Tennessee has a number of significant spaces related to music. Nashville is home to the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, tied to country music. Memphis was the home of Elvis Presley and countless other artists thanks to Stax Records. The Smokies have Dolly Parton. For the southern side of the state, that sacred place is The Caverns.
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The History of The Caverns
The first show was hosted at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee in 2008 under the iconic chandelier in the Volcano Room. It was the first performance in the cave in 70 years. The first show was the Steel Drivers, the band that country artist Chris Stapleton was in. It became the home of the popular PBS series Bluegrass Underground, inspired by shows like the Grand Ole Opry and Austin City Limits.
In 2018, it moved to a larger cave site in Pelham, hosting acts like Brandi Carlile and Shovels and Rope in the Big Mouth Cave. It was one of 8,000 caves found throughout the state. The first trip down was a very steep incline down a narrow natural opening.
The Caverns hosts 75 shows per year rain or shine underground, located four stories down. The cave is accessed by a large wooden door with Cherokee lettering above it. It remains the same temperature year-round, home to a species of salamander, and the natural setting allows for the perfect acoustics.
Most shows, covering all genres, are held from March to December. The space has room for between 850 and 1200 attendees. It’s also a favorite venue of artists, who will go out of their way to perform there. The Caverns also hosts cave tours if you aren’t able to catch a performance.
The Caverns Above Ground Amphitheater
The pandemic shut down many music venues because of the restrictions surrounding social distancing. But in October of 2020, the team began construction on an above-ground venue, an amphitheater carved out of the hillside on the property’s 650 acres.
In March 2021, they began offering concerts in this space, starting with Jason Isbell. The amphitheater has pod seating between 1,000 and 5,500 guests, inspired by those found at a venue in England, and offers food and drink that can be delivered to your space. In March 2021, the space held its first concert, Jason Isbell, which donated some of the proceeds to Save Our Stages.
What to Bring to The Caverns
What you can bring to The Caverns depends on which venue you’re going to. For the Amphitheater, you can bring your own lawn chairs. Mosquito repellant or a Thermacell is a good idea, especially during the summer. Small bags are required, including clutches 4.5″ x 6.5″, and no large cameras are allowed.
For the Underground shows, no chairs are allowed as most shows are standing room only. The cave remains 59 degrees year-round, so bring layers in case you get chilly. Comfortable shoes are also a must.
Where to Eat Near The Caverns
If you’re looking to eat before you go, rather than buying food from the venue, there are a number of options in Monteagle. You can’t bring in outside food or drink, but you can eat it in the parking lot before the show.
Mountain Goat Market has sandwiches and pizza. High Point Restaurant is in a beautiful 1929 home and serves steak, seafood, and pasta. The Depot Cafe is a Southern-style buffet. Rosie’s Farmhouse Kitchen in Tracy City has breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Papa Ron’s is known for pizza, Italian dishes, and steaks.
Where to Stay Near The Caverns
If you’re visiting The Caverns, you can choose from a range of accommodations including hotels, rentals, and campsites. The Caverns also offers very popular Stay & Cave Packages which include nearby lodging in Monteagle or Manchester , safe transportation to and from the venue, meal vouchers, and merchandise. They also have a new onsite campground.
The Monteagle Inn and Retreat Center is only 20 minutes away and has 15 antiques-filled rooms. Guests also enjoy the stunning grounds and gourmet daily breakfast. The Smoke House Lodge in Monteagle is still open, despite a devastating fire at the adjacent restaurant. Guests enjoy free WiFi and an outdoor pool.
The Sewanee Inn (review here) is a full-service hotel on the Sewanee University of the South campus. It has rooms overlooking the golf course with coffee makers and WiFi, along with daily breakfast. The inn is about 25 minutes from The Caverns.
The Monteagle Assembly has cottages for rent. Retreat Vacations in Tracy City has tiny houses for rent hosting up to six people. Cedar Mountain View is a beautiful Scandinavian-style house in Sewanee sits on 20 acres and has a hot tub, a game room, and room for six.
The closest place to stay to go to The Caverns is Bigfoot Adventures, a zipline tour outfitter and campground in Tracy City that has a shuttle to the entrance. It has sites for RV and tent camping and is 15 minutes away.
This Tentrr site at Cove Creek Farm in Tracy City is another option, set up with a permanent safari-style tent, a picnic table, chairs, and a grill. Or stay at a luxurious tiny house with lake access, two beds, a full kitchen, and WiFi. Harvest Hosts also has sites in the area.
Additional Tips for Visiting The Caverns
Get your tickets early! Big-name acts sell out quickly and you won’t want to miss this experience. Ticket prices vary but start around $30 and go up to the hundreds for packages.
Unless you’re taking the shuttle from Bigfoot Adventures, someone in your party will likely be driving. The winding mountain roads can be treacherous at night, so drive safely and drink responsibly!