Underground Music — A Unique Experience

Ready for a unique musical experience at a location that’s definitely off — or more accurately, below — the beaten path? Then it’s time to leave the highway and venture below the surface into some of our country’s caves and caverns.

More than just a place to view stalactites (hanging downward) and stalagmites (growing upward), and other subterranean features, these underground locations also provide an opportunity to enjoy melodies in a distinctly unusual setting.

The following are four sites where underground music takes the spotlight!

Luray Caverns—101 Cave Hill Road, Luray, VA 22835

Luray Caverns in Virginia not only holds the record as the largest caverns in the eastern United States, but it’s also home to the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Technically a lithophone, the organ was invented in 1954 by mathematician and electronics scientist Leland W. Sprinkle and took three years of painstaking effort to perfect.

The process involved placing electronic mallets adjacent to specific stalactites tuned to concert pitch, then connecting those mallets via wires to a large four-manual console. When a key is depressed, the rubber-tipped plunger taps the corresponding stalactite, with the sound heard anywhere within the cavern. While the organ is usually played via an automated system, manual performances from the console also take place on special occasions.

Luray Caverns is open year-round — no reservation required — with self-guided tours departing after 9 a.m. Closing times vary depending on the season.

Cumberland Caverns—1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110

One of the most extensive caves in America, Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee has a century-long reputation for its vastness and rare formations and is included on the National Natural Landmark list. It was discovered by surveyor and turnpike builder Aaron Higgenbotham in 1810 and expanded in 1955 to include a new series of galleries, known as the Great Extension, when the name was changed to Cumberland Caverns.

Located 333 miles underground, Cumberland Caverns has 27 miles of underground space available for touring, with cave adventures available at three levels: easy (a 1.5-hour walking tour), moderate (2.5 to 3 hours), and extreme (4 hours). The easy tour also includes a visit to the Historic Volcano Room, a one-of-a-kind concert venue, where you can view the famous chandelier from the Loews Metropolitan Theater in New York and enjoy a variety of concerts and live music.

Information about upcoming Cumberland Caverns Live shows is available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as in the CCL Concert Newsletter. Advance tickets for performances can be purchased through https://cumberlandcavernslive.com or, when available, at the on-site box office.

Cumberland Caverns is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee. Photo by Michael Weintrob, courtesy of The Caverns website.

The Caverns—555 Charlie Roberts Road, Pelham, TN 37366

The Caverns in Tennessee is known for its cave system that offers different skill levels of exploration and its subterranean music venue that takes advantage of the prehistoric natural acoustics and otherworldly beauty to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For cave explorers, The Caverns have more than 8,000 linear feet of known surreal cave passages, with walking tours that include details about the unique history of Grundy County, the geology of cave science, and the mythology of cave lore. For those who want more of a challenge, the Adventure Cave Tours are guided by seasoned cavers that explore deep portions of The Caverns during the 3-to-4-hour experience.

But if you’re there for the music, The Caverns will more than fulfill your desire. Underground shows are hosted in the Big Mouth Cave, with seating for 850 people and standing-room-only for up to 1,200 people. The subterranean concert hall is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and has food and beverage concessions and restrooms. For those who prefer above-ground entertainment, The Caverns Amphitheater hosts crowds of up to 5,500 guests per show, with concessions building, pop-up bars are restrooms.

The Caverns is open 7 days a week for cave tours, with the exception of Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day (reopening January 2nd). A schedule of shows is available here.

The entrance to the Cave without a Name, courtesy of The Cave Without a Name website.

Cave Without a Name, TX325 Kreutzberg Rd. Boerne, TX 78006

Its name — Cave Without a Name — isn’t the only unique aspect of this natural living cavern approximately 80 feet below the surface. A limestone solutional cave, the Cave has an incredible assortment of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as formations known as soda straws, cave drapery, magnificent flowstones, rimstone dams, and more within its six major rooms. The one-hour guided tours feature easy walkways and brilliant lighting in an atmosphere that stays at 66 degrees year-round.

The Cave also hosts Music in the Cave events in the underground Throne Room, a setting that benefits from the combination of dynamic acoustics and nature’s natural backdrop to deliver memorable performances. Seating in the Throne Room is available for up to 200 people. Previous concerts are available to view on the Cave’s YouTube channel.

Cave Without a Name is open seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day), with opening and closing times depending on the season. Reservations are requested for tours; however, those without reservations will be put on a waitlist for the next open tour.  

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