Subtle Clutch is the Buzz Downtown

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

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.

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

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.

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

Subtle Clutch, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

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.


  1. Loved reading your article! I also saw this group downtown and thought they were great!
    They will be opening for Johanna Divine at the Knoxville Botanical Garden on September 26th.
    Can’t wait to see them play!

  2. Karen Christian says:

    Im very excited, i was able to book this guys for my Antique Tractor Show coming up on Saturday Aug 31 they will be playing from 12:pm -3:00 it’s a Family event there will be Antique Tractors, food vendors such as hotdogs, funnel cakes and shaved ice, a 20ft round bounce house and many local crafters on site showing off their talents.. all this with the sound of Subtle Clutch rolling in the air… McLemore Florist 106 E Young High Pike Knoxville.. so come out and support these kids…

  3. Susan Napier-Sewell says:

    Inspiring! Great cover of “Wagon Wheel.” So glad to see The Episcopal School of Knoxville firing imaginations and whetting appetites of young people. My daughter, Libby, was an ESK “original,” in the first graduating class, and the staff was topnotch–among them, Miranda Clark, Chris Bishop, Lois Ross, Marie Gibson. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more from Subtle Clutch.

  4. Shelia Durmire says:

    I am the grandmother of Briston, we are so proud of him and his friends. Briston taught himself guitar and has written quite a few songs. His Dad,(Brandon) and Step Mom (Meredith) have done a wonderful job raising him. I hope Subtle Clutch keeps up the good work and goes a long way!!! I am very proud to call him my grandson!

  5. I have not had the pleasure of meeting the other boys yet, but Eli I’ve known since he was born. He’s a great kid – with GREAT parents! In every activity Zachary and Eli have participated, Bobby and Cindy have been supportive, encouraging, loving and interactive. What an awesome group of young men, I’m really looking forward to watching them grow in the music industry!

  6. Dan Stokes says:

    Congratulations to Eli’s parents, Cindy and “Bull”, on raising a truly exceptional son. Can’t wait to hear Subtle Clutch in person.

  7. I understand that the Episcopal School of Knoxville is a virtual hotbed of unexpected talent and achievement! Here’s more evidence of that. Congratulations boys!

  8. Nice story! We don’t hear enough about talented and productive teenagers. I will keep an ear out this this band!

  9. Love fresh, new talent. Thanks for introducing us to Subtle Clutch and for working with Cindy to help them build a future!

  10. Great group! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Excellent. They’re one of the best music groups on the Square.

    Are you planning something in your meetings with Visit Knoxville? World domination?

  12. Christopher says:

    I taught Briston, Devin, and Eli in middle school.They are fine young men in addition to great players. Glad they are creating a buzz.

  13. Ruth Pullen says:

    As the grandmother of Eli, I had to tell you how proud we are of him and his band mates. They are a great bunch of kids and play great music.

  14. These young folks sound just like the type of acts we like to book at the new Vienna Coffee House in Maryville. Are you able to share their contact info with me? 865 681 0517.

  15. Great story. I wrote them to see if they would play a First Friday Event for me at the Cook Loft. I always find little nuggets in your writing. Thanks, keep up the good work. If you ever want to come by and see the Loft give me a call.
    Thomas Hensley

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’ll take you up on that sometime. I passed your number directly to Cindy (the mom I mentioned), so hopefully you guys can work something out.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.