2016 Ends Epic; 2017 Gets Busy
We’ll soon be all out of 2016, even though, like November’s Supermoon, this year seems a lot bigger than usual, longer even than the 366-day leap year it is. And now it’s December, which, for anyone who writes about music, means it’s time for those year-end look-backs. But, since this is Bluegrass Underground, it’s more a look-down, as we remember the year in music at 333 feet below.
We lost a lot of greats this year,and while that’s always tragic, this year included far too many true game-changers, people like Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Mose Allison. Two of the greatest had a special impact for us at BGU, since they both graced the Volcano Room with unforgettable performances – first generation bluegrass founder Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Master of Space and Time himself, the ever-eclectic Leon Russell. We also lost my old friend Louis Meyers, a founder of SXSW, former head of the Folk Alliance and the man who came up with the idea for The Hillbenders to do a bluegrass version of the Who’s Tommy. They do it brilliantly and, back in August, they did it brilliantly at The Volcano Room.
Like Lester Flatt used to sing, the good things outweigh the bad, true even in 2016. Bluegrass Underground presented more shows than ever this year, expanding both our Saturday afternoon BGU concerts as well as the even more varied Live From the Underground evening series. We also redid our website, now featuring a link to videos from Bluegrass Underground PBS Seasons II-VI: https://bluegrassunderground.com/video/
And, coming in 2017, Bluegrass Underground will be a regular feature on Roots Radio – WMOT (89.5 FM), 100,000 watts of pure Americana, bluegrass and roots music joy, beaming to the world from Murfreesboro Tenn., and the campus of MTSU.
The Volcano Room started 2016 with January’s show by The Secret Sisters and The Americans. They were supporting a PBS special series about the early days of recording, American Epic, which has yet to air. Something else to look forward to in 2017, perhaps.
Feb. 19, the first Bluegrass Underground national prime-time special aired on PBS, presenting as many of our favorite performances from our first five seasons as we could fit. Season VI is airing now and plans are in motion for lucky Season VII, set to tape March 24, 25 and 26. We haven’t announced artists yet, but you’ll want to be there, I promise. Get on our mailing list here for fastest access to tickets to that soon-to-be-legendary weekend. We’ve had inquiries from all over the U.S. about PBS-taping tickets, so expect the weekend to sell out in record time.
For TV taping weekend, the circus comes to town – the crew expands to about 100, Director Jim Yockey, our resident Gandalf, works his wizardry from the production truck and the camera crew and master soundman Andy Kern capture it all. It’s like an underground festival on double-espresso, fast-moving and intense. Just check out Season VI, from the string-band sounds of the Dave Rawlings Machine to the homespun harmonies of the Cox Family to the tough-as-Texas-leather R&B of The Suffers and the full-tilt soul of St. Paul & the Broken Bones. You’ll find it in the new link (https://bluegrassunderground.com/video/), as well as on your local PBS TV affiliate here.
But I have to say our regular Saturday afternoon shows can be just as wonderful in their own way. In 2016 we saw some great ones, notably Flatt Lonesome, just days after winning song, album and vocal group IBMA awards. Impressive for any band, but these folks are all in their early 20s. The even younger Way Down Wanderers opened the show, proving the future of bluegrass is in very good hands.
But the Greatest Show Under Earth presented plenty of veterans as well, from the all-star Boxcars to the Grascals. And for legends, it was hard to beat that October afternoon with Del & Dawg, the duo of Del McCoury and David Grisman. For those lucky enough to snag tickets to both that and the evening show – The Grateful Ball with The Travelin’ McCourys and The Jeff Austin Band – it was another festival worth of music in record time.
Away from bluegrass, we presented musical journeys with Keller Williams and Zach Deputy, exploring the outer limits of high-tech one-man-bandness. But the artist who defined “unique” at 333 feet had to be Allen Stone, who combined masterful storytelling with an original repertoire of skin-tight, vintage-style funk and soul and a look that’s hippie enough to make Jerry Garcia seem like Mitt Romney.
One of the best things about Stone was how he really “got” Bluegrass Underground. The performers who let the cave work its magic on them, whether it’s Stone or Del McCoury, always make their time in the Volcano Room something to remember. The place, the artist, the audience – it takes all three to make Bluegrass Underground the special experience that it is. I hope you were able to join us for at least one show in 2016. I promise you’ll have plenty more great choices in 2017. We’ve just announced our first six monthly BGU radio shows for the new year: Jan. 21, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper with Billy Strings; Feb. 25, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver with Jenni Lynn; March 12, galactic-class fingerpicker Tommy Emmanuel’s “It’s Never Too Late” Tour with special guest Joe Robinson; April 22, one of the sweetest voices in bluegrass, Dale Ann Bradley, with SHEL; May 6, Town Mountain and Haas Kowert Tice; June 17, Larry Stephenson Band with The Glade City Rounders. You can also coordinate your concert with a cave tour package ticket. There’s a lot more beauty to discover about Cumberland Caverns in addition to the music. We have also revamped our packages to make your visit even better, with more options here. More shows to be announced in the near future.
But we’re not done with 2016 just yet. We have two Yule shows coming up: Dec. 10, “A Pirate’s Christmas” with Tom Mason & The Blue Buccaneers; Dec. 17, “An A Cappella Christmas” with stars of TV’s The Sing-Off – Street Corner Symphony with Andy Davis. Both start at 1 p.m. and offer subterranean Christmas shopping opportunities for coveted BGU swag. Avoid the malls, head for the cave. Get your tickets here. Kids under 5 are free! Our merchandise area is stocked for your holiday shopping needs. Holidays are an underground tradition, don’t miss these shows. Tickets here.
We’re saving the biggest and best-est for the very last of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, with the all-inclusive resort-style “Underground Countdown” New Year’s Weekend Package. It’s an iMax-sized Ultimate Bucket List Experience – a three-day, two-night music marathon that begins Dec. 30 at the Volcano Room with the Travelin’ McCourys & The Jeff Austin Band performing a Bluegrass Ball, a full evening of the greatest songs of bluegrass. Dec. 31, it’s an afternoon Volcano Room concert by The Jeff Austin Band with the legendary, Grammy award winning Del McCoury Band. Then our luxury coaches convey you back to Fall Creek Falls, where you can hike or relax and rest up for that evening’s New Year’s blowout – The Grateful Ball with The Travelin’ McCourys and The Jeff Austin Band doing their tribute to the Grateful Dead. And one of the best parts is you just park your car when you get to Fall Creek Falls on Friday and forget about it until you head home whenever you like on Sunday. Leave the driving to us, as we chauffeur you from your lodgings at FCF to Cumberland Caverns and back again, providing all snacks and specially catered meals throughout the weekend, plus great hiking, all your meals, jam sessions (bring your acoustic instruments), yoga classes, massages, and more (including adult beverages for the New Year’s Evening show at FCF. We have just a handful of packages still available, and the entire attendance is limited to just 420 folks, less than two-thirds of a regular Bluegrass Underground show. Think of it as a cruise on dry land with some of your favorite musicians, as we all sail into 2017, no Dramamine required. Hurry and get your package today here.
I can’t imagine a better way to end 2016 and look ahead to a brand new year. We don’t know what else 2017 may hold, but we can guarantee a weekend of great music to welcome in the New Year with plenty more to come over the next 12 months.
So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bluegrass Underground. And don’t forget, even the holidays are better at 333 feet below.
We’ll see you Underground.
Larry Nager, Cave Host