WATCH: Billy Strings Joins Willie Nelson for Epic Gospel Jam

by Clayton Edwards

Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival Tour has been going strong since June. This year, brought a solid lineup of up-and-comers and indie sensations. Acts like Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Charley Crockett, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Brothers Osborne, and plenty more have shared the stage with the outlaw legend. Billy Strings and his band have filled out the lineup on the most recent dates.

Billy Strings and his band brought their electrifying brand of progressive bluegrass to the Outlaw Music Festival crowd in Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia Beach, and Bridgeport, Connecticut this month. Willie Nelson & Family close out the festivities every night. Since Strings and the band have been on the tour, he has joined the outlaw legend for a couple of songs. Jambase reports that they have been jamming on a medley of “I’ll Fly Away” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” each night.

In their most recent stop in Bridgeport, Billy Strings brought his band onstage to join Willie and the family. However, Billy Failing, Alex Hargreaves, Jarrod Walker, and Royal Masat left their instruments backstage. They gathered around a pair of microphones to sing harmony on the medley. Strings, on the other hand, brought his guitar and picked some ‘grass for Nelson and the crowd. Watch the most epic team-up since Willie and Waylon shared a stage below.

Billy Strings and Willie Nelson: A Heavenly Combination

The video starts near the end of a verse. Willie Nelson turns to Strings and says, “Play it, Billy” and he does just that. Strings steps up to the plate with the lightning-fast flatpicking that made him famous. You can tell Willie is enjoying his playing. However, the best part comes when Billy kicks off his second solo.

Billy Strings’ second guitar break leans heavily on the melody of “I’ll Fly Away” combined with a dose of bluegrass improvisation. Willie Nelson watches Strings pick with a pleasantly surprised expression on his face before passing the solo over to his harmonica player.

Billy Strings made some interesting choices while soloing over the gospel standards. Usually, a bluegrass player’s first solo hangs on the melody of the piece they’re playing. If they take a second instrumental break, that’s when the full-on improvisation comes in.

Billy Strings’ roots in traditional bluegrass run deep. However, he has a long history of pushing the boundaries of the genre and turning convention on its ear.

Strings cut his teeth on traditional music as a kid, playing with much older musicians. Then, he started playing in heavy metal bands with folks his own age. Today, his guitar style shows those varied influences. Whether he’s reversing the order of his breaks or adding scales and intervals that traditional ‘grass guitarists don’t, Strings keeps things fresh.