Billy Apostol was dubbed "Billy Strings" by his mother for his prowess on a number of stringed instruments at a young age.
Today, the 25-year-old rising bluegrass star who learned at the feet of his musician father fronts his own band that plays the Castle Theatre in Bloomington on Thursday, April 5. And though he picked up classic bluegrass from his father and idolizes some of the biggest names in the genre, he’s not averse to incorporating other sounds into his repertoire.
“I’m just trying to learn how to write music,” said Strings, who played in a metal band in high school. “So I’m trying to put NOT as many boundaries up as possible and let the songs decide where they want to go.”
And though some traditionalists still balk at the deviation, Strings sees the bigger picture.
“We’re all playing bluegrass you know," he said.
Doc Watson and Bill Monroe were omnipresent. But so was Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Yes, and King Crimson.
“Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys are the trunk of the tree. Then on up you’ve got the branches like Bluegrass Revival and the more progressive stuff like Seldom Scene. I was talking with (fellow guitarist) Bryan Sutton the other day about Seldom Scene. We were talking about how funny it is how long ago that band was kind of hitting it and they’re still considered progressive bluegrass,” said Strings.
Strings grew up mostly in Michigan, spending a large part of his youth in the artsy northern mitten town of Traverse City along Lake Michigan. He also spent time in Maple River town of Muir, Michigan. That river is often where he finds inspiration, including “Meet Me At The Creek” from his new album "Turmoil & Tinfoil."
“Well I'm standin' all alone by the river of my home / Thinkin' 'bout the days I've left behind
All the years I rode, not a nickel can I show / And the river helps to ease my worried mind” – from “Meet Me At The Creek”
“There was this little train trestle that was abandoned years ago, but when I was a little kid we used to go play down there. When I was 12, 13 and a little older, and thought when I broke up with a girlfriend that my life was over, but I’d go sit down by that river. And I’d just think and watch that muddy water go by. That would help me meditate. Sometime I’d bring my fishing pole, but sometimes I would just go down there and sit,” said Strings.
He hasn’t been sitting much since embarking on a professional career in music. For many who saw Strings play at a preteen and later, it’s probably no surprise he’s touring constantly, and receiving critical raves. Strings said he too envisioned the career.
“I used to read books about Janis Joplin and biographies of huge musical icons,” said Strings. “Nirvana was one, and I used to read about Jim Morrison, so when I was a kid I did have this rock-star kind of dream.”
He said it’s not too different now as a working musician who spends over 200 days a year on the road.
“I’m traveling with a group of friends and they’re the best friends anyone can have,” said Strings. “It’s just a beautiful experience to travel and see the country and play all these magical music venues that hundreds of other bands have caressed over the years.”
The fantasy of his youth has become reality in some respects as names he grew up idolizing are now friends.
“People like David Grisman, Sam Bush and Del McCoury are still my heroes but they’re now also my friends,” said Strings. “You know I never thought I’d be able to do this but I’ve had an incredible amount of support and encouragement from my friends. It’s been a wild ride man, and it’s just beginning.”
Billy Strings plays the Castle Theatre on April 5 with opening act Still Shine. Doors open at 7 p.m. Music starts at 8 p.m.
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