Thursday night when the spotlight was on Cleveland as those with busted brackets watched the Midwest Regional Tournament, a few of the ND Roots faithful spent a very enjoyable evening being entertained by Billy Strings & Don Julin across the Cuyahoga River at Music Box Supper Club. The lower level performance space continued to fill up as the dapper dressed musicians took the stage. A clean cut Billy Strings (guitar) took the stage wearing a vest and tie with a PBR Tall Boy and glass of water while the elder hipster Don Julin (mandolin) wore a suit and tie accompanied by a dark stout and a glass of whiskey next to a mantle clock.
Hailing from Traverse City, Michigan, the pair touring in a minivan were accompanied by upright bass player Kevin Gills, which added a nice compliment to their set. Opening with the instrumental “Salt Creek” and bleeding into “Old Joe Clark”, the trio led by Strings on lead vocals and backed by Julin tore through a twenty-one song set of Appalachian bluegrass roots music. Covering folks like Doc Watson on “Way Downtown” and “Red Rocking Chair”, Mac Wiseman with “Shackles and Chains”, and “Love Oh Love Please Come Home” from the Bill Monroe songbook, the boys hit one of their high points with their rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Never a bad time to pull out a gospel number, Strings took the audience to church with “Traveling The Highway Home” followed by a sad song about lonesome long distance relations with “Rambling Letters”. Strings vocals were on fire as much as his guitar playing from there on with a rousing “Rock of Ages” and “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. Not to be outdone, Julin was steady trading riffs and solos throughout the evening, culminating with the trio’s showstopper “Little Maggie” that was so blazing hot the fire alarms almost went off. The boys closed out the evening with a nice version of “Freeborn Man” for their encore.
Billy Strings & Don Julin continue to take this show on the road to several locations east of the Mississippi through mid-July. If you have a few bucks to plunk down to see these two gentlemen perform in your local town, you’ll be in for a wonderful evening of entertainment.