Mesmerizing show from SHEL way below the ground in Tennessee

I realized a longtime dream recently with my first ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It was pure magic to finally visit Music City and  I crammed a lot into four days including a visit to the storied Bluebird Cafe, the famous Studio B, the super cool Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum and two consecutive nights at Ryman Auditorium seeing Brandi Carlile.

But the trip really began in a cave where I saw one of my super deluxe for life favorite bands called SHEL.  Soon after my plane landed on April 22, my buddy Dave collected me at the airport and we drove about two hours to McMinnville, home of Cumberland Caverns. It’s there where Bluegrass Underground has been putting on shows for several years in an other-worldly spot called The Volcano Room.  And it’s an honest-to-god cave. I’ve never seen anything like it and to see a show there by a band that I adore is an experience that’s forever etched in my heart and mind.

First I’m going to talk about SHEL then we’ll head down into that cave. SHEL is four Holbrook sisters from Fort Collins, Colorado and the name’s an acronym for their names. Sarah’s on violin, Hannah (pronounced Hahna) plays keys, Eva’s on lead vocals, mandolin and electric guitar and Liza plays drums, percussion and does this beatbox thing that’ll knock your socks off.  They all sing , they’re all the their 20s and they’ve all been playing music most of their lives. Said another way, they’re all SENSATIONAL musicians.

I got hip to them last summer when they came to Portland. Since that late July night I’ve seen them perform four times, most recently in that Tennessee cave.  Their one year anniversary of releasing their second album “Just Crazy Enough” is on May 13 and I’ll be raising a glass of Prosecco in their honor because they really are so very good. How good? At the end of 2016 I came up with my  14 favorite songs of the year and their tune “Hello is the Doctor in Today”   is in the number one spot.

And if that’s not enough, their spellbinding cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” just surpassed the million view mark on YouTube. Not only is their take on it enthralling, Sarah’s got quite a knack for videography and they shot this while in Alaska last year.


I’m already counting the days until I see SHEL again which will be in August at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado. Know who else is on that bill? NBD. Just Gregory Alan Isakov, Lake Street Dive, Rhiannon Giddens, Dave Rawlings Machine and The Wailin’ Jennys among others.  Whomever booked SHEL at this festival gets a high-five from me. Smart decision. Speaking of smart, Amos Lee also made a wise call last fall when he invited SHEL to open SIX shows for him. How cool is that? THIS COOL:

Now let’s get into that cave shall we?
After swinging through the gift shop/box-office building we were led down a dirt path and waited in groups outside this opening:

Cumberland Caverns
The entrance to Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, TN. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

We wound our way  through and down into the depths and it was one jaw-dropping moment after another. I mean this cave even had a waterfall in it. It is wired with electricity but they kept the lights on low which added to the intrigue. You had to watch your step but I can’t stress enough HOW COOL IT WAS.

Cumberland Caverns
En route to The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After maybe five minutes or so and after descending just under 350 feet there it was; The Volcano Room. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Cumberland Caverns
Interior of The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. Photo shot just before SHEL took the stage. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I thought I had seen a few things in my life and God knows I’ve been to a least 87 zillion concerts but never had I seen anything quite like this. Just to see this place was breathtaking. But to see SHEL perform it in. It’s hard to put into words.

But then there they were.

the fab four 2
Hannah, Eva, Sarah and Liza Holbrook of SHEL. 04.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I mean seriously…

SHEL performing in The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. 04.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The sound was GLORIOUS in that cave and for about an hour, SHEL CRUSHED IT. They played songs from both of their records, “Just Crazy Enough” from last year and 2012’s self-titled album.  I shot a few clips and my skillful friend Shamus Alley put this together:


The encore song was “Enter Sandman” which was perfect for three reasons: Their interpretation of it is beautifully eerie and lovely and I’ll never tire of it, it was my first time hearing them play it live and the line “we’re off to never never land” was most certainly true in that cave.

The cave’s got snacks, restrooms and comfortable enough seats. But most of all, in case this hasn’t been made 100% clear: IT’S SOOOOOOOOOOO COOL.

Go see a show there. Check their schedule and just make it happen. Figure it out. Get a pal or 12 to go with you. You’ll never see anything like it. Trust me. I didn’t even know this place existed until a few months ago and I’m SO GLAD my first trip to Tennessee including seeing a band I love in a venue I’ll never forget.