Big news for fans of “Lord of the Rings” and Billy Strings. The bluegrass star recently launched a limited series of concerts based on the beloved book and film series. It’s not called Lord of the Strings, though that’s a great title if I do say so myself. The three-show concert series kicked off in Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Called “Away From the Shire,” the shows involve costumes, music from the film score, and Strings’ own compositions. Strings played from his own repertoire of original songs plus covers, of which there were some new additions.
The show opened with Howard Shore’s film score over the speakers. Then, Strings came out and read the opening monologue of the history of the One Ring from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first film in the trilogy. He introduced Gollum, who bounded on stage played by cellist Rushad Eggleston. Billy Strings and mandolinist Jarrod Walker then entered the stage dressed as Hobbits. They played the opening theme of the film, “Concerning Hobbits.”
Banjoist Billy Failing and fiddler Alex Hargreaves joined Strings, Walker, and Eggleston, with Hargreaves dressed as Legolas. Flutist Ahn Phung was dressed as an enchanting elf, while bassist Royal Masat arrived not late, not early, but precisely when he meant to, dressed, of course, as Gandalf. The band continued with a bluegrassy version of “Concerning Hobbits” before launching into The Dillards’ “Old Home Place.”
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Billy Strings then played one of his own standards, “Home,” and then the band launched into a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” in celebration of Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo’s birthday is on September 22, and “The Fellowship of the Ring” opens with his long-expected party.
They played “Flaming Red Hair” from the LOTR score, which plays during Bilbo’s birthday party, then another Strings original, “Secrets” from his 2021 album. He recited “The Road Goes Ever On,” a J.R.R. Tolkien poem from the book, then launched into “Away From the Mire,” rebranded as “Away From the Shire.”
To end the first set, the band played Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ That Old Lonesome Road,” then Strings’ “Hide & Seek.” There was then a sequence that incorporated two instrumental pieces from the film, “The Council of Elrond” and “The Ring Goes South,” before closing it out with “Hide & Seek” again.
The night continued with covers, originals, and cleverly re-written lines to reference the film. In the second set, Eggleston returned as Gollum for a cello and kazoo piece called “Gollum’s Nasty, Nasty.” The band then played The Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” and The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” followed by a rendition of “Poor Ellen Smith” reworked as “Poor Frodo Baggins.” The show reached the point in the film where the Lord of the Nazgûl stabs Frodo on Weathertop.
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Night one of “Away From the Shire” ended with “In the Pines,” referencing the part of the film where the Fellowship takes refuge in the forest of Lothlórien. They performed a rendition of “Meet Me at the Creek,” incorporating the instrumental “The Breaking of the Fellowship.” The end of “The Fellowship of the Ring” involves the Fellshowship fragmenting on the shores of the river Anduin. The show ended with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to end the first night.
Tonight, Oct. 31, is the last show in the limited concert series. If Strings is doing what I think he’s doing, it will most likely follow the final film, “The Return of the King,” which is my personal favorite. Check out the opening of Saturday’s concert if you missed it or want to relive the magic.