Tennessee Department of Tourism Commissioner Kevin Triplett was in Warren County yesterday in the depths of Cumberland Caverns.
He watched as workers maneuvered around the Volcano Room on ledges and on ladders making final preparations for the three-day PBS taping of Bluegrass Underground, which begins tonight.
The TV show has drawn more than the attention of the state’s tourism commissioner. It’s helped to bring people to Warren County by the carload, appearing in 183 PBS markets in 49 states during its five-year run. Filming this weekend is for Season 6. Tickets are sold out.
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago we were walking around down here trying to figure out how we were going to pull this off,” said producer Todd Jarrell, who has worked with Bluegrass Underground creator Todd Mayo from the start. “But here we are getting ready for our sixth season and the show has blanketed the United States.”
In return, tourists have blanketed Warren County.
In 2015, there were 20 Bluegrass Underground shows recorded at Cumberland Caverns. According to Mayo, all 20 shows were sold out, representing a total crowd of some 12,000 people.
“We have crunched the numbers and of those 12,000 people, 99.9 percent of them were from outside Warren County,” said Mayo.
This weekend’s lineup is as diverse as ever, featuring 1980s country rock band Jason & the Scorchers on Friday night and gradually shifting to the sublime folk tunes of The Lone Bellow on Sunday.
“There are some PBS guys flying in from Washington, D.C. just to see The Lone Bellow,” said Jarrell.
The lineup includes soulful horn music from St. Paul Broken Bones to the harmonies of The Cox Family, who can be heard on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.
“It’s a little bit of bluegrass and a little bit of underground,” said Jarrell. “We have a big tent with no sides and music of all types is welcome. This has been an evolution.”
A 10th camera is being added this year to provide an even more “cavy” look Jarrell has been craving.
“I don’t care who is on stage,” said Jarrell. “The cave is always the co-star.”
During its five-year run, Bluegrass Underground has been aired on PBS affiliates nearly 40,000 times. Over 30 percent of those showings have been during prime time.
“I went out to Hawaii on a business trip and guess what I saw?” said Mayo. “I turned on the TV and there was Bluegrass Underground coming from Warren County, Tennessee. It was pretty neat to see that.”
Even with its popularity, Mayo said Bluegrass Underground is always looking at ways to expand. He said he’s pleased with the recent partnership with the Warren County Chamber of Commerce, which is holding Taste of the Underground at Park Theater on Saturday night after performances are finished at Cumberland Caverns.
“Frank Solivan is going to perform here on Saturday during the day, then he’s going to do another show at Park Theater on Saturday night,” said Mayo. “He’s also a renowned chef so he’s going to help judge the cooking contest too.”
The Cox Family
Drivin n' Cryin
Jason & the Scorchers
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Dave Rawlings Machine
The Lone Bellow
J.J. Grey and Mofro
St. Paul Broken Bones