published Friday, May 18th, 2012

Georgia acoustic whiz kids bring bluegrass fusion to Nightfall stage

IF YOU GO

What: Nightfall Concert Series, featuring Seven Handle Circus.

When: 8 p.m. today; Dismembered Tennesseans open at 7.

Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Market and Cherry streets.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 265-0771.

Links: www.nightfallchattanooga.com, www.sevenhandlecircus.com


THE OPENER

The Dismembered Tennesseans, led by fiddler Fletcher Bright, is one of the area's most-celebrated, longest-running bluegrass bands. For more, visit www.dismemberedtennesseans.com.

Although they stumbled upon bluegrass later in life rather than growing up steeped in its traditions, there's something about the genre that agrees with Seven Handle Circus.

Formed in 2010 by a group of fraternity members at Georgia Tech, the Georgia sextet spent more time growing up listening to Radiohead than to Bill Monroe. Richard Burroughs, the band's fiddler, was a student of the Suzuki method and Dave Matthews Band's Boyd Tinsley rather than bluegrass stalwarts such as Stuart Duncan or Mark O'Connor.

That diversity funnels into Seven Handle's music, which shares much in common with progressive acoustic acts such as Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Seven Handle features traditional bluegrass instrumentation (plus drums), pacing and vocal harmonies, but the musicians are as likely to perform a true blue standard such as "Uncle Pen" as they are a cover of Outkast's "ATLiens."

"[Bluegrass] gave us the constraint to start from, and then we started adding in other elements as we went," said guitarist/vocalist Shawn Spencer. "It just kind of happened naturally, which is why it took off."

In short order, the band graduated from playing frat houses to major venues such as The Georgia Theater in Athens. It has shared the stage with bluegrass artists such as The Gibson Brothers and Mountain Heart as well as rappers such as T-Pain and Young Joc.

Tonight, the band will headline the Nightfall Concert Series.

Last June, Seven Handle was invited to play Atlanta's Fox Theater after a chance encounter with Mumford & Sons at Publik Draft House, a bistro next door. The Englishmen were headlining The Fox that night and were impressed by the band's string music, so they invited band members to the show and a post-gig jam session.

That appearance, including a shout-out to Seven Handle from frontman Marcus Mumford, was a milestone moment for the group.

"It rallied us a bit to say, 'Wow, what we're doing is really good. ... We can really do this,' " Spencer said.

Whether they're channeling their newfound love of traditional bluegrass or their long-standing ties to rock and alternative acts, however, the members of Seven Handle Circus are focused on one goal: having fun.

"Just straight shred it -- that's what I try to do," Burroughs said. "If I'm not having a good time, they're not going to have a good time, so I'm going to have a [really] good time."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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