After leaving the conspicuously creative confines of Asheville, North Carolina, we traveled mostly due west to McMinnville and Pikesville, Tennessee for a weekend away from horning in on blues jams and skulking around open mic nights and poetry readings. We spent Friday and Saturday at a State Park in Pikesville as part of a hillbilly bucket list travel package that included two nights at a hotel and conference center with all of the architectural niceties of a military prison, though it was perched on a lovely river inlet with lush and verdant woods as far as you would be likely to want to walk. At the centerpiece of this treasure trove of mountain swag though were tickets to a set of music by Peter Rowan and his band deep inside the Higgenbothom Cave in McMinnville, Tennessee. Here are of some of the sights on the way down into the cave venue.
At the lip of the cave was a fantastic example of a 19th century still. It wasn't originally from this cave, but it was period correct for some of the cave's early explorers.
The venue itself is 330 feet deep, located at the bottom of the Higgenbothom Cave, and seats about 700 people. Here are two shots, one of the seating area from above, and the second from the seating area at the stage.
I tend not to take pictures while bands are playing at a ticketed concert and I never shoot video, because I detest it myself. But Peter Rowan did show up, and it was one of the best sets I have ever seen him perform. I started going to Peter Rowan shows twenty years ago, and I have seen him perhaps in better hollerin’ voice, , but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so engaged and musically fluid before. He was in very good voice, with effortless flutters into his scintillating falsetto. He played many of his greatest originals, including a favorite of mine, “The Family Demon.”
And what a great band. All across the classic bluegrass instrumentation, each were masters, but the one who really knocked me out was his mandolin player and tenor singer, Chris Henry. The venue was enchanting, the set brilliant, and the audience appreciative. There was a low-key acoustic trio from San Francisco to open, who were actually a perfect group for the venue, as the acoustics are warm and colorful, and they sounded great in there, though they left me thinking that I like a little fire with my smoke.
The way we got there is an interesting story. We were unaware that the venue in the package was forty miles away from the hotel and that there was no shuttle or other provision to connect the two. Seeing as we were in an eleven-and-a-half-foot tall RV, we weren’t too psyched about tooling down 40 miles of hilly and winding country roads with low branches and then dealing with sketchy parking when we got there. We had made a few inquiries to hotel dwellers who seemed likely to be attending the concert and ran into full cars, honeymoons and a few other prohibitive circumstances.
We were getting a little desperate over breakfast and the couple next to us overheard our brainstorming and offered to take us along. They were among the most delightful people we met on the trip, a very youthful longtime married couple with four grown children and a real sense of fun. A professional auctioneer, he was kind enough to mock auction off the little American flag that sat as part of the centerpiece on our breakfast table. Rich and Valerie, if you’re reading this, thanks again.