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Nissan LEAF Blazes New Trail for Bluegrass Underground


Mar. 1 — Nashville — I just can’t be happy since you went away”…

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury is crooning one of his classic laments, as a video camera on a 20-foot jib swoops over the stage and across an enthusiastic audience.

“…I keep searching for happiness, though it seems I never win.”

McCoury has been performing since the 1960s and has sung this song countless times before. But, this time, it’s different. He is more than three hundred feet underground with a full TV production crew, a dozen other musical acts, and five hundred of his closest friends.

They are taping a new season of “Bluegrass Underground”, sponsored on PBS by Nissan, on location in The Cumberland Caverns of Warren County, Tennessee.

The video, lighting, and sound gear required for this production can’t be hand carried into the cave. Vehicles are needed to traverse a long, constricted dirt passageway with steep inclines. But, off-road four-wheelers pollute the still air of this unique environment.

“Bluegrass Underground” Producer Todd Mayo observes that it took three million years for nature to form The Cumberland Caverns and, now that it is being filled with music, it is important to be “in harmony” with the world down there.

“Bringing combustible engines into the cave to get the gear, and our artists into the cave, has been a problem… now we have a solution, ” says Mayo.

The electric Nissan LEAF is an answer. No emissions for the cave to absorb — or for the performers, crew and audience to inhale.

Carrying Del McCoury into the cave for his performance, The LEAF traverses the rock passageways with only inches of clearance on each side and, in spots, above. With an incredulous smile, McCoury describes his trip underground as the strangest ride of his life, and praises the LEAF’s handling.

Sara Schaffer, bassist for The David Mayfield Parade, had not ridden in an electric car before, not to mention underground.

“It makes it a lot easier for all of us to breath which is cool, and I like it better than the four wheelers because the noise — you could be slipping in and out with people not even noticing, it’s really neat,” she says.

Violet lights bathe the rock walls all around as The Del McCoury Band performs its American roots style of music. “If you don’t want me”, sings McCoury, banjo and fiddle galloping in pace with his old guitar. “I’ll dry my tears and move on.”

Cumberland Caverns once stored civil war gunpowder. Moonshiners have used it, and now an electric car moves musicians and equipment in and out of this historic monument.

Earlier, as McCoury stepped out of the LEAF and marveled at the ancient environment into which it brought him to perform, he mused about this unexpected experience:

“Guess only my music stays the same.”

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