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Hall of Famer performs at local cave
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For people marveling at the first-class entertainers who have played in Manchester for the Bonnaroo Music Festival, McMinnville isn’t far behind.
“Bluegrass Underground” filmed its second TV season at Cumberland Caverns over the weekend with performers such as Vince Gill, The Civil Wars, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and Del McCoury taking the stage. This is after Ricky Scaggs headlined last year’s inaugural TV series for PBS.
“We didn’t know it would be this fast, but we always figured we’d get to this point,” said producer Todd Jarrell. “We want Cumberland Caverns to be known like a Carnegie Hall, as a place where you have to perform during your music career. The acoustics there are just amazing. It’s like the Volcano Room was meant to be a place to play music.”
Gill is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and has earned 18 Country Music Association awards, including Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994. He has received 19 Grammy awards, the most of any male country music artist.
The Civil Wars is a duo fresh off two Grammy awards in February for Best Country Duo and Best Folk Album.
The three-day weekend at Cumberland Caverns was a sellout with 500 people traveling 300 feet below the earth to listen to music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Jarrell said organizers sold 600 tickets to the filming of last year’s inaugural TV season, but scaled back by 100 tickets this year due to space limitations.
In addition to the crowd and the performers, seven cameras are positioned around the Volcano Room, along with lighting and sound technicians and other personnel.
The team includes lighting director Allen Branton, who has toured with the Beach Boys, The Who, and Paul McCartney. He designed MTV’s “Unplugged” series and the 2003 Super Bowl halftime celebration. His clients have included Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sting.
“Allen is one of the best lighting directors on the planet,” said Jarrell. “The whole idea is that whoever is on stage, the cave is the co-star and Allen understands that. He has a gift for making the cave look beautiful.”
Also helping in production was sound technician Wally Bigbee Jr., a Warren County native. He has worked with such acts as Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Sammy Hagar and Def Leppard.
Jarrell says fans flocked from around the country to descend on Warren County over the weekend. He says he met people from Boston, Portland, Ore., New York, and even one man from The Netherlands.
Jarrell says the 60-person production crew stayed at Tree City Inn in McMinnville, and at Rock Island State Park and Fall Creek Falls.
Season one of “Bluegrass Underground” has been widely embraced by PBS and is showing in nearly 80 percent of the station’s markets around the country, including Nashville and Cookeville, the two PBS stations in the Warren County viewing area.
Other featured artists to play over the weekend at Cumberland Caverns were Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, The Vespers, Scott Miller, Sarah Jarosz, The Black Lillies, The Timejumpers, and The David Mayfield Parade.
Jarrell says “Bluegrass Underground” producers will have to look for underwriters for season two much like they did for season one. The city of McMinnville was a season one underwriter with a $50,000 sponsorship.
While the TV filming is a once-a-year production, the “Bluegrass Underground” radio show is recorded roughly every month at Cumberland Caverns. The next show is March 17 featuring The Boxty Bluegrass Band with Shannon Quinn.