This is one of those moments when it all comes true. All of the touring, all of the stellar performances, all of the live streams, all of the great songs and the sowing of roots with blood and sweat from a miracle musician to a 29 year old modern musical marvel, all of which led to the shake of what ceiling normally above an independent artist, and even critics now need to be careful and take off their hats.
With his third solo album, Renewal, released on September 24th, Billy Strings alerted the country music world that he is to be reckoned with and hit the Billboard Country Charts with a strong debut at # 1 in physical sales in the country, at # 9 on the Billboard Country Albums charts, which account for streaming, and at number 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts.
Billy Strings sold 8,135 albums in physical copies and downloads from Renewal, which was good enough to make it number 1 in hard units in the country, ousting Star-Crossed by Kacey Musgraves. Coupled with Renewal's songs, which have been streamed over 2.5 million times, it was good enough for a total of 10,246 units, which is a strong number for the Rounder Records title in the streaming era.
And let's not lose focus on what's happening here. Billy Strings isn't exactly the Tyler Childers / Sturgill Simpson / Cody Jinks guy. Billy Strings is a bluegrass musician, and Renewal in particular was somewhat surprisingly traditional, authentic, and straightforward, but was very well received by an artist who can venture on the more ethereal and jamgrass side of the discipline.
And while they are highly regarded, so far the Billy Strings phenomenon has mostly focused on his live performances. Renewal feels like one of those records that will resonate well beyond the conventional boundaries of bluegrass or our specific era in music and help the bluegrass as a proxy.
The last record by Billy Strings – 2019’s Home – only reached number 41 on the country charts when it was released. It won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, and Strings was recently named Entertainer of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards.
But Renewal just feels on another level – a career attempt that comes with its unprecedented live performances, and something that people who might not even consider themselves bluegrass and country fans will have fun.
From his beginnings in fiddle and bluegrass camps to his apprenticeship with Don Julin to the top 10 in mainstream country, Billy Strings has climbed the mountain. But what makes us all dizzy with anticipation is where this one-off performer could go from here.