A circus (of sorts) is coming to town

Black Mountain News

The hills and valleys of southwest Virginia have nurtured many remarkable musicians, and the name of 18-year-old Thomas Cassel can now be added to that list.

The Norton, Virginia mandolinist and his group Circus Number 9 return to White Horse Black Mountain on Thursday, Dec. 22, where these remarkable young musicians made a big impression at their first appearance. Their virtuoso arrangements reflect lessons learned from bluegrass masters as well as players who have pushed the frontiers of the genre, injecting blues, jazz, folk and "new acoustic" into their string band lineup. 

Expect blues, jazz, folk and something callled "new acoustic" in Circus Number 9's bluegrass sound.

In addition to Cassel (a recent winner of the prestigious 2016 Rockygrass mandolin competition), the band features 2016 National Banjo Champion Matthew Davis. The Nashville-based ensemble also includes fiddler Julian Pinelli, guitarist Colin Hotz and resonator guitar player Michael Testagrossa. Several band members played on Thomas' debut solo EP "Mellifluous." Circus Number 9 plans to release an EP of its own music soon.

As might be expected, bandleader Cassell lists as influences pioneering mandolinists like Jethro Burns, Sam Bush, “Dawg Music” architect David Grisman, Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, along with relative newcomer Sierra Hull. But he also cites flatpicking guitar heavyweights Doc Watson, Brian Sutton and Tony Rice as musical models. And his all-time hero is the late multi-instrumentalist iconoclast John Hartford.

“Listening to music is a vital part of learning music," he said. "Listen to something in every free moment you have.” He enjoys hearing how other people interpret music in unexpected ways, and uses those insights in his approach to cover tunes and his original compositions. 

Send in the clowns

Who: Thomas Cassel and Circus Number 9

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door