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Bluegrass Underground a hit
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Bluegrass music at Cumberland Caverns makes another sound when you take away the banjo. It goes cha-ching.
Three days of live performances for the PBS program Bluegrass Underground left some memorable moments from stars like Lee Ann Womack and Billy Joe Shaver. It also left an economic boost as a number of area businesses benefitted from the influx of Warren County visitors.
“The Autumn Street Fair is usually our biggest weekend of the year, but this weekend beat that,” said Collins River BBQ co-owner Hannah O’Neal. The Main Street business held concerts on Friday and Saturday night after Bluegrass Underground was done and also held a Calfkiller beer tasting before Saturday’s show.
“It was shoulder to shoulder in here,” said O’Neal. “Bluegrass Underground is great for McMinnville and great for busi-ness. We look for more good things to come.”
While taping for the PBS show is the biggest Bluegrass Underground event of the season, there are concerts at the cave year-round for the Bluegrass Underground radio series on WSM. The next show is set for April 18 with Russell Moore & IIIryd Tyme Out.
The Downtown Business Association has worked to build a partnership with Bluegrass Underground to give out-of-town visitors a place to go when they’re finished at the cave. Smooth Rapids, a campground and kayaking business, is also working with Cumberland Caverns to give tourists more options during their local stay.
The Smooth Rapids campground held a Sunday night concert with the Volunteer String Band that drew around 100 people, while more than 50 people camped there over the weekend. Campground owner Todd Barker said he is pleased with the first-year effort and looks to build on it in the future.
Cumberland Caverns itself is a recipient of much of the exposure. Having the concerts in a unique cave setting brings more people to what is Warren County’s second largest tourist attraction behind Rock Island State Park.
“We just had a booth at the Cookeville Home Show,” said Cumberland Caverns marketing director Steve Warner. “Probably nine of the 10 people I talked to said, ‘Hey, you’re the place that does Bluegrass Underground.’ So word is getting out and it’s also helping us with business here in town. A lot of people who live here have never been to Cumberland Caverns, or if they have it’s usually been when they were in high school.”
The depths of a cave may seem like a remote place to hold a concert, but the show at Cumberland Caverns is anything but primitive. The PBS show is filmed in high definition and requires nine cameras, a world-class sound system, and lighting rig.
Bluegrass Underground won four Midsouth Emmy Awards earlier this year. The Midsouth region includes seven states. The Emmy Awards were for lighting, audio, technical achievement, and entertainment.
Getting all the gear into the Volcano Room is an exhausting process that takes days. The equipment is pulled through often-narrow cave tunnels by four-wheelers and requires a crew of around 100 people.

MONTHLY CONCERT SERIES (on WSM 650 AM)
• April 18 — Russell Moore & IIIryd Tyme Out
• May 2 — Frank Fairfield, Trace Bundy
• June 27 — Ben Sollee, Woody Pines
• July 19 — The Annie Moses Band
• Aug. 22 — Anniversary Show: The Volunteer String Band, Jimbo Darville and The Truckadours
• Sept. 5 — Lonesome River Band, Old Salt Union
• Sept. 26 — Taarka, Front Country
• Oct. 3 — Ray Wylie Hubbard
• Nov. 21 — Mountain Heart, Emi Sunshine