In case you missed it, Billy Strings delivered a staggeringly moving solo performance in his Behind The Mic session for American Songwriter last week. But the Nashville singer-songwriter and bluegrass guitarist–born William Apostol–also took a few minutes to reflect on a magical night he and a handful of other artists shared with John Prine in December.
“What a major blow to the entire world–the entire conscious world,” Strings said of Prine’s recent death, at 73, due to complications from COVID-19. “Very sad to hear that.”
Strings goes on to recall how Prine ended up in the audience of the bluegrass artist’s latest Christmas show: “We did this Christmas show–String the Halls–it was our second year at Marathon [Music Works] in Nashville, and John reached out and said he wanted to come and see the show, so we were able to set him in this VIP section above the soundboard. He had his own little section up there–we really tried to treat him like royalty that night. It was amazing. He walked right through the crowd and everybody kind of separated and it was this epic thing. He sat up there and ate a couple hot dogs and made some handsome johnnies with his buddy Shawn–Shawn Camp–they were sitting up there together.”
The Christmas show took place on December 21 and featured Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Kris Myers, and Dave Bruzza in addition to Molly Tuttle and Lindsay Lou, both of whom contributed to Strings’ latest album, 2019’s Home. Other artists on the bill that night included Sierra Hull, Larry Keel, Jack Pearson, Michael Cleveland, and Jenni Lyn.
After the show, Strings was surprised to receive a personal message from Prine himself: “After that, John sent me a text: ‘Hey this is John Prine. I really loved your show. I think you’re great. Take care’ or something like that,” Strings said. “So I was just like, ‘Alright. My life is complete.’ I of course responded and said thanks for coming and everything. We didn’t even get to really cross paths that night. I’ve seen him play live a couple times. But after that we were texting back and forth and we were trying to go grab lunch sometime. I remember I was like, ‘Let’s meet up on Sunday’ at this place that he suggested and then he was like, ‘I got this doctor’s appointment.’ And then both of us sort of got busy again, and then this shit happened. It’s a major bummer, but what a great memory at least to be able to show John a good time that one night at the Christmas Show. That was really fun.”
Though he didn’t ultimately get to grab lunch with Prine, Strings says he’s just grateful to have had the opportunity to perform for the legendary singer-songwriter.
“My manager Bill and some folks got to meet him and say hey and everything. So that was really special for my whole team and everybody on stage, too. We were playing and John Prine was sitting out there watching. It was amazing.”
Strings also performed a few songs in his Behind The Mic session and spoke candidly about his songwriting practice, his bluegrass inspirations, and the East Nashville music scene. His reflections on John Prine come in around the 25-minute mark. You can check out the full video below, and check out other Behind The Mic sessions here.