The Caverns – Pelham, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

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The Caverns

Pelham, Tennessee

An ancient cave system in Tennessee’s Appalachian foothills converted to a 1,200-person music venue. 

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There are famously over 10,000 caves throughout the state of Tennessee—but only one of them is home to “The Greatest Show Under Earth.”

Yes, The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee, is a giant hole in the ground, but it’s a hole that after much time and effort has been transformed into an industry standard, 1,200-person subterranean music venue with everything you’d expect from its terranean counterpart: There’s beer, state-of-the-art lighting, a topline sound system, bathrooms, coat check, and concession stands. It’s a natural amphitheater millions of years in the making.

In 2017, Big Mouth Cave was stuffed with silt and soil and used as little more than a four-wheeler circuit by local riders. But when Todd Mayo—the man behind the PBS program Bluegrass Underground—sought a larger venue for the show’s growing fanbase, he bought the cave and got to work

Over an 18-month period, a fleet of earth movers excavated 30,000 square-yards of debris from the 500 foot deep, 180 foot wide cave. A team of geologists and hydrogeologists ensured that the “living cave” (tiny, moving waterways are still reshaping the cave very, very slowly) was stable enough to host concerts; archeologists ensured no artifacts were disturbed; and herpetologists ensured that the venue’s mascot—the Tennessee Cave Salamander—would be safe in its renovated home.

With the cave cleared and the stage set, the Caverns began hosting an array of live music in 2018, from the Flaming Lips, to Keb’ Mo’, John Butler Trio, Old Crow Medicine Show, and more. The acoustics are striking, the beer is cold, and no matter the weather, it’s a steady 59°F down there all year round—a perfect place to get your funk on, and your spelunk on.

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March 1, 2022

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