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Music stars play Cumberland Caverns
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Cumberland Caverns rivals the Ryman Auditorium as the most acoustically sound venue in the area, according to Bluegrass Underground attendee Will Thorogood of Nashville.
Thorogood met with friends from East Tennessee at Bluegrass Underground to enjoy a long weekend of live music.
“The room brings out the best acoustics. They are to die for,” said Thorogood. “This cave might even be better than the Ryman. The ambiance and sound are really nice. It is also neat when it’s hot outside and we are in a natural air conditioner. I love the shows and also like the way you see a different mix of age groups at these shows.”
Over 500 tickets were sold for each taping of season three of Bluegrass Underground on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The production lived up to its Emmy-winning status. Old Crow Medicine Show wowed the crowd Friday night, while Yonder Mountain Stringband had the crowd on its feet Sunday.
Leon Russell brought visitors to the cave from states as far away as Michigan, Virginia and Texas on Saturday.
Rick Hubbard drove from Monroe, Mich., to see Russell perform.
“I had a tire to blow out along the way, but that didn’t stop me from getting here. Leon Russell is the master of space and time. He is fantastic. I have been listening to him for 40 years. I traveled 540 miles to hear him here.”
Larry Kowalski and Suzanne Freiberg came all the way from Grand Rapids, Mich.
“It is incredible,” said Larry. “It was certainly worth the drive. I saw the videos online and they were great. I wanted to come see it myself.”
Gaby Benenson and Jason Seiler came from Atlanta, Ga.
“We love it. The environment is really great and so is the music,” said Benenson. “We saw Ralph Stanley here. It was very impressive.”
Bluegrass Underground producer Todd Mayo and his wife, Jennifer, conceived the concept of Bluegrass Underground while on a tour of the cave with their family.
“We took a tour of the cave on Memorial Day weekend in 2008,” said Jennifer. “When we came to the Volcano Room, Todd turned to the tour guide and asked, ‘Do you all ever do live music here?’ The tour guide said, ‘No.’ Our first show was three months later in August.”
“We now have three shows, Music City Roots at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Scenic City Roots at Track 29 Cafe in Chattanooga just debuted this past Thursday, and we have Bluegrass Underground. It all started because Todd had a dream. He has always loved bluegrass.”
“Honestly, after our first show here only sold 250 tickets, I remember wondering how we will get people to come back,” continued Jennifer. “Now people from all over the country and from all over the world come to Bluegrass Underground. All three of this weekend’s shows sold out.”
Bluegrass Underground began as a radio show before being picked up by PBS as a TV production. The TV show has struck a popular chord as it’s aired in nearly 150 U.S. markets in 41 states.
The eclectic group of musicians brought out fans of all ages.
Musician Alison Brown performed Saturday. She said, “It is cool in here, literally. With so many bodies in here, it does warm up though. The cave is really unique. I don’t think there are any other venues where you play in a cave.”
 Brown graduated from Harvard and also earned an MBA from UCLA. She worked as an investment banker with Smith-Barney. “I kept thinking I was a bluegrass picker stuck inside an investment banker’s body,” said Brown.
Brown told the audience she knew she had made it in bluegrass when she received a fan letter from astronaut Marsha Ivins. “I wrote a tune for her as a thank-you titled ‘My Favorite Marsha’ which NASA used as a wake-up song for the crew of the space shuttle when it was flying to the Mir Space Station. Marsha was on that mission. When my parents saw the video with my song playing for the astronauts, the whole investment banker thing was pretty much forgiven,” said Brown.
Michael Doucet is a Cajun fiddler, singer and songwriter who founded the band Beau Soleil.
“I am from Louisiana. It is nice to play music to the rocks. There are not rocks in Louisiana. They are all in the Gulf of Mexico now,” he said.
The band played Creole music as well as Doucet sang songs in French. Doucet is fluent in both English and French.
Doucet said he had played in caves while in France. “Playing here is wonderful. It is unique. I always wanted to come to the caves in this area. The sound in here doesn’t echo. It is very clear,” he said.
After Bluegrass Underground, Beau Soleil was flying to Santa Monica, Calif., for the next stop on its tour. Doucet said his band tours for about 100 days per year.
Cumberland Caverns manager Teddy Boyd said, “This is awesome for us. It is really good to see McMinnville folks here. Many are here for their first time. This brings them back. A lot who come for the concert also take tours of the cave. Many are staying in McMinnville and eating there. We want to share our underground world with everybody.”
Tickets for future shows of Bluegrass Underground may be purchased at tickets@bluegrassunderground.com.