BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Kristian Bush and his collaborator in folk-rock duo Billy Pilgrim hadn’t performed – or talked much – the past 15 years.
That changed briefly in January when Bush’s partner in harmony, Andrew Hyra, hopped onstage with his old friend at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida for an impromptu rendition of “I Won’t Tell,” the Springsteen-esque song from their 1995 album, “Bloom.”
It was their first performance together since 2001.
The affable Bush, of course, catapulted to stardom with Sugarland shortly after Billy Pilgrim dissolved in 2001 – they never officially disbanded — and remains a fixture in country music. He’s also currently writing the score to the upcoming musical “Troubadour,” which will have its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre on Jan. 18.
Hyra, meanwhile, worked as a carpenter in Atlanta and performed with his band Smokin’ Novas, but recently moved to Connecticut.
On Monday night at Eddie’s Attic, Billy Pilgrim lived again – but this time for nearly two rapturous hours. (Bush played his usual post-Thanksgiving quartet of shows on Sunday and Monday, but this was the only performance to spotlight Hyra.)
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Despite the decade and a half gap in sharing stage time together, Bush and Hyra – joined by multi-instrumentalist wunderkind Brandon Bush – owned the tiny stage as if they never left it.
With eyes scrunched shut and voices perfectly in sync, the pair traded lyrics on “Hurricane Season,” “Blind Spot” and the acoustic guitar strummer, “Try.”
Hyra’s sweetly powerful voice melded effortlessly with Bush’s chameleonic tones, and it was as obvious to the audience as the two onstage that theirs still is a magical, musical symbiosis.
“We still got it, man,” Hyra confirmed to Bush with a smile.
While much of the set centered on the thoughtful midtempo musings that exemplified the Billy Pilgrim sound, the pair accelerated with the clap-along “Sweet Louisiana Sound” and the driving “The Last American Poet,” which featured Brandon Bush on drums.
And yes, they returned to the poetic “I Won’t Tell,” which was wrapped, fittingly, around the chorus of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”
Before the guys encored with a nod to the holidays – their evocative read on “The First Noel” – Bush shared another smile and bro hug with Hyra.
“When I woke up today, I hoped this would happen,” he said.
Take a listen to some of Billy Pilgrim’s performance Monday night at Eddie’s Attic:
“The Last American Poet”