. Both musicians have copious instrumental skills and the pipes to lead a song. While the quintet is known for their covers of rock songs, the band stuck mainly to originals, bluegrass covers and versions of tunes by musical friends on Friday. The evening’s big exception was a take on The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Greensky took the supergroup’s most famous song deep with wild solos from multiple members of the band.

The improvisational highlight of Friday’s concert came at the end of the second set, a 17+ minute version of “Leap Year.” Augmented by an array of lights befitting a rock show, Greensky left the form of Paul Hoffman’s song for a jam Phish fans like to refer to as “Type II.” Anders Beck weaved together one wild riff after another, while bassist Mike Devol anchored the improvisation to make sure the band didn’t fall on their faces. Greensky Bluegrass said farewell with a gorgeous encore of “Yellow Eyes,” a tune by their friend and musical compadre Rayland Baxter. 2018 promises to be another year of heavy touring and their ever-growing legion of “campers” couldn’t be any happier or more willing to join in for the ride.


Photos by Adam McCullough

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”707″ gal_title=”20180126 Greensky NYC McCullough”]

Videos (Captured by Craig Raskin)

[Greensky Bluegrass – Billy Strings Sit-In]

[Greensky Bluegrass – Just Listening, Train Junkie]

[Jam > Back On The Train]

Setlist (Compiled by Andrew S. via Camp Greensky)

Set One: Burn Them (1), Worried Man, Living Over, Room Without A Roof, Just To Lie > Hold On > Great Atomic Power, Tied Down, I’d Probably Kill You (2), Little Maggie (2)

Set Two: Just listening , Train Junkie (3), Wheel Hoss (4), Dustbowl Overtures, Handle With Care, 200 Miles From Montana, Hit Parade Of Love, Forget Everything, Leap Year

Encore: Yellow Eyes

  • (1) w/ Guido Batista & Luke Milanese (tambourine)
  • (2) – w/ Billy Strings
  • (3) – Other One tease
  • (4) – Macarena dance by Paul

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