Before Bluegrass Underground got started way back in 2008, the most festive occasions down in the Volcano Room usually involved a preacher, a bride and a groom. Some marriages are made in heaven, others, a little further down. So it’s fitting that this summer will see a few anniversaries celebrated 333 feet underground. The big Bluegrass Underground Fourth Anniversary blowout is set for Aug. 11 with the return of The Steeldrivers, the first national headliners to play Bluegrass Underground on Aug. 16, 2008. Better get those tickets now.
And, as we start the biggest wedding month, Saturday, June 2, brings a major bluegrass anniversary to the Volcano Room. Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out will celebrate 20 years together. That’s a lot for any band, but bluegrass years are kind of like dog years. No other musicians work harder under tougher conditions and 20 years is an awful lot of road miles, festivals, bad hamburgers and broken strings.
But Moore, who, before starting IIIrd Tyme out in 1991, spent 6 years earning his post-graduate degree in the School of Bluegrass -- Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver -- has persevered, and everyone who loves genuine bluegrass is really, really glad he did.
The former Texan possesses one of the most soulful voices in bluegrass and has three IBMA Male Vocalist awards to prove it. Even more remarkably, he won his first in 1994 and his most recent in 2010, a long time to stay at the top of your game. But wait, there’s more. IIIrd Tyme Out isn’t just his backup band. The group’s trademark a cappella gospel singing has won seven IBMA Vocal Group honors. The picking is pretty hot too, with Steve Dilling on banjo, Justen Haynes on fiddle and Edgar Loudermilk on bass. The mandolinist is Wayne Benson, who, together with his banjo-playing wife, The Grascals’ Kristin Scott Benson, is the bluegrass version of Branjelina, one red-hot pickin’ power couple. Like Dilling, Benson is a 20-year veteran of IIIrd Tyme Out, and he’s so good Gibson even makes a Wayne Benson F-5 mandolin, a rare honor only accorded to a very elite group, including Bill Monroe, Sam Bush and Doyle Lawson.
All that firepower is fully deployed on the band’s latest CD, Prime Tyme (Rural Rhythm). released in honor of their 20th. Like the band, the album covers a lot of ground, with songs about Kentucky, Montana, Virginia and Mississippi., all of it done with heartfelt singing and world-class picking. All that’s missing is their award-winning gospel quartet singing. But you can bet you’ll get some of that in the Volcano Room on June 2. Warning: Your hair will be raised. This time, those cold chills won’t be from Cumberland Cavern’s year-round 56-degrees.
-- Larry Nager