Bluegrass Underground has turned into a country song for Warren County.
The popular TV and radio concert series will be leaving Cumberland Caverns at the end of this year, according to creator Todd Mayo.
The departure will end a nine-year relationship between Bluegrass Underground and Warren County. Mayo said Bluegrass Underground is moving to a permanent location called The Caverns in Grundy County near Pelham. It’s at the base of Monteagle Mountain 10 minutes off Exit 127 on Interstate 24.
“This is a dream come true to find a cave system that expands and improves the live and televised musical experiences of underground performances we have been curating since 2008,” Mayo said. “Our new home at The Caverns will enable us to add infrastructure with permanent power, professional audio and lighting with enhanced food and beverage concessions that have never before been possible, including a longtime request from our patrons: cold beer.”
The development isn’t much of a dream for McMinnville officials who have seen Bluegrass Underground serve as a launching pad for tourism development.
“Serious news is never welcomed, but today’s announcement has certainly caught the city of McMinnville off guard,” said Mayor Jimmy Haley. “During a meeting Friday morning, Bluegrass Underground organizers Todd Mayo and Todd Jarrell revealed that a deadlock in negotiations with Cumberland Caverns will result in the end of an extremely successful music run that has put McMinnville on the map. With tourism development a main focus by the state of Tennessee, the end of Bluegrass Underground presents more than a challenge for our local economy.”
Cumberland Caverns officials were also stunned by news of Bluegrass Underground’s departure.
“Friday’s surprise announcement by Todd Mayo, executive producer of Bluegrass Underground, was disheartening for Cumberland Caverns, but plans are already being made for exciting new opportunities that will keep Cumberland Caverns bringing tens of thousands of guests to Tennessee’s largest show cave,” Cumberland Caverns said in a statement.
Mayo says the new venue boasts natural acoustics and will accommodate many more subterranean music lovers in response to increasing demand for tickets to Bluegrass Underground and for other live concerts across expanding genres.
Mayo projects as many as 50 performances for 2018, expanding the underground experience to span more musical genres including symphonic music and comedy shows.
Bluegrass Underground got its start at Cumberland Caverns when Mayo noticed the possibility of turning the Volcano Room into a concert venue while visiting the cave on a family vacation. In 2008, his vision became a reality when Bluegrass Underground began recording radio concerts in the cave.
Two years later, Bluegrass Underground got its transformational break when the concerts were picked up by PBS. Being broadcast nationally on TV provided Warren County with a wealth of exposure.
The city of McMinnville has underwritten Bluegrass Underground productions since its inception. The city is currently in the second year of a three-year contract that pays Bluegrass Underground $62,500 annually.
Mayo expressed sadness in leaving the place where his concert series got its start.
“We have recently put into motion the execution of our alternative scenario, which is the move to a new and permanent home for Bluegrass Underground,” said Mayo. “While we are very pleased with the security and flexibility this move will afford Bluegrass Underground and our ability to continue to do what we love, we are deeply disappointed in what this means for McMinnville and Warren County.”
The move to The Caverns will greatly benefit the PBS series, according to TV producer Todd Jarrell.
“In the past, we taped the entire 12-episode season over one weekend due to the difficulty and expense of bringing literally tons of cabling and show gear a quarter mile into the cave,” said Jarrell. “But The Caverns’ permanent infrastructure presents us the flexibility to match calendars with some of the world’s greatest performers, enticing them underground to offer our fans a deep-down lifetime experience throughout the year.”
Bluegrass Underground airs on more than 300 PBS stations around the nation.