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Bluegrass Underground Celebrates Birthday Aug 22

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Stay Cool in the CaveThe Bluegrass Underground cave venue will celebrate their birthday August 22nd with the very first band to perform in the caverns, The Volunteer Stringband. "What a great place for a concert!" If you've been lucky enough to attend a show at Bluegrass Underground, those were likely your exact words when you turned the corner on the trail and saw, for the first time, the antique crystal chandelier hanging over the magnificent, underground amphitheater that is The Volcano Room. We've all said it, and lately, a lot of other folks have been making that same discovery.

July 11, the BuzzFeed website posted a special list of "19 Insanely Weird Concert Venues to Visit Before You Die": Best Venue Before You Die Venue It's a global list, and Bluegrass Underground came in at No. 2, right behind Ermita de la Santa Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala. No. 2, really? I think we've got Guatemala beat. It's their rainy season now, so we're much cooler and drier. Plus, you can drink the water, and we're a mariachi-free zone. Easier drive, too.And, keep an ear to your local National Public Radio station.

At the Annie Moses Band show on July 19, an NPR crew came to Cumberland Caverns to do a piece on BGU that's part of a planned feature on cool and unusual concert venues. But right now, this being August, it's time to celebrate the first guy who came to the Volcano Room and said, "What a great place for a concert!"

Gather around, kids. It was way back in 2008, Memorial Day Weekend, when musical explorer Todd Mayo, on a family vacation, visited the cave and saw the future. "Have you ever had music here?" he asked. No, was the answer. After ironing out details with the Herschend family, owners of Cumberland Caverns since 2007, plans were made, tickets were sold, rows of chairs were set up, a sound system was hauled in by mule team. On Aug. 16, 2008, The Steeldrivers headlined the first major bluegrass concert here. You can still see the poster for that show set up at the merch table.

But here's a little-known fact. They weren't the first musicians to play the Volcano Room. A few weeks earlier, Mayo had a dry run with his pals The Volunteer Stringband, testing out the acoustics, answering questions like, "How do you mike a bluegrass band 333 feet underground?" "Will slapping an upright bass cause rockslides?" "Do banjos attract bats?" (The
experiment was a success (The answers: "Very carefully"; "No"; and, "Only the ones from Kentucky.").

Bluegrass Underground has been rolling along ever since. What began as a live concert and radio show has evolved into a nine-time EMMY-winning TV series airing on PBS stations (check local listings). Our upcoming fifth season could be our best yet, featuring the four biggest bluegrass events of 2015: the all-star, GRAMMY-winning Jerry Douglas & The Earls of Leicester, the reunited Hot Rize, Robert Earl Keen's bluegrass tour and the banjo-heaven duo of Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Add to that LeeAnn Womack, Amos Lee, Chatham County Line, the Quebe Sisters, the legendary Billy Joe Shavers and a jam band gathering of Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass and Leftover Salmon featuring Billy Payne, and you had better set that DVR right now.

But no one makes their bucket list about TV viewing. The BuzzFeed list is called "Insanely Weird Concert Venues to Visit Before You Die," "visit" being the key word. You have to be there. I've been coming to BGU since December, 2008, when my first Volcano Room experience was a life-altering Tim O'Brien show featuring a killer all-star band with Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch and Danny Barnes. I've been back dozens of times and seen unforgettable performances like Ralph Stanley singing "O'Death" bathed in eerie cave shadows and Old Crow's Ketch Secor providing his own visual effects, dancing up a cyclone of cave dust while simultaneously sawing a cloud of fiddle rosin. And that's just BGU business as usual. Artists I've seen over and over again on the surface world seem reborn in The Volcano Room. Bluegrass Underground isn't just a special place; it's a place where special things happen.

This month, we celebrate our Seventh Birthday with the band that really started it all, the canaries in our saltpeter mine, The Volunteer String Band.

The band features BGU's own Travis Stinson, who's been traveling the world lately with the excessively talented Elizabeth Cook. You may have seen Travis with her on the Opry or Late Night With David Letterman. Opening the 1 p.m. show will be Jimbo Darville & the Truckadours. It should be one great party.

Looking ahead, our eighth year has lots of new stuff coming, including our fall line of Bluegrass Underground clothing, stickers and other accessories designed to enhance your musical spelunking.

As the fifth PBS season of Bluegrass Underground returns to your TV in September, we'll be offering plenty of reason to leave your homes and head to McMinnville, presenting the best live music, from traditional bluegrass to some of today's most innovative, genre-defying artists.

Our busy fall schedule ranges from The Lonesome River Band to Steve Earle & the Dukes to The Riders in the Sky holiday spectacular. And don't forget, for the complete BGU experience, treat yourself to one of our special Bucket List packages with preferred seating, food and snacks, BGU branded clothing and other collectibles, a special cave tour and overnight
accommodations at scenic Fall Creek Falls State Park (note to golfers - bring clubs. Along with being really inexpensive, the course is absolutely beautiful, packed with so much wildlife it makes 18 holes seem like a nature hike).

- Larry Nager

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