I don’t think I’ve ever been to a matinee concert, besides watching whoever happens to be playing in the afternoon at a festival. But today was different. We were driving to a cave and there was a tingle of excitement to see something new. My fiancee got us tickets for Christmas because it looked interesting and we both had no idea what to expect. She looked up the bands, they sounded pretty good, they were playing in a cave a relatively short drive away, so we went.
The drive from Chattanooga to McMinnville is very scenic, up highway 27 and then take Highway 111 over the Cumberland Plateau. If we hadn’t spent so much time with friends at breakfast guzzling coffee then we could have made a short detour to Fall Creek Falls or Rock Island State Park on the way (maybe next time). The show started at 1pm and we showed up about noon. They escorted us down through the cave to the open cavern with a beautiful chandelier hanging in the center and a stage in the back of it. I didn’t know what to expect before hand, but being in that cave with all the lights and the empty stage rearing up for a good time, it was beautiful. While it was in the 40’s outside, the temperature in the cavern stays around 55 all year long but slightly damp like everything else in the South, so make sure to bring a sweatshirt or something to wear.
Front Country was up first and the sound was perfect, her voice filled the cavern and she owned the stage. Somewhere between folk and country it fit perfectly into the environment. It was the first time I had heard them but I found myself wanting to sing along constantly. They are based out of Nashville so I hope we can see them again at some point.
After a brief intermission where we tried to explore further back in the caves and quickly got told we couldn’t do that, the headliner came on. The Jon Stickley Trio is an instrumental three piece from Tennessee. Think of it as a dueling banjos type performance except with an acoustic guitar… and a fiddle… and well drums... so maybe it wasn’t that close to dueling banjos but Jon Stickley (guitar) and Lyndsay Pruett (fiddle) fed off of each other with a rawness that felt like they were about to fight, except you could tell each of them were fighting off grinning from ear to ear. You can tell each member has spent countless hours exploring their instruments and come together to create something really unique that feels ancient and new all at the same time. And being at the bottom of a cavern made it feel just as ancient and special. I would definitely search these guys out and sit down for a live show as the recordings just can’t do it justice. And if they play at the caverns again you should pull all of your friends together and definitely make the trip.
All in all this made for an unbeatable day trip and as the summer sets in and the days get hotter I’m sure we’ll be making a trip back to get underground and avoid the heat. Hopefully we’ll luck out and the bands will be as good as they were on this day. Next time I’lll be sure to start breakfast earlier, maybe with less chatty friends and make it a damn near perfect day with a pre-cave-music cold water plunge in Fall Creek Falls or Rock Island Park with my soon to be wife. Shouldn’t that be everybody’s goal? Live a day with people you love which you look back on and think “That was as good as it gets...”
Cumberland Caverns ticket info can be found here