Whether sharing stages with acoustic music royalty, crisscrossing the nation playing as a solo artist or performing high-energy, jaw-dropping sets at festivals, the reaction to Billy Strings tends to come in two varieties: “Who is this guy?” and “That kid can play!”
Raised in Michigan and based in Nashville, Strings — real name William Apostol — learned music from his father, who had learned it from his father, and his father before him. Maybe that’s why at 24, Strings’ songs, his articulation, his entire approach, sounds so authentic and steeped in tradition. Consider him the next in line of an Americana thread, not some upstart or bandwagon jumper.
While Strings’ profile as a guitarist and singer in the acoustic/bluegrass scene continues to grow, he has already earned some landmark achievements. He has performed with Del McCoury, David Grisman and Larry Keel. He’s landed coveted slots at festivals like Pickathon, and he’s shared bills with popular touring acts Yonder Mountain Stringband, Leftover Salmon and Cabinet. And the industry has taken notice: He just won IBMA 2016 Momentum Awards Instrumentalist of the Year (for guitar, banjo and mandolin) and was voted #1 in The Bluegrass Situation’s Top 16 of 16.
Barefoot, sleeveless and sweaty, Whiskey Shivers frontman and fiddle master Bobby Fitzgerald never stops smiling on stage. “All right! Let’s kick this thing in the face!” he barks, as the band tears into their stringed instruments at breakneck speed.
It’s almost impossible to watch him perform more than a song or two without cracking a smile yourself. His exuberance is contagious, and it bleeds through into the music. Whether they’re playing at a backyard house party in Texas, a punk-rock dive bar or a sprawling country music festival, crowds take notice. People put down their phones, pick up their drinks and start dancing.
“Whiskey Shivers isn’t just the five of us on stage, it’s everybody in the room,” Fitzgerald says. “We try to bring everybody into the moment and get them to realize there’s no wall between us and the crowd. We’re all in this together, and we’re all here to have a good time. We’ll do our best to facilitate it, but it takes all of us to make it happen. When you start to feel that, you can’t help but feel a little attachment and become invested in the show. You realize, ‘Oh, I’m here to have good time too!’”