Since first stepping foot in a cave on a tour of Tennessee’s Cumberland Caverns in 2008, Todd Mayo has spent a lot of time below ground. Inspired by the natural acoustics and otherworldly beauty, he established Bluegrass Underground, an Emmy-winning PBS series that has hosted acts ranging from the SteelDrivers to Jason Isbell, Widespread Panic, and Robert Earl Keen in a subterranean amphitheater there. But in recent years, Mayo has once again been spelunking, scouting out a new location for the concert series. “A friend told me I was like Gollum,” he says, “just sniffing around in caves to find one that could work.” His explorations have paid off. Beginning this year, Bluegrass Underground will move to its new home, the Caverns, at the base of Monteagle Mountain in Tennessee, a spot Mayo picked partly for its “perfect caviness” and partly for its accessibility to Chattanooga, Nashville, Atlanta, and Birmingham. “It’s Red Rocks meets Ruby Falls,” he says.
At its old location, Bluegrass Underground was filmed over one marathon weekend each year, since temporary equipment had to be hauled in and out by a crew of more than three hundred people. Now, thanks to a permanent stage, lighting, and other amenities, the Caverns will be a full-fledged music venue, hosting Bluegrass Underground and other performances year-round. Highlights from this year’s recently announced lineup, which kicks off in March, include the Del McCoury Band, Keller Williams, the Sam Bush Band, Tim O’Brien, Kathy Mattea, Turnpike Troubadors, and an already sold-out Brandi Carlile show, not to mention a Halloween bash with Here Come the Mummies, a twelve-piece collective of secretive Nashville musicians wrapped in, you guessed it, mummy garb. “The Caverns showcases the two best things about Tennessee: our natural beauty and our music,” Mayo says. “So much American music is rooted in this state, and we’re trying to bring people together through the quality and diversity of that music.”
Visit the Caverns’ website for more information on ticketing and this year’s lineup, and catch five of our favorite Bluegrass Underground clips below to tide you over until the new venue opens in March.
Shovels & Rope
“O’ Be Joyful”
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
“Broken Bones and Pocket Change”
Don Bryant with the Bo Keys
“I Got to Know”
“Angel of the Night”
Editor’s note: This is from Bluegrass Underground’s inaugural episode—you might recognize Chris Stapleton’s distinctive vocals.