Billy Strings launches Townes Van Zandt covers in Houston

Billy performed three Townes songs in total at the Texas singer-songwriter’s former home.

By Nate Todd Dec 3 2021 • 4:03 PM PST

Billy Strings kicked off a three-night run through Texas on Thursday night at White Oak Music Hall in Houston. The guitarist and his band made their debut with two songs by Townes Van Zandt and also fit into an additional core element of the late great Texan singer-songwriter who lived and performed in Houston.

Billy kicked off the show with “Everything’s The Same” from his Grammy-winning 2019 album, Home (Billy recently received another Grammy nod for his 2021 album Renewal). The strings then slipped into a segment of covers that started with “I’m Still Here” by John Hartford, followed by “Last Train To Clarksville” by The Monkee followed by “White Freight Liner Blues” by Townes Van Zandt, which saw Billy and the banjo player Billy’s failure exchanging worms. An interesting note, the late Townes Van Zandt lived in the Clarksville neighborhood of Austin, Texas. Billy’s in Austin tonight.

Strings kicked off the second set with a jaw-dropping guitar introduction to Keith Allison’s “Freeborn Man”, followed by the excellent Renewal track, “This is the old world”. The second set also saw covers of the bluegrass standards popularized by Doc Watson “Train That Carried My Girl From Town” and “Shady Grove”, as well as “Cold On The Shoulder”, written by Gordon Lightfoot and recorded by Tony Rice. Renewal “On The Line” then drove to the Stanley Brothers “Train 45” to complete a train trio.

Billy Strings then unveiled Townes’ first full group of “Two Girls”. Billy has performed the song solo several times during his concerts, but the Houston piece appears to be the first with Mandolinist Failing. Jarrod walker and bassist Masat royal in a living environment. The strings closed the set with a duet of “Home Of The Red Fox” by Bill Emerson and “Little Maggie” by the Stanley Brothers.

Billy Strings returned to the encore with another Van Zandt debut album, “Fraternity Blues”. The song, along with Townes’ two other numbers, all appeared on Van Zandt’s live double LP in 1977, Live in the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas. The Dillards’ bluegrass classic “The Old Home Place” would close the evening.

Watch fan-shot clips of “Freeborn Man” and “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town” below:


Setlist (via the Billy Strings Setlist page)

First set: Everything’s the same, I’m still here> Last train to Clarksville> White Freightliner Blues> Run, enough to go, sled, away from the quagmire, do my time, long forgotten dream, special by plane, the or rush

Second series: man born free, this old world, train that carried my daughter from the city> Black Mountain Rag, Shady Grove, house, cold on the shoulder, on the line> Train 45, two girls (1), house of the red fox> Little Maggie

Again: Brotherhood Blues (2), Old Home Place


(1) FTP with full tape

(2) FTP – Van Zandt Cities

Kenneth T. Shippee