From the emergence of rock ’n’ roll in Memphis to the beginnings of country music at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, music genres have been born and raised in Tennessee for more than 100 years. What grew into the sounds that defined generations started out in dive bars and back rooms all around the state. To celebrate the roots of Tennessee music, we took it back to where it all began — underground. In partnership with Third Man Records, a label known for shining the light on so-called “underground” artists, we put on a one-of-a-kind concert experience that could only happen in Tennessee — in a cavern 333 feet underground.
On Sept. 29,2017, the Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns was packed with music fans from around the country who won free tickets to the event through Tennessee’s snapchat. The venue was the perfect place to celebrate Tennessee’s musical roots, and its incredible acoustics helped showcase the talent of the Third Man Records artists who performed. Hosted by Jack White, the co-founder of Third Man Records, the event included performances by up-and-coming artists Margo Price, Joshua Hedley, Lillie Mae and Craig Brown Band.
In preparation for the show, we spoke with Third Man Records co-founder Ben Swank about what makes the label and artists so special. “We want artists that are completely themselves, 100 percent,” Ben said. A Detroit native, Ben moved to Nashville to help launch the Third Man Records label in one of the country’s biggest music hubs. “Right now it’s kind of this well-known secret. If you really want to see great musicians, country or otherwise, come to Nashville.” From fiddle master Lillie Mae to former punk band front man turned country artist Craig Brown, each of the musicians on Third Mans Records’ label are equal parts musical trailblazers and authentic artists. Doing things differently has always been at the core of Third Man Records identity, so putting on a concert in a cave 333 feet underground is totally in character for Ben Swank and Jack White. “We’ve broke a world record for the fastest record ever recorded and then sold out the front of the venue. We put a record into outer space that played the whole way. Putting it in a cave? Man, that’s even cooler.”
Craig Brown Band:
Before the concert, we joined Craig Brown Band in some of Tennessee’s coolest caves to do the first ever multi-cavern music recording. The members of Craig Brown Band are all from Detroit, so exploring Tennessee’s caverns felt like the perfect way to welcome them to the state. With authentic Americana vibes; heartfelt lyrics; and a raw, honest sound, Craig Brown Band brings an unexpected edge to country music. The band’s spin on the genre is emblematic of what Third Man Records stands for — music that’s authentic, unique and that defies convention. In a musical experience as distinctive as the band itself, we ventured through Raccoon Mountain Caverns and The Lost Sea to record “Planet Song.” Craig Brown Band also performed with fellow Third Man Records artists at the 333 ft. Underground concert.
Margo Price, the headliner of the evening, performed songs from her new album “All American Made.” Originally from Illinois, Margo moved to Tennessee in 2003 to pursue her career in music and hasn’t looked back. Her pure, powerful voice pairs beautifully with her honest, emotional lyrics. Reminiscent of a classic country sound, Margo’s authenticity is what made her performance so captivating. “She’s a really important country artist, because she’s representing a side of country that isn’t really represented in the mainstream anymore,” said Swank, who brought Price on to the label after hearing the EP she recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis. Her first album with the label, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” garnered tons of buzz in the music industry and landed in the top 10 on the U.S. country music charts. Margo’s new album tests the limits of the country music genre, taking inspiration from different kinds of music to tell her all-American story.
Country singer and fiddle virtuoso Lillie Mae also performed songs from her debut solo album at the 333 ft. Underground concert. She has been playing music since she was a child and toured the country with her family band before they settled in Tennessee as part of the state’s flourishing country music scene. Lillie Mae has a longstanding history with Jack White and was part of his all-female band for his solo musical venture. When Jack White and Ben Swank created Third Man Records, they recognized Lillie Mae had a unique sound and perspective that needed to be shared, so they signed her as a solo artist. Lillie Mae’s performance captivated the crowd with her original sound.
Joshua Hedley, the newest member of the Third Man Records’ family, won over fans at the show with his energetic performance and incredible voice. “Joshua has got one of the best voices in Nashville. He’s honest, he’s pure, he’s genuine,” Swank said. Joshua had always dreamed of pursuing his music dreams in Tennessee and finally made the big move at age 19. A staple live music act in Nashville’s famous honky-tonk bars for years, Joshua has a classic sound that harkens back to the forefathers of country music. In tribute to this incredible venue, Joshua closed out the evening with a cover of iconic country musician Johnny Paycheck’s song “The Cave.”
The 333 ft. Underground concert was an incredible way to hear some of Tennessee’s best up-and-coming musicians. Third Man Records is putting its own spin on independent music, and this concert showcased what makes the artists on its label so unique. From the venue to the incredible acts, this concert experience represented what makes Tennessee a can’t-miss destination for some of America’s best music.