Concert Review: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver with Becky Schlegel at the Bluegrass Underground

Ken Morton, Jr. | July 25th, 2011

Bluegrass Underground ArtworkTo say that the Bluegrass Underground concert series is held in one of the more unique concert locations is an understatement of magnificent proportions.  Some several miles out of the whopping metropolis of McMinnville, Tennessee—population 13,000 or so—is a bluegrass concert series that is held once a month underground. 333 feet below ground at Cumberland Caverns, Mother Nature carved a natural amphitheater in limestone. The result is what the cave owners call The Volcano Room. Over 3.5 million years, time and water have created one of the most acoustically pure natural spaces on earth.

Our concert experience, a midday show featuring Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver as well as Becky Schlegel, started at the mouth of the cave. Outside Tennessee heat index temperatures blazed near 100 degrees but the breezes emanating from the cave are a constant 56 degrees. A tour guide led four groups of about 100 people each in a descent of about a quarter mile past beautiful underground water pools and waterfalls pouring out of the ceiling. When we reached the Volcano Room, we were greeted with a beautiful chandelier that hangs down from the ceiling above a chamber that had comfortable stadium style seating for several hundred people. A stage was set in front of a lower chamber that acts as a green room.

South Dakota native Becky Schlegel opened things up with her on guitar, longtime bluegrass musician Tina Adair on background vocals and mandolin as well as a bassist and guitar picker. Charming up on stage, she made many references to the concert locale through her set. “It’s so hot outside, it took me an hour to cool off. Now I’m so cold, I can’t feel my fingers. My body thinks I’m in Wisconsin in the wintertime.” Schlegel’s voice flittered and floated like a dandelion on a breeze, appropriate since Dandelion is the title of her last album. Her vocals hushed to a whisper at times and then flew up into a falsetto–sometimes in the same line. “So Embarrassing” told of the tale of an ex coming back to her former home a week after break-up, only to find her once-lover already with another woman, creating something emotional, heart-wrenching and beautiful all at the same time. Adair provided beautiful harmony throughout the evening and Schlegel even gave her a solo where she wowed the crowd with “How Great Thou Art.” Schlegel’s set included the beautiful “Patsy Cline,” a dedication to the woman who inspired her to get into music as well as a new track called “Opry Lullaby,” a powerful storyteller’s delight about a lonesome wife hoping her husband who is away at war is hearing the same Grand Ole Opry show she’s listening to. She closed her segment with a cover of Greg Brown’s “Early,” a dedication to small town America. With just two acoustic guitars quietly backing her lonesome vocals, it seemed only fitting that a million years of quiet cave solitude lead to that moment.

Then came Doyle Lawson and the rest of his Quicksilver band. With roughly 40 albums under his belt, one of bluegrass music’s elder statesmen proved to be full of energy and humor at 67 years young. He shared stories and reflections of artists that he played alongside and artists he aspired to play like, including Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and other country stars. A six piece band backed him including a fiddle, banjo, bass, dobro, acoustic guitar and percussion. Jessie Baker, a 20-year old banjo prodigy that just joined the band in January, was a musical stud. Lawson joked that, “I have t-shirts older than him” but it was clear that there was a great since of satisfaction on having him on board. Baker pulled off a fantastic Lester Flatt impression doing lead vocals on “I Wonder How the Old Folks Are At Home.” Lawson himself played impeccable mandolin and Josh Swift wowed on the dobro. Lawson regularly let his Quicksilver band mates take the lead vocals with Mike Rogers—sounding a bit like Vince Gill—carrying most of the load. The result was a robust fuller sound than what Schlegel’s set had produced and it filled every corner of the cave. Sharp and pleasant, it was tremendous instrumentation at its best.

The band played crowd favorites such as “Blue Train,” “Precious Memories,” Country Store,” instrumental “Dear Ole Dixie,” Deford Bailey’s “Evening Prayer Blues,” Paul Simon’s “Gone At Last” and “Help Is on the Way.” All in all, they covered nearly two hours of music.

The highlight of their entire set was when they put the instruments away and did four straight four-piece a cappella gospel songs. “My Lord Is Going To Move This Wicked Race,” “I’m Going To Heaven Some Sweet Day,” “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart,” and “Hide From The Storm Outside” were near-spiritual songs to behold in this environment—almost revival-like. At 333 feet below ground, this was as close to hell as I’ll hopefully get. It only seems appropriate then, that heavenly gospel stole the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Rick
    July 25, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Hey Ken, if you’re in Tennessee on a musical vacation, we want concert reports on everything you attend! How about a Time Jumpers show at The Station Inn for starters! (lol)

    Given a choice between 100+ degrees and high humidity vs. 56 degrees underground in a cave, I’ll take the cave any day! I bet they will sell out all their shows while this summer weather endures regardless of the artists involved…

    I enjoy listening to Doyle and company when he’s on the Opry but must admit my favorite Opry bluegrass regulars are Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys & Girl. As long as Jesse and his grand kids aren’t covering Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead songs, they are pretty hard to beat for a bluegrass band led by an old timer.

  2. Ken Morton, Jr.
    July 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Rick, unfortunately, I didn’t get over to see a Station Inn show. Next year, that and the Bluebird are on my list. I did catch an Opry show on Saturday (about four hours after the Bluegrass Underground Show) and fell in love with Holly Williams all over again. I also spent a little time at The Tin Roof over by Music Row.

    I did have a question out to our readers- perhaps Jon might have an answer. Jack Greene performed a song Saturday night and his voice still sounds tremendous considering his age. He walked arm and arm out to the circle before singing with one of his accompanying musicians and then Jeannie Sealy walked arm and arm with him back offstage from the circle. Is it that he just loves the ladies’ escort or is there an eyesight and/or balance issue?

  3. Ted Green
    July 28, 2011 at 12:23 am

    We went to the Bluegrass Underground to see and listen to Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. We’ve seen him a few times here in Washington state and loved his music and showmanship. So you might imagine what it was like for us to see him in the Volcano Room. It was magnificent! I couldn’t get over the acoustics down there and of course the show he and his band put on!

  4. Jon
    July 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Dunno what the deal with Jack Greene was. Still a singing mofo.

    I’m going to guess that the unnamed members of Becky Schlegel’s band were longtime sideman Brian Fesler on guitar and Tim Dishman (a/k/a Mr. Tina Adair) on bass.

    We’ll be doing Bluegrass Underground next month (on August 20, to be precise) along with the Dale Ann Bradley Band. I’m looking forward to it!

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