Embrace The Cave: LSDREAM’s Rave Cave And The Story Of The Caverns’ Growing EDM Influence

It is only 5PM, but with the arrival of daylight savings, the stretch of I-24 between Manchester, Tennessee and the small town of Pelham is already covered in darkness.

Driving all day in the pouring rain has dampened the morale of all four passengers in my tightly packed Subaru as we finally exit the freeway. 

I’m exhausted when I turn on my brights to better illuminate winding backcountry roads. “What have I gotten myself into?” I wonder with every twist and turn.

But upon arriving at our destination—a subterranean rave venue called The Caverns—I know exactly what I got myself into. 

We end up in a valley that almost feels cozy, shrouded in low-hanging fog. Otherworldly sounds bellow from afar as we park the car and make our short hike through surrounding trees and deep into the earth.

Like magic, my pre-show excitement returns and I am ready to experience the psychedelic beats of LSDREAM. It’s the same feeling of readiness shared by many who have visited The Caverns in 2023, which was undoubtedly the venue’s breakout year in dance music.

This year, The Caverns hosted its largest number of dance music events yet—11 total—ranging from the deep bass vibrations of PEEKABOO, G Jones, and Of The Trees, to the crisp beats of John Summit, Tchami, and Anjunabeats After Dark.

Not only have EDM events at The Caverns grown in number this year, but they’ve also grown in scope. 

In October, SVDDEN DEATH’s Summoning of the Eclipse festival returned to The Caverns for a second year, stretching to three days and hosting over 60 different acts above and below ground. As part of his grand return to the stage, Pretty Lights also hosted a three-night takeover.

With a calendar this hot, it’s tough to choose one show that stands above the rest. But The Caverns’ final dance music event of the year, LSDREAM’s two-night “Rave Cave” event last month, encompassed everything that makes Grundy County’s subterranean concert hall one of the most influential new venues in EDM (and music at large).

Beyond the venue’s obvious “wow factor” (yes, it’s literally inside of a cave), The Caverns has been making noise in the music industry for some time now, initially leaning toward Tennessee’s ever-thriving bluegrass and roots music scenes.

In fact, The Caverns’ current home is not even its first. Owner Todd Mayo and his team were doing concerts in a different cave in nearby McMinnville for almost nine years before breaking ground on their new Big Mouth Cave location in 2017.

They’ve booked high-profile Americana artists like Brandi Carlisle and Jason Isbell. The Caverns also hosts a television concert showcase: PBS’ The Caverns Sessions, formerly Bluegrass Underground.

Having showcased its Bluegrass and Americana prowess while opening a new 1,200-capacity, 33-foot-tall cave venue with modern amenities like bathrooms and concessions, EDM promoters came calling around 2018, according to The Caverns’ General Manager Joe Lurgio.

“As much as we know about Roots music, Americana music, jam band music, even popular music, our team really had no idea about EDM in any shape or form,” Lurgio says.

It was at this time an agent recommended The Caverns work with Stuart Hackley’s Loud Crowd Presents, who have now collaboratively produced close to 30 electronic shows at The Caverns.

Lurgio emphasizes that Loud Crowd are the venue’s only outside promoter to date. 

“Our crew and our staff have basically become EDM fans too,” Lurgio says, “Because of our relationship with Stu [Hackley] and all the shows we’ve done.”

The Caverns campground in Grundy County, Tennessee.

LSDREAM’s Rave Cave was one of the many fruits of that relationship. Held on November 17-18, the experimental bass producer’s first curated weekender was the latest in a long line of resounding successes at the venue. 

Attendees sheltered in The Caverns’ designated campground, a beautiful valley flanked by colorful fall trees at the Southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, creating a mini festival atmosphere that was a perfect weekend getaway.

Both nights featured a headline set from LSDREAM—one a B2B with INZO—and plenty more cave-worthy performances from rising stars, Zingara, Superave. and Super Future.

At first, however, getting EDM to The Caverns was no easy task. 

Hackley says there are models for destination venue success. One example would be Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, which hosted 531,906 out-of-state visitors in 2022. 

As such, The Caverns team needed to find the right artists to draw people down Grundy County’s country roads. 

Hackley adds that early on, playing the cave was as much a risk for artists as it was for The Caverns or Loud Crowd. Budgets were initially lower than other venues of comparable size. They needed someone who, as Hackley says, would “embrace the cave.”

At The Caverns, artists are typically encouraged to ditch many production elements commonly found in nightclubs, like LED video—which would otherwise block the back wall of the cave—in favor of elements that allow the venue’s natural beauty to shine.

“Less is more,” Hackley says. “As opposed to just, ‘Oh, what’s the biggest production package? How many lights can I fit on stage?’”

“The venue is kind of the costar,” adds Lurgio. “She’s part of the show.”

After pitching several people, SVDDEN DEATH became The Caverns’ first-ever electronic act, bringing VOYD to Big Mouth Cave for two nights in 2021.

“The second we talked about it, [SVDDEN DEATH] had a vision for the cave,” Hackley says. “His whole management team, his agent team, they saw it right off the bat and really took it and ran with us.”

Fast-forward two years and plenty of others have followed suit, from yoga and speaking panels at CloZee’s Voyage to The Caverns, to house-head-favorite fake plants at John Summit’s Off The Grid—now Experts Onlycampout. LSDREAM’s Rave Cave was no different. 

Though LED video was a production staple throughout the Radical Audio Visual Experience tour, LSDREAM and his team opted for Hackley’s “less is more” approach. They discarded screens of any kind, but the visuals weren’t lacking whatsoever.

3D projection mapping washed the entire cave in a furious haze of rainbow hues that accentuated its jagged rock faces and grooved interior. Lighthearted illustrations like flowers and mushrooms danced across the ceiling. And don’t worry, there were plenty of lasers too.

Embracing the cave even further, LSDREAM hosted his final LIGHTCODE session of the year from inside the Caverns. This edition of LIGHTCODE was made even more special when LSDREAM invited local music therapist and sound healer, Anneli Virkhaus, to participate and perform a song.

Throughout the 90-minute guided session—and in a touching speech afterward—LSDREAM brought repeated attention to the energy of the cave and its rich history.

Lurgio explains all three archaeologists who surveyed the site prior to venue construction came to the same conclusion: Big Mouth Cave has been used as a place of human refuge for close to 25,000 years. First for local indigenous tribes. Now for ravers.

“It really creates this continuity through time because it’s a real human experience to just come together with other people in a place like The Caverns, a place that inspires such awe and wonder,” Lurgio says.

LSDREAM and Anneli Virkhaus perform LIGHTCODE.

Sometimes embracing the cave is a lot of work, like Kayzo’s “outside of the box” request for 800 pumpkins—sourced and carved by The Caverns’ team—ahead of his Halloween show in 2022.

“Our staff was out there for three days straight, carving every single pumpkin by hand,” Lurgio shares. “And we completely covered the entire cave in Jack-o’-lanterns. We potentially could have broken a record if we were paying attention.”

This dedication from staff is just another piece of The Caverns’ magic, which Hackley says “speaks to the uniqueness and specialty of the venue and its locale.”

Hackley points out that while staffing can be a challenge when a venue is located outside of a metropolitan area, The Caverns team is entirely comprised of locals–“some of the best people” that Loud Crowd works with.

Throughout the entire Rave Cave weekend, every Caverns staff member was welcoming, kind, and most importantly, good at their job. Security checks were thorough but not invasive and the people management was flawless. Safety staff were clearly identifiable and bartenders were friendly.

Fans await the start of LIGHTCODE at The Caverns.

When a long line formed outside the venue before the doors to LIGHTCODE opened, staff were quick to check in every guest ahead of time. Getting in was just as relaxing as lying on the cave’s cool floor during the show.

“They go above and beyond to take care of our patrons, no matter what shape they get themselves in, and we’re proud of our crew,” Lurgio says. “They may look like country bumpkins on the outside, but they’re extremely experienced at this point. And they’re really savvy across all genres and patron types.”

With great people behind a great space, creating special experiences for fans of any kind of music, it’s easy to see why The Caverns’ is here to stay.

“Anybody who is awed by any natural space, seeing their favorite artists or their favorite music in that space only enhances the experience a lot more,” Lurgio says. “Be it bluegrass music, be it gospel music, be it SVDDEN DEATH, be it jam band music, whatever your vibe is.” 

Featured image credit: Matt Winkelmeyer. All other images credit in order of appearance: Matt Winkelmeyer, Matt Morrison, Matt Winkelmeyer, Matt Winkelmeyer.

Written by
Peter Volpe

Journalism student at The Ohio State University with a passion for culture and fat basslines.

Related Articles


How Raving Appeals To Our Inner Child

While society views raves as strictly adult spaces, raving inspires people of...


Why deadmau5 Is The Goat lord (25 Years Of deadmau5)

Whether you love him or hate him, deadmau5, real name Joel Zimmerman,...


SHEIN: Music Festivals’ Next Big Sponsor Or A Sign Of Corporate Greed?

There has been a lot of talk about PLUR lately: What it...


5 Lessons I Learned At Miami Music Week 2024

Now that the dust has settled on Miami Music Week 2024—and Miami...