In any Billy Strings crowd a fan can come across a wide range of fans—old, young, bluegrass, newgrass, jamband, rock and metal, the first-timer and the goat celebrating their 100th show. Little do many know that among this crowd, they may also have brushed shoulders with the reason Billy is there at all—his mother, Debra Apostol.
She can often be seen at live shows dancing and enjoying many of the same songs she has been hearing for years, albeit on a much larger stage. Every once and a while, she may even get shaken out of a dance, when Billy suddenly calls from the stage dedicating a song to her—often Larry Sparks’ “John Deere Tractor.”
That song has a long history for Billy’s family and is one that left an imprint on Billy’s personal and musical memory from a young age.
“Another standout moment I remember was around that same age my dad and I would sit in his bedroom, he’d shut the door, and we’d be sitting around playing all night long in our underwear,” Strings told Grateful Web in 2018. “My mom would holler up, ‘he’s gotta go to bed, he’s got school in the morning!’ My dad would holler down, ‘but he’s getting really good in here!’ He’d lock the door and made sure I was picking.”
And it was musical moments like these—juxtaposing other harder ones Billy has opened up about—that Strings has always shared with his family. While his musical family has grown much larger, he still kept things close to home with his 2022 album release “Me / And / Dad.” Not only did Strings fulfill a long-held dream of recording an album with his dad, but on that album, they closed it with a song father, mother and son have been singing together for years.
“The project closes out with a family reunion, Strings’ mother taking the lead vocal on ‘I Heard My Mother Weeping,’ backed only by her son and husband on vintage Martin guitars, replicating the close-to-the-bone family harmony of Doc Watson’s 1964 version with his wife, Rosa Lee Watson,” No Depression, Roots Music Magazine wrote in 2022.
While Mama Strings may not be singing on stage with Billy much anymore, she continues to take on new roles at her son’s concerts from dancing in the crowd to being an ESP guest receiver to whatever the next adventure brings.