A few weeks ago, as I walked through Market Square on a mission, I stopped in my tracks beside Tupelo Honey. A group of very young men played acoustic instruments and sang like crazy. They sang like they meant what they said, like they had more life experience than possible. Like the music really mattered to them. And they were very good.
I didn’t have my camera. It’s a rare moment when I don’t have it and it seems that every time I forget something happens that I need to photograph. I ran home, got my camera and jogged back to the square only to find them packing up. I asked if they would please unpack and play one more song so I could take a photograph. They kindly humored me.
It was then that I met Cindy, the mother to Eli Fox who plays banjo, dobro and harmonica in the band. I learned their name is Subtle Clutch and in addition to Eli, band-mates include Briston Maroney (vocals & guitar), Devin Badgett (vocals, guitar, ukulele), and Jonathan Bailey ( mandolin & guitar). The guys are all in high school, but have played together since middle school. How they came together is an interesting story.
It started with an assignment. At the Episcopal School of Knoxville eighth grad students must complete a portfolio project involving a research paper, artifact and a service project. Like a typical teenager, Eli chose the history of the banjo. That’s right, the history of hte banjo. What teenager does that?
For his service project he planned a concert to benefit WDVX (every teenager’s favorite station, right?). He invited friends, his brother, his banjo teacher and others including Devin and Briston to perform. The concert raised $470 for WDVX, but perhaps more importantly, a band was born. Later they asked Eli’s good friend Johnathan to join.
I thanked Cindy for the information and the boys for playing and told her they would eventually wind up on the blog, probably in one of my random photograph blogs in which I post images that aren’t a complete story in and of themselves.
A few days later, on my way to a meeting at Visit Knoxville, I passed them once again, spoke to Cindy and was blown away all over again. I assured her the blog post was coming. When I got to my meeting at the Visitor’s Center, Kim Bumpas said she had just made a video on her phone and we just had to watch it. It was a video of – you guessed it – Subtle Clutch. I mentioned the coincidence to Cindy as I passed back through the square.
Later that night while Urban Woman and I sat having coffee with friends outside Coffee and Chocolate, our friends Millie and Jerry stopped at our table to talk for a few minutes and one of the first topics in the conversation was . . . that’s right. It seemed everyone was as blown away by them as I had been that first day.
They are a blend of styles. While there is a bluegrass element, they aren’t really bluegrass. Strains of folk music run through their work, but they aren’t really folk. I hear Old Crow Medicine Show, Sister Hazel and maybe a slight Mumford sensibility. They are solid instrumentalists, but it is Briston and Devin’s vocal interplay that I find absolutely delightful.
I’m posting a video below so you can hear these guys (though only three were present for this recording and you don’t get to hear the vocal interplay which I love so much). They also have an original song on itunes. I simply find it incredibly heartening to find young people playing real instruments, real, heartfelt music and knowing the difference between that and what is shoved down our throats by the contemporary music industry. Search these boys out, settle in for a listen and re-kindle your hope for the future.