BGU VII and Amazing Australians
It’s been pretty quiet in The Volcano Room since The Del McCoury Band, Jeff Austin and the Traveling McCourys ushered in the new year. Our first regular Bluegrass Underground of 2017 featured fiddle master Michael Cleveland burning up the cave with up-and-coming guitar slinger Billy Strings opening. In February we had two generations of mandolin, Bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and his white-hot Quicksilver and newly minted solo artist Jenni Lyn, on hiatus from her band Della Mae. But we’re about to make up for that. Spring has come early and March roars in with a whole mess of music.
March 12, and yes, that’s this Sunday, not the usual Saturday, we have Australia’s own Tommy Emmanuel, one of the greatest guitarists of our time and his “Never Too Late” Tour. Here’s his jaw-dropping version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. And check out his opener, 25-year-old Aussie guitar whiz  and Emmanuel protege Joe Robinson. He won won Australia’s Got Talent at 16,  so prepare to be amazed. Here he is just a few months ago. Sunday’s 1 p.m. show is long sold out, but Emmanuel lives in Nashville, so we hope to have him back soon.
Under the Big Top
March 24-26, the circus comes to town, as The Greatest Show Under Earth becomes The Greatest Festival Under Earth. It’s the three-day taping of Season VII of our 13-time Emmy-winning PBS seriesBluegrass Underground. Didn’t get tickets to this epic event? We’re teaming up with three friends to give away tickets including one full VIP package to the whole weekend.  Watch our social media for details on how to win these only remaining tickets to the PBS taping:
We’ve got a great assortment of bluegrass, roots, Americana and jam band artists, from legendary veterans to spanking new stars of tomorrow. The Nashville area offers plenty of live TV tapings, but BGU doesn’t tape like most shows. Director Jim Yockey and his entire production crew carefully rehearse all camera shots, sound and lighting moves, and these folks are the best in an area that has become a TV production mecca. So the set rolls like a concert, not a start-stop TV show. I’ve written a lot about how the cave seems to work magic on performers, especially those playing it for the first time, as most of BGU VII’s artists are. Add cameras, lights and an even-more-enthusiastic-than-usual audience, and you’ve got the makings of an unforgettable musical experience. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, under the very big top of the Cumberland Plateau, 333 feet beneath the surface world, may I present for your entertainment and amazement…
Bluegrass Underground Season VII:
Friday, March 24:
The Mavericks – One of the best, most eclectic country roots bands of all time, blending the Latin rhythms of frontman Raul Malo’s Cuban heritage with an irresistible combination of country, rock and classic pop. They’ve got a hot new album of which they are justly proud and they have never sounded better. And oh yeah, Malo has one of the great voices of our time. Here’s a look at a Nashville show they played a few years back.
Speaking of great voices, Russell Moore is one of bluegrass music’s all-time bests, and he has five Male Vocalist IBMA Awards to show for it. His band IIIrd Tyme Out has won seven IBMAs as Vocal Group of the Year.  Combine that with stellar picking and you’ve got state-of-the art bluegrass. Here’s the band at our sister show Music City Roots doing “Gentle on My Mind”.
 
One of the best roots bands of the 90s was the Black Crowes, with their potent mix of blues, rock, soul and psychedelic jamming. Lead singer Chris Robinson continues that tradition with his Chris Robinson Brotherhood, so if you love the Grateful Dead and Gov’t Mule, prepare to have a rockin’ good time with the CRB. Here’s a clip from a few years back.
And finally, Conor Oberst is bringing the Felice Brothers underground with him. This guy gets around, from his project Bright Eyes to working with folks like My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. He has a brand-new album, Salutations, out this month. Here’s a recent set he played on NPR to promote 2016’s Ruminations.
Saturday, March 25
We’ve got Australia’s queen of modern country, Kasey Chambers, in her Volcano Room debut. It was about 20 years ago that many of us in the Northern Hemisphere got a listen to her was on the soundtrack ofThe Sopranossinging her composition “The Captain.” It was an amazing introduction and she hasn’t disappointed since. Tough and tender, sweet and soulful, if you love the hard-country side of Americana, Kasey will hit the spot. Check her out here.
BGU VII is filled with great singers, and with The McCrary Sisterswe get four at once. Daughters of the late leader of the Fairfield Four, Rev. Sam McCrary, Regina, Ann, Alfreda and Deborah McCrary keep the Nashville Gospel Quartet tradition alive and contemporary. Regina sang with Bob Dylan during his gospel days and all have been singing and harmonizing together since they were literally babies. They are the first call producers make when they need backup singers and lately, they’ve been hanging with Carrie Underwood. But wait until you see them on their own. They were here with Mike Farris back in Season IV and they starred in Rock My Soul, the PBS tribute to Nashville Gospel produced by BGU’s Todd Squared, but this is their Volcano Room solo debut. After a set of the McCrarys’ sanctified soul, you’ll be able to skip church on Sunday. Here’s their slow-burn take on “Blowin In The Wind” from Music City Roots.
Drew Holcomb has quietly been becoming a star for the past few years, touring and building his audience to the point that he sold out Nashville’s most prestigious venue, where he recorded Live at the Ryman (2016). Holcomb works with a broad musical palette, from gentle singer-songwriter folk to ’70s soul and arena rock, but manages  to infuse it all with lyrics filled with genuine emotion. He’s backed by a great band, The Neighbors, and with his wife Ellie on harmonies and occasional lead, he puts on a great show. He’ll be showcasing material from his brand new album, Souvenirs. Here’s the official video for his song “Tennessee”.
Saturday’s new kid is Parker Millsap, an explosive young Americana artist who combines the frenzied energy of early rockabilly with soulful honky tonk country. It’s going to be a hot day in the Volcano Room.Here’s a performance for Seattle’s KEXP.
 Sunday, March 26
 Another historic lineup includes two former bluegrass prodigies who have more than lived up to their early promise, a great jam band and deep Memphis soul. The only bad thing I can think of is that it’s the last day.
Marty Stuart was playing mandolin and guitar with Lester Flatt before he could shave, and went on play with two other icons of American music, Doc Watson and Johnny Cash (the latter his father-in-law at the time), and then had a string of mainstream country hits, some with his buddy Travis Tritt. Today, he has one of the best old-style country shows on TV, RFD’s Marty Stuart Show. And he has a brand new album, Way Out West. With his Fabulous Superlatives, he makes hard-rocking, hard-core honky tonk music for the 21st Century. Here’s a tribute to the great Merle Haggard from his RFD show.
Rhonda Vincent got her start even younger than Marty, performing with her parents’ Sally Mountain Show. She spent a few years trying to be a country star in the ’90s, but the big hair and Spandex convinced her to go back to her roots. She earned her title the Queen of Bluegrass one gig at a time, and she’s one of the hardest-working people I know in the business. Her great band, The Rage, features two of the best bluegrass musicians on the road today, three-time IBMA Award-winning guitarist Josh Williams and fiddler Hunter Berry. Rhonda Vincent is what bluegrass is all about – great singing, great picking and a non-stop, high energy show. Here’s proof!
By federal law, every collection of hits from the ’90s must includeBlues Traveler’s “Run-Around,”  which introduced us to harmonica virtuoso and force of nature John Popper. I was lucky enough to see the band a few times back then and Popper and company were always a great show. They still are as you can see here.
Memphis comes to The Volcano Room with Don Bryant & The Bo Keys. The veteran singer recorded at Bryant at legendary Hi Records, where his labelmates included  Al Green, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson and Bryant’s wife Ann Peebles. After a few years, he gravitated to the songwriting and production side of the business, but never stopped singing. He’s backed by an ace band led by bassist-producer Scott Bomar, who has done for Memphis soul what Ry Cooder did for Cuban music, bringing back many of the forgotten greats.  If you long for the golden age of the Memphis Sound’s great ballads and funky dancefloor rave-ups, this is the show for you. Here’s a recent performance.
From driving bluegrass to deep soul, from hard country to outer-limits jam bands and so much more, Bluegrass Underground Season VII has something for everyone, provided you like great roots music. If you’ve got tickets, we’ll see you there. If not, we’ll be airing the best parts of the weekend starting in September on your local PBS station.
Be on the lookout for ticket giveaways on social media. We’ll see you Underground.
– Larry Nager