Kids these days.

Circus No. 9, a progressive string band with roots in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, is long on talent and short on legal drinkers. With a couple members of the band still in their teens, and most no older than mid-twenties, this collection of youthful pickers proves quickly that age is no prerequisite for a smokin’ bluegrass band.

I was drawn to the band by my interest in Thomas Cassell, an award winning mandolinist that I profiled here on the blog back in August. Cassell, after having played the mandolin for just a couple years, had the audacity – and talent – to go out and win the mandolin contest at Rockygrass this summer. Cassell is joined in Circus No. 9 by Matthew Davis, winner of the Walnut Valley national banjo championship, Colin Hotz on vocals/guitar, Michael Testagrossa on dobro, and Angel Edgemon on upright bass.

Circus No. 9 has been off to a hot start. Most of December has seen them on the road, with gigs across the Southeast. This weekend, the band will be at The Down Home in Johnson City, one of the most acclaimed venues in Northeast Tennessee.

I recently caught up with Thomas to chat about the new EP, starting a band, and even a little bit about the circus.

BRO – When we last chatted, you had just wrapped up high school and were getting ready to start college. How are things going with balancing school and being in a touring band?

TC – Balancing school and touring has been a battle, but I think that I’m close to have it figured out. It’s tough having multiple commitments like that, but nothing is more satisfying than playing a show in a different city every night.

BRO – You guys came out of the gate pretty hard, with a bunch of dates and a new EP. What have you found to be the hardest part about putting together a new band?

TC – Getting Circus No. 9 going so quickly wasn’t easy. Time wasn’t on our side, which accounted for some errors and cut corners here and there. Luckily, we were able to pick up around 25 dates. We’ve been touring for a month now and things are coming together nicely.

BRO – We are featuring “Down The Road,” an old Flatt & Scruggs tune, on this month’s Trail Mix. How hard is it to balance the itch to reinterpret the song while remaining true to the spirit of the original?

TC – I have this strange belief that the best way to preserve “traditional” bluegrass is to change it and try to make it new. People will then be able to see and appreciate the music’s roots and where your drew the influence from. It’s fun to play the original versions, but when a song has been recorded by hundreds of bands, we want to have our own version.

BRO – You guys are playing The Down Home, a tremendous acoustic venue, this weekend. What are some of the more memorable shows you have caught there?

TC – I’ve seen some great shows at The Down Home. Russell Moore, Chris Eldridge and Julian Lage, John Cowan, Joe Walsh, and Billy Strings, but nothing compares to Newfound Road’s Live At The Down Home record. I wasn’t actually there, but that was the record that inspired me the most to pick up the mandolin.

BRO – Human cannonball or trapeze artist. If you had to do just one . . . . 

TC – Human cannonball. No doubt. I guess the trapeze thing is cool, but I mean . . . being a human cannonball? I might have to work that into my soloing.

Circus No. 9 will hit the stage at The Down Home in Johnson City this Saturday at 8:00. Trail Mix would like to give you a chance to take in the show for free! Two spots on the guest list await one person who correctly answers the trivia question below. Take a shot at it and send your answers to dave@blueridgeoutdoors.com. A winner will be chosen from all of the correct responses received by noon on Friday, January 20th.

Good luck!!!

Question . . . . The mandolin that Thomas Cassell won at Rockygrass last year bears the signature of what legendary mandolinist?

And for more information on Circus No. 9, tour dates, and how you can get the new EP,  be sure to check out the band’s website. Also, be sure to check out their take on “Down The Road” on this month’s Trail Mix.