Photo by @jesse_faatz

Last night, Billy Strings and his crew made their triumphant return to Portland, Ore., for the opening night of a two-part stint at the Moda Center. This gig held a resonance of homecoming as two of the ensemble’s members, banjoist Billy Failing and fiddler Alex Hargreaves, are Oregon natives.

Strings’ exuberance radiated as soon as he graced the stage, greeting the audience with a spirited, “Portland, how are we feeling tonight?” The band swiftly embarked on a musical journey, launching into a series of electrifying solos during “Bronzeback,” which found its way into “The Fire On My Tongue,” offering the first lyrics of the night. Strings continued to dish out high-energy playing and movement on stage as he dished out waves of expert playing.

The setlist unfolded with fervor, featuring tracks like “Heartbeat of America,” “Long Forgotten Dream,” “This Old World,” and a scorching rendition of “Dust In A Baggie.” The performance also included enthralling covers: “Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt” by Bad Livers and “Ashland Breakdown” by icon Bill Monroe. Later in the frame, “Hellbender” took center stage, spotlighting extended solos from the hometown hero, Failing, and the charismatic Strings, accentuated by harmonious interplay and exchanges with Hargreaves.

Strings then ripped into “Riding That Midnight Train” by Doc Watson and “A Robin Built a Nest on Daddy’s Grave” by Ralph Stanley. As the first set reached its climax, Strings remarked, “My guitar is behaving so well tonight because it’s home,” a nod to the instrument’s origin in Sisters, Ore. Strings then embarked on a captivating solo interlude, seamlessly transitioning into a dynamic set-closing rendition of “Turmoil & Tinfoil.”

During set break, fans of the WWE may have noticed that “Be a Man,” a diss track by Randy Savage aimed at fellow wrestler Hulk Hogan, was playing–foreshadowing what was to come during the encore. Strings and company then returned to the stage to demonstrate their versatility, with a tender rendition of “I’ll Be Gone a Long Time” before returning to foot-stomping vigor with “Love Like Me.” The frame was lush with covers like New Grass Revival’s “My Name,” “Rank Stranger” by The Stanley Brothers and “Planet Caravan” by Black Sabbath. The latter flowed into yet another cover, “Labor of Love” by Portland’s own Fruition, marking the first time Strings has played the song in 303 shows. The gem was followed up with “Takin’ a Slow Train” by Larry Sparks which led into a frame concluding cover of “Ruby Are You Mad” by The Osborne Brothers.

Billy Strings re-emerged clad in a muscle costume for the encore, playfully striking poses reminiscent of a professional wrestler. Channeling his inner showman, he declared, “You’re gonna get an encore, and that’s the bottom line,” in the rough voice of Hulk Hogan. The band then unleashed a spirited rendition of The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well.” After a very full night of electrifying music, Strings concluded the performance by pounding his chest and engaging in playful antics for the camera before exiting the stage.

Billy Strings’ musical journey continues with another performance at the Moda Center tonight Saturday, Sept. 30, before heading to Seattle.

Billy Strings
Moda Center – Portland, Ore.
Sept. 29, 2023

Set I: Bronzeback > The Fire on My Tongue [1], Heartbeat of America, Long Forgotten Dream, This Old World, Dust in a Baggie > Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt (Bad Livers) > Ashland Breakdown (Bill Monroe), Hellbender, Riding That Midnight Train (Doc Watson), A Robin Built a Nest on Daddy’s Grave (Ralph Stanley), Turmoil & Tinfoil

Set II: I’ll Be Gone a Long Time, Love Like Me, Whisper My Name (New Grass Revival), Show Me the Door, Fire Line > Reuben’s Train (Traditional), Rank Stranger (The Stanley Brothers), Hide and Seek, Come Down the Mountain Katie Daly (Traditional), Spinning > Planet Caravan (Black Sabbath) > Labor of Love (Fruition) [2], Takin’ a Slow Train (Larry Sparks) > Ruby Are You Mad (The Osborne Brothers)

Enc.: Dig a Little Deeper in the Well (The Oak Ridge Boys) [3]

[1] “Must Be Seven” Fake-out intro
[2] Last Played 2020-07-22 | 303 show gap
[3] Billy played the encore shirtless, in a giant muscle costume, striking wrestling poses for the crowd