The lights dim in the huge cavern 330 ft below the earth. A smoky, indigo blue haze illuminates the stage wedged at the base of the rocky, subterranean limestone wall as the bluegrass band strikes up with haunting chords of moody Celtic music. The audience is mesmerized. For three and a half years the Volcano Room deep inside Cumberland Caverns has been echoing to the strains of world class bluegrass music, thanks to the creative genius and vision of Todd Mayo and Todd Jarrell. Welcome to Bluegrass Underground!
One hundred miles southeast of Nashville on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, the tiny town of McMinnville points to one of Tennessee’s natural treasures – the Cumberland Caverns. Hidden in its dark recesses in a perfectly acoustic show cave, Bluegrass Underground was born August 16, 2008 as a live radio bluegrass show that plays on 650 WSM Radio every Saturday night, 5 p.m. CST, right before the Grand Ole Opry.
When creator Mayo merged his talent with PBS TV producer Jarrell to form Todd Squared, the radio show advanced to a monthly Bluegrass Underground PBS series of half-hour shows that are now aired across 80% of the United States. Once a year, Nic Dugger’s digital team of reknowned experts lays 1000 feet of fiber optic cable 330 feet underground, hauls in $5 million worth of equipment, 150 crew and music artists, and spends three days taping 12 shows for the next year’s PBS series. If you happen to catch that weekend to visit Bluegrass Underground, as we did, you are in for an extraordinary experience. The Vespers and Jerry Douglas (Alison Krauss & Union Station fame) are among the artists who will air in PBS’s next season set to premiere in September 2012.
Once a month for the rest of the year, you can catch live bluegrass concerts that are also streamed around the world at www.wsmonline.com. Bluegrass Underground is fast becoming a Bucket List destination for folk in all fifty states and numerous countries. They come for Tennessee’s two greatest exports – its natural beauty and its musical culture.
“It’s all about music authenticity,” enthuses Todd Mayo. “It’s a combination of established and emerging artists. Americana, roots, gospel, neo folk, jam, jazz, bluegrass and country.”
Ready for a musical adventure? Take a nice ride in the country, a cool walk down into a cave, and discover this magical venue with a wonderful sampler of world class music. The next show is a St. Patrick’s Day Celtic band special. The Boxty Bluegrass Band with Irish fiddle player Shannon Quinn will be playing at Bluegrass Underground on Saturday, March 17, 1:00-4:00pm. Book your tickets online at http://bluegrassunderground.com. General admission is $20, the show plus 1.5 hour cave tour is $33. Check your local PBS television listings for their monthly program guide to Bluegrass Underground.