Fresh off of a wildly successful 2022 that saw the release of his bluegrass masterpiece Me / and / Dad alongside his father, several nights in a row of sold out shows at iconic venues all across the world, and collaborations with high-profile artists spanning several genres, Billy Strings is looking to carry this record setting, trail-blazing momentum into 2023.
And just a few days in, he appears to be off to a great start.
Back in November, Billy announced his Winter 2023 shows that feature 20 shows in 9 spanning across the whole country. Throughout the tour he will be playing two or three nights in the majority of these cities at historic intimate venues like the Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA and The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, as well as massive arena shows and everything in between.
One stop on his tour kind of seems to stand out from the others, though. Not necessarily because of the venue he is playing or the city he is playing in, but it stands out instead because of the circumstance surrounding the show.
On the first night of his back-to-back shows in Winston-Salem, NC at the beginning of March, Billy Strings and several special guests will be joining together to celebrate the life of bluegrass legend Doc Watson on what would be his 100th birthday.
Watson was born on March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina, a small mountain town outside of Boone, NC and about an hour Northwest of Winston-Salem. Becoming blind at a young age due to an eye infection, Watson defied the odds and still went on to become one of the most well-respected musicians of his time.
Known for his picking styles and skills, as well as his never-ending knowledge of traditional American and Folk music, Watson’s guitar playing has been a major influence on many bluegrass guitarists, including Billy Strings, who frequently covers Watson’s work throughout his live performances..
If you aren’t familiar with any of Watson’s music, you have still likely been impacted by his musical legacy in some way. The seven time Grammy Award winner was the founder of MerleFest, a massive country music festival in North Wilkesboro, NC that was named for his late son and frequent collaborator Merle Watson. The festival began in 1988 and continues each year today, hosting artists over the years like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Sturgill Simpson, and many, many, more.
Moreover, Watson found the popular bluegrass/folk act Old Crow Medicine Show performing on a street corner in Boone, NC, and was influential in getting their long standing career off and running. But after a hard fall at his home in 2012, Watson was rushed to a hospital in Winston-Salem, NC where he ultimately passed away, leaving behind a decorated career and a permanent impact on the bluegrass genre.
As part of Doc Watson’s 100th birthday celebration, Billy Strings will be inviting several special guests from the bluegrass world to join him on stage at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, and he finally took to Instagram to announce who those artists would be earlier this week.
“You’re invited! Can’t wait to celebrate Doc Watson’s 100th birthday with these very special guests: Bryan Sutton, Molly Tuttle, T. Michael Coleman, Jack Lawrence, Wayne Henderson & Jack Hinschelwood, hosted by Ted Olson.
This is going to be one for the books, get your tickets while you still can.”
While all guests are fantastic musicians that will be exciting to see play with Billy Strings, Bryan Sutton is one of the most accomplished. Sutton initially gained recognition while playing alongside Ricky Skaggs for his flatpicking skills, the same guitar playing style at which Watson excelled. Throughout his career he has played with almost all of the bluegrass greats as well as hitmakers such as the Dixie Chicks.
Personally, I am most excited for Strings to be joined by Molly Tuttle. Another one of the modern artists at the forefront of this recent bluegrass revival, Tuttle’s 2022 album Crooked Tree featured a song with Billy Strings and was one of my favorite albums of the year. I just saw her play at the Ryman on New Year’s Eve, and she is even better live.
It is always cool to see artists pay homage to their influences and the great artists that paved the way before them, but seeing Billy Strings and so many other talented musicians celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest bluegrass musicians ever is going to be something truly special.
Billy Strings had a spectacular 2022, and it seems as if 2023 won’t be any different. But no matter how great of a year he has, I am sure these two shows in Winston-Salem will be one of the highlights. Get your tickets while you still can!
And while we are on the subject, check out this video of Doc Watson playing “Tennessee Stud” in 1979.
And Billy Strings playing Watson’s “Streamline Cannonball” live in Boston this past March.