Tim O’Brien goes “Underground”

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Tim O’Brien and Friends
Bluegrass Underground
McMinnville, Tennessee
December 8, 2008

Being that Tim O’Brien epitomizes roots music, it is only appropriate that he and some of his best pickin’ buddies could be found at the root of the Cumberland Plateau – literally – in early December.


UG1.jpgTim O’Brien and Friends – banjo deviant Danny Barnes, flatpicking guitar whiz Bryan Sutton, and much-in-demand bassist Dennis Crouch – put on a tremendous show in the Volcano Room, part of the series of caves that make up Cumberland Caverns near McMinnville, Tennessee, for the December installment of the Bluegrass Underground series.  

The Volcano Room can be found some 300 feet below ground, an awe inspiring room and perhaps the most unique concert hall in the world. The result of millions of years of subterranean water flow, the Volcano Room has near perfect acoustics and offers music fans a unique listening experience.   

Despite having played host to, in months past, such noted bands as The Steeldrivers, The Grascals, and The Infamous Stringdusters, the Volcano Room hadn’t yet seen a line up with the pedigree like the one O’Brien brought to the stage. Sutton easily ranks as one of the finest guitar pickers in bluegrass, Crouch recently recorded with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their collaboration Raising Sand, and Barnes has been a banjo innovator since his years with The Bad Livers.  

BG1.jpgThe quartet ripped through a number of the tunes from O’Brien’s 2008 release Chameleon, with highlights being the raw energy of "Red Dog in the Morning," a somber rendition of "The Garden," and the always inspirational "Where’s Love Come From." Tim and friends also hailed the holiday season with the festive Bill Monroe tune "Christmas Time’s a’Comin’," and Sutton previewed some of the new original material from his upcoming Sugar Hill release with "The Kitchen Girl." 

The hallmark of the evening, though, had to be "Makin’ Plans," a song Tim has played live fewer than half a dozen times in the last twenty years. A special request, this playing marked the first time Tim had played it with a full band since he recorded the tune for Sugar Plums, the Sugar Hill Christmas collection from the ’80s. 

For music fans in the Southeast, a trip to Cumberland Caverns should become a top priority.  It is a completely surreal musical experience. Upcoming shows include Cadillac Sky in early February and Steep Canyon Rangers in April. You can find more info at www.bluegrassunderground.com.

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