Playing underground is nothing new for Chris Robinson.
The former singer for the Black Crowes, who now fronts The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, got his start playing in the basement of his family home. His dad would holler down the stairs and tell him playing such loud music would never get him anywhere in life.
“He was wrong about that one,” Robinson told the Standard while backstage at Bluegrass Underground on Friday night. “People have always told me you’re not a songwriter, you can’t be a musician, but 30 years later that’s all I’ve done. So don’t tell someone they can’t do something.”
The Brotherhood was one of four bands to perform Friday night at Cumberland Caverns for the PBS filming of Bluegrass Underground. Music was all over the charts from the bluegrass twang of opening act Russell Moore, to the horn-and-guitar Latin sound of The Mavericks.
The concerts brought fans from as far as Canada as Winnipeg residents Bob and Sherry Ward claimed the title of visitors traveling the farthest to see the show Friday night.
“It was a good three-day drive and that’s driving 10 hours a day,” said Bob, a retired air traffic controller.
The Wards heard about Bluegrass Underground thanks to TV series on PBS. They came in October to see Flat Lonesome and were eager to return for the three-day concert which ends Sunday.
“This is quite a place you have here,” said Sherry, who said Winnipeg is a city of about 800,000 known for its farming and walleye fishing.
As for Robinson, his band put on a show much more subdued than the microphone-waving antics many fans remember from the Black Crowes, a hard-charging, Southern rock band.
The Brotherhood could be described as a mixture of the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers with long jam tracks.
“That was something we started when we were teenagers,” said Robinson when asked about the Black Crowes. “We started this band six years ago and we’re all grown-ups. It’s a change, but if you’re not changing I can’t imagine the horror. The music industry always wants to keep things in order. It’s easier to keep music in genres. But it doesn’t always work that way. We have influences from everywhere. That includes Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.”
Robinson said he enjoyed spending Thursday night in downtown Nashville and hearing some incredible musicians perform in clubs. “Music is one thing that spans the bridge of status,” he said.
Robinson and bluegrass legend Russell Moore met backstage at Bluegrass Underground and posed together for pictures. A renowned singer himself, Moore has been performing since he was 10 and his band has been together for 25 years.
“I’d go so far as to say this is the most unique venue we’ve ever played and we’ve been all over the country and played on cruise ships and outdoor festivals,” said Moore. “There’s only one Cumberland Caverns. There are no similarities to anything else.”
Moore said the lively audience for Bluegrass Underground was a treat. He said in music, there is nothing worse than playing for a quiet crowd.
“Playing to an audience that’s subdued is one of the hardest things you can do,” said Moore.
After Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out opened the night, Conor Oberst and his band entertained the crowd.
“People say at Cumberland Caverns the cave is the co-star,” Oberst told the audience. “That’s fine, but the cave doesn’t play an instrument. I’d like to thank the Felice brothers who are up here playing with me tonight.”
The Mavericks punctuated the night’s performances with a high-energy show led by frontman Raul Malo. The Miami-based band which first formed in 1989 has been back together and releasing new music since 2012.