Evolving over the course of nearly eight years from a country-tinged electric outfit into a tradition-minded six-piece acoustic string band, Knoxville’s Dixieghost made music that transcended the genre labels that were inevitably attached to them. At once striking and deftly rendered, the band’s original songs were vested with a certain stark, incorruptible beauty that spoke to anyone with a heart to listen.
But nearly a year ago, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of their handle, Dixieghost seemingly disappeared from the local scene, leaving naught but a single, sterling release, 2015’s “Wine and Spirits,” in their spectral wake.
As it turns out, according to co-founder Jason Hanna, the band was merely taking a much-needed break. Now, with their collective energies restored, Dixieghost look toward a busy spring of 2016, kicking off a slate of local appearances with a headlining spot on Wayne Bledsoe’s Six O’Clock Swerve on Feb. 25.
“We’ve kind of been chilling back a little,” says Hanna in an amiable drawl, speaking by phone in a recent interview. “We needed to freshen up a little. Last year was really busy, which was great, but that doesn’t leave much time to be creative. We took some time off to rest, write, and do some other things here and there.”
Dixieghost came together in 2008, founded by high school buddies Hanna and Justin Nix, who still share singing and songwriting chores in the band. After initially molding themselves as a sort of mainstream Americana outfit, Hanna says he and Nix realized that, “most of the stuff we wrote really lent itself to bluegrass instrumentation.
“The stuff we were writing and the stuff we were most inspired by, tended to be more in a Gillian Welch type of vein, and more traditional sounding music. So after about three years, we decided to go full-on acoustic. It just seemed to make a lot more sense.”
Some of the band’s early members moved on, to be replaced with a veritable who’s who of local string virtuosos — like Will Carter on dobro, Seth Hopper on fiddle, David Leventhal on banjo. Since then, though, the band has done a remarkable job of maintaining continuity in its membership.
The only change in recent years came about when mandolinist Jonathan Keeney joined local recording act The Black Lillies about a year ago. And still, Hanna says, Keeney will join the band onstage when he has down time from the Lillies’ heavy touring schedule.
“We’ve been pretty steady,” Hanna says. “After the first free years, we’ve kept pretty much the same group of guys.”
In their down time, several members have essayed a yet-to-be-named blue-eyed soul project, a new outfit that Hanna promises to unveil in the coming months. And Dixieghost are continuing their longstanding policy of taking a hand in a diversity of community affairs, musical and otherwise.
The same night as Dixieghost’s Six O’Clock Swerve performance, Hanna has also organized a Bernie Sanders Benefit for 8 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall. Hanna says benefit came as a result of the band having played for previous Sanders event, and from his own subsequent involvement in the candidate’s local committee meetings.
“I was already planning the Six O’Clock Swerve, and we needed a date and a space to hold the benefit,” Hanna says. “So it all came together pretty well.”
In fact, charities and benefits of various sorts have been part of Dixieghost’s M.O. since the band’s inception in 2008, Hanna says. “We’ve all been around a while now,” he says. “And we’re not that worried about money. We do what we do because we love the music, and we love being a part of the community here in Knoxville.”
Dixieghost will perform at the WDVX Six O’Clock Swerve Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.