McMinnville, Tennessee is growing. Its growing rapidly in fact. Part of this is the natural beauty of the landscape and part of this is the push to draw in tourist. Much of the success can be attributed to the hard work of the local community in presenting events from the newly remodeled Park Theater and inside Cumberland Caverns for Bluegrass Underground.
A bit of backstory: Bluegrass Underground
is an Emmy Award winning live concert series featured on PBS, which is shot inside of a cave 333 feet underground in McMinnville. Over the course of three days, fifteen or so acts perform sets which will then be broken into shows for the publicly funded television channel.
The success of the PBS series has spurred the addition of multiple concerts in the cave over the year. Featuring musical legends, established artists and rising newcomers, all of whom are creating their own paths in the world of music, Bluegrass Underground shines a light on a full spectrum of bluegrass, from traditional to cutting-edge, as well as a tasteful array of Roots, Folk, Gospel, Jazz, Jam Band & Americana. The venue is a spectacular otherworldly subterranean amphitheater featuring unsurpassed natural acoustics. The show has quickly become one of the world’s premier musical venues, attracting the highest caliber artists and a loyal, international fanbase.
Bluegrass Underground promotes over 35 concerts a year, recorded for our radio program before a live audience 333 feet below the Cumberland Plateau in the Volcano Room of Cumberland Caverns, near McMinnville, Tennessee. The success of the radio shows caught the attention of Todd Jarrell and WCTE president Becky Magura. The award-winning PBS series is captured over the course of one this one spring weekend each year and tickets to this taping have become highly sought after with very few left.
Tickets are almost SOLD OUT, so act fast. This years lineup includes:
Friday, March 24 – The Mavericks, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Conor Oberst. Showtime is 6 p.m.
Saturday, March 25 – Kasey Chambers, The McCrary Sisters, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, Parker Millsap. Showtime is 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 26 – Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Blues Traveler, Don Bryant & The Bo-Keys. Showtime is 2 p.m.
Future shows include:
Many more acts will be added as the year progresses.
Along with Bluegrass Underground, the city now offers a chance to discover the best of local food and drink via Taste of the Underground
. We caught up with Mandy Eller, the president of the Chamber of Commerce for McMinnville/Warren County, to discuss this years’ event.
A bit of history: “The Park Theater has been around since 1938 and for some reason closed and was tuned into social security offices in the 1980’s. It’s a beautiful art deco theater. Thanks to a lot of citizens and about ten years of work, it re-opened in 2016. The city wanted to funnel bands from the cave into the Park Theater. I asked Todd Mayo (the head of Bluegrass Underground) about that and the concern was that they have such a production load that weekend. But we said the magic words, ‘We’ll do all the work.’ Brian Sullivan came up with the idea when working in the cave to do a battle of the bands. Todd said that was great and the winner gets a opening spot at a Bluegrass Underground radio taping.”
“Todd also asked, ‘what about something with food?’ I had 24 hours to get this concept back to him. When he said food, it really pulled a trigger for me. I have had an interest in sustainable farming since about 2009. I thought, we’ll have a battle of the chefs (food trucks and restaurants) and we will require them to use a farm ingredient in the tasting menu. We had a local battle of the bands, with a tasting in between and a headliner, which was Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen
. He had just won IBMA’s instrumental group of the year for the second time. We also had Calfkiller Brewing Company
, who came and did tastings. They were a really big hit with everyone.”
“It was such a big success that Todd said, ‘I heard it went well. Let’s do it again next year.” Brian and I got together and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do it for three days and build it around the taping so that people can have something else to do while they are here.’ So that’s what we’re going to do this year. It’s all going to be based at the Park Theater. Friday will be a welcome party and we’re thinking about a “funky Friday” theme, maybe bringing in some horns. We will have Depot Bottom Brewery, a local brewery, for that. This time we are taking the battle of the bands to a nation wide event. We will also have a headliner and a battle of the chef’s. For Sunday morning, since the tapings don’t start until the afternoon, we are doing “Brunch and Bluegrass.”
Taste of the Underground will easily sell out in advance, especially with the extension into a three day event. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy everything that McMinnville has to offer.