Bluegrass is midrange-heavy by nature, which can be challenging with some systems, but with PANTHER the subtle tonal qualities of the instruments easily shine through. It doesn’t color the sound in any way.”
Charlie BrysonProduction Manager and Monitor Engineer, Billy Strings
The dizzying ascent of bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings from van-and-trailer gigs to A-level arena touring is a testament to his complete mastery of traditional styles as well as his expansion of the genre into new realms of rock-influenced extended improvisations. On the current leg of his 2023 amphitheater and arena tour, Strings is enveloping his growing legions of jam-band fans through a robust system based on Meyer Sound PANTHER large-format linear line array loudspeakers. As with all recent tours, the system supplier on this outing is Nashville, Tennessee-based Major Tom US.
The regular tour schedule took a pause at the end of September for the third annual Billy Strings Renewal Festival in the mountain valley of Buena Vista, Colorado. Here, with the timely arrival of custom cabling and infrastructure from EMG, the tour’s complement of PANTHER loudspeakers became one of the first to connect all audio and telemetry directly to each loudspeaker cabinet via a Milan AVB network.
The manifold advantages of the latest Meyer Sound technologies were acknowledged by Charlie Bryson, who doubles as tour production manager and monitor engineer.
“In June we transitioned from the LEO and LYON system we had for the first part of the tour to the new PANTHER rig and it’s working out great on all fronts,” he reports. “Andy [Lytle], our FOH engineer, mixed on PANTHER at last year’s Peach Festival, and he loved it straight off the bat. Bluegrass is midrange-heavy by nature, which can be challenging with some systems, but with PANTHER the subtle tonal qualities of the instruments easily shine through. It doesn’t color the sound in any way.”
For Lytle, PANTHER hit the right note when he mixed his first set at the Peach Festival. “The main stage was under a tent enclosure, and that can make it really hard to mix instruments like banjo. But I immediately noticed how clean and clear the instruments sounded. Everything was distinct — never washy but cutting through cleanly.”
Walking each new venue during sound checks, Lytle has been impressed with PANTHER’s uniformity of coverage. “I walk up to the top levels and far corners, and the coverage has been awesome. Our systems tech, Jimmy Marsh, says it’s easy to get everything dialed in just right, which then makes it easier for me.”
In a typical arena configuration, the dual main arrays of 12-each PANTHER line array loudspeakers are bolstered on the low end by 12 1100‑LFC low-frequency control elements. Additionally, PANTHER loudspeakers are used as side hangs.
Putting on his production manager’s cap, Charlie Bryson appreciates the logistical advantages of the new PANTHER-based system. “Overall, the system is much smaller and lighter,” he observes. “The truck space for loudspeakers is close to half of what we needed before, and of course, the weight is drastically reduced. We are out on tour almost constantly, so the incremental savings on fuel consumption add up and make a significant difference.
“Also, it’s easier to rig in some challenging rooms, like the older large theaters with structural weight limits. With PANTHER, we can hang more boxes for better overall room coverage.”
The newly inaugurated complete Milan AVB connection incorporates primary and secondary networks using Luminex Gigacore 30i switches linked via Opticore trunk lines.
“The Milan network gives us easy control and information access to and from each box,” says Jimmy Marsh, the tour systems engineer. “And our cable looms are smaller while still having individual box tunings. Also, we are doing a wide range of venues over the year, so not being locked into a fixed number of zones per array really gives us more flexibility in array sizes.”
Billy Strings was just hitting his stride as a top-level touring act in 2019, following the release of his chart-topping album, Home, when the pandemic hit. Strings bridged the gap with a short series of drive-in parking lot concerts in 2020, deploying Meyer Sound LEOPARD systems provided by DBS Audio Systems of Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
For Andy Lytle, who has been mixing FOH for Strings since 2018, the relationship with Meyer Sound has been integral to the success of the band. “I remember in the earlier days when we did one-offs with Meyer Sound it sounded so good,” he recalls, “so it just made sense to continue. Every extended tour at this level has been with Meyer, and recently all from Major Tom US. They have been great not just with the Meyer rigs but the complete packages with console and other front-end gear.”
Bill Orner, Billy Strings’ manager, concurs. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Meyer Sound, Major Tom, and our amazing crew. It’s not every day that manufacturers, vendors, and crew align in such a beneficial way. The shows have never sounded better. It’s like it was all meant to be.”
By blending bluegrass artistry with a range of rock influences, Billy Strings has extended the boundaries of the genre to become the most popular bluegrass artist in a generation. Home won a Grammy award for Best Bluegrass Album, Strings has been named Entertainer of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards three times and twice selected as Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Association.
Billy String’s 2023 tour schedule extends through New Year’s Eve, with the final three shows at the Uno Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. In November, the tour jumps the Atlantic for 11 shows in Europe and the UK.