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Billy Strings' virtual "Deja Vu Experiment," 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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It's pretty simple for Billy Strings.

"Any time I can get together with the band and play music is fun," the Michigan-born Americana artist says by phone from his current home in Nashville.

Strings, 28, has been trying to do that as much as possible during the pandemic. He's been a virtual concert fixture, from his own streaming series to appearances for festivals and benefits. He's managed to play a few live, in-person shows as well, and he even released an album, "Home," that's nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at the 63rd Grammy Awards on March 14.

Strings' latest endeavor is "The Deja Vu Experiment," kicking off Thursday, Feb. 18. The six-show stand, streaming live from the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., pays tribute to a legendary half-dozen performances the Grateful Dead performed at the same venue in 1971, during which it introduced telepathic ESP Experiments between fans and an off-site subject. Strings and company will be doing the same, and even if the "experiment" portion of the run fails it's likely the music will be characteristically transportive...

Strings began devoting himself to virtual performing early during the pandemic, starting with one-camera streams from the sofa at his house to full-band, multi-camera productions at actual venues. He also played parking lot concerts. "I'm just trying to learn to adapt and still exist in this weird...world that we're living in. It's been tough to many for sure; I've got to give props to my manager and my team. I mean, I can sit here and play guitar at my house and that's OK, but I love picking' with other people. That's how I get off -- the interaction between other musicians and the audience is such a conversation. It's almost like a spiritual necessity for a lot of people -- it is for me, I know."

Strings didn't know much about the Grateful Dead's "ESP Experiments" shows until his manager introduced him to it. But he was intrigued by what the Dead did musically during that 1971 run as well. "They debuted a number of tunes there, like 'Loser' and 'Wharf Rat,' and the 'Beautiful Jam' inside of 'Dark Star.' It's hallowed ground, the Capitol Theatre, especially for that Grateful Dead world. I'm not gonna play all Dead tunes or anything like that. We're gonna play our original stuff, maybe some Dead tunes, but everybody in my whole team and band, we're all fans so this is a cool little homage to them and how amazing they were and the amazing (stuff) they did."

Strings will, however, conduct his own "experiment," asking the audience to fixate on a particular image and try to concentrate and communicate it to a different special guest each night "who's going to sit at home and light incense and smoke weed and close their eyes and try to see if they can receive this image through all these people who are watching the show around the world. It's really weird," he adds with a laugh, "but sometimes we have weird ideas, and that's OK."

Strings is "really excited and honored" about the Grammy nomination for "Home." "That blew my mind, honestly. We're so proud of that record, and I'm so proud of the band, everybody who played on that record. I was really happy to be able to come to them and say, 'You guys, you were nominated for a Grammy because you kick ass.' And another huge thing is just calling my mom and dad and saying, 'You guys -- your boy just got nominated for a Grammy.' My dad taught me about Doc Watson and play guitar and stuff when I just a little (kid) and I took that and ran with it, and I'm able to call him years later and say, 'Look man, I might get a Grammy.' How cool is that?"

Strings already has another album "in the can," though he's not releasing too many details about it yet. "We were in the studio and we got some new songs and there definitely will be a new record this year -- I can say that. And more about it when everyone says I can talk about it."

Billy Strings' "The Deja Vu Experiment" series begins at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, from the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. The series runs through Feb. 24, excepting Feb. 22. The first and final night will stream free on The Relix Channel on Twitch; Tickets for the other shows can be purchased via fans.live. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Rex Foundation and Backline.

Web Site: www.fans.live

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