Meeting At the Drive-in: The Pandemic Concert Experience of Billy Strings

By Dillon Neibel
dneibel@lc.edu

The Billy Strings Meet Me At the Drive-In Tour poster.

Billy Strings, the wunderkind acoustic guitarist and singer from Michigan recently put on a show at the Exposition Gardens in Peoria, Ill. on Saturday, Sept. 18-19.

It’s not really a secret that attending events have been far and few between since the pandemic has started. Concerts certainly have been victim to this circumstance, so when a talented musician, of whom I only discovered a month or so before everything shut down, announced a show, I decided I’d take the voyage with some fellow brethren.  In order to make things safe for the concert to take place, the show was made a drive-in.

I knew it would be a different experience as far as concerts go compared to what I was used to, but I gotta say, I could get used to it. The event staff had a lengthy maze set up for the vehicles to get through before getting into the main lot. 

They lined cars up with several feet all around each so that people could get out and have their own space. The rules stated that when outside the vehicle guests were to wear a mask. Staff and security made rounds to enforce the rule, and several reminders over the PA system rang out through the gardens. As to be expected, some people followed the rules a bit better than others, but everyone seemed to be respectful of others’ space and distance.

Loudspeakers and large billboard-like screens ran all the way down the lot for the audience. The stage was pretty hard to see from where we were, but with the big screens, it wasn’t bad at all. As a matter of fact, I found myself darting back and forth from screen to stage simply to watch the incredible light show accompanied by an exceptional performance.

It was comforting to be able to bring a cooler, chairs and whatever else to a concert, not to mention the relief of not having to trek your way in search of your vehicle after.

Now the music of Strings is something special. His abilities on the acoustic guitar are practically out of this world from a technical stand-point (admittedly I’m not a guitarist, but I have known many and have been a staunch fan and observer for decades). His style is a fused blend of bluegrass, folk, jam-band and other herbs and spices.

As “possibly” the best pure modern-day guitarist with such a tight and funky psychedelic sound, I can’t help but fantasize about this man playing with the likes of Les Claypool. Like Claypool, Strings would not be able to play at the caliber he performs at without the accompaniment of such a tight sounding band behind him. 

The entire show was a rich musical performance for the ages, the type of high-level musicianship that can really justify the journey in a pandemic. Strings played a number of his own tunes such as Dust in a Baggie and Meet Me at the Creek, along with classic country, blues and bluegrass covers as well as a handful of popular covers. Covers included In Hiding by Pearl Jam, Me and My Uncle by the Grateful Dead, Running on Empty by Jackson Browne and, most surprisingly to me, Circles by Post Malone.

If you haven’t seen or heard Billy Strings I highly suggest you do both, the man shines a bright light on music whether he is playing one of his own songs or any of his left-field covers, this guy has the world at his feet. 

I think the drive-in experience overall was different in a really enjoyable way and I would definitely do it again.

 

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