Old Crow Medicine Show performed at last season's Bluegrass Underground tapings. (Photo Michael Weintrob)
The notion of hosting a music series in a cave may seem like a longshot for many, but when you have the opportunity to add a natural element to music, then it always takes a different form and there is a certain attraction found in it.
For organizer Todd Mayo, the idea was sparked around six years ago when he walked in the Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn. for a Memorial Day weekend outing.
“I had never been inside a cave before and I had the idea for the show pretty much the moment I saw the Volcano Room. About ten weeks later we had the first show with The SteelDrivers and we have been doing it ever since, on WSM radio and now PBS. I walked into the cave and came out and my whole life had changed. It really is a magic cave,” Mayo said about the initial concept of the series.
In its short existence, the series has played host to artists such as Ricky Skaggs, Darrell Scott, Old Crow Medicine Show, North Mississippi Allstars, Leon Russell and many more.
For its next round of PBS tapings taking place March 7–10, the series has landed some heavy hitters with names like Lucinda Williams, David Grisman, Jason Isbell, Shovels & Rope and Hayes Carll among others.
“Bluegrass Underground is about shining a light on quality music and artists that are authentic to themselves and their craft. The names above are all sublime artists and it's amazing to have them join us at Cumberland Caverns,” Mayo said about having the new round of artists on board for the tapings.
While these names ring out loud and are tried and true within their respective genre, one of its largest catches yet is Widespread Panic, who will play an acoustic set on March 10.
When attempting to draw artists of this caliber, Mayo noted the pitch is a simple one and attracting Panic occurred when Buck Williams, founder of Progressive Global Agency, reached out to him and hinted they wanted to play the series.
“Now for me, as a Widespread fan, that's just really special. Widespread has played Austin City Limits so they get the PBS aspect but they also dig the cave and so we are stoked about it,” Mayo added.
For the newcomers to the cave, the scenery is one that is majestic in scope. Inside the Volcano Room of Cumberland Caverns and 333 feet below the ground, the temperature is a constant 56 degrees year round and a grand chandelier hangs from the room. It’s a natural landscape so sound carries through the venue in a clean fashion with no distractions.
Like the staying power of the cave and its surroundings, Bluegrass Underground is carving its own path as well and has won five regional Emmy awards for best lighting, best entertainment show, best director and best audio.
“It feels great for the crew and the show and the artists and patrons. It's just really nice to have your peers in television production nominate and vote for you. It's nice and we have over 75 people on the crew and it means something to everyone. We have lots of seasoned pros on the production crew that have done everything in television and many tell us this is their favorite gig each year. It's a treat for them and for everyone involved,” Mayo said about the success and staff of the production.
While tickets for the fourth season’s live experience are sold out, there will be a chance to view the performances when they are broadcast during the future months. For more information on Bluegrass Underground, visit bluegrassundergound.com.