TNDV, a division of Live Media Group Holdings, has just wrapped TV production services for new episodes of Bluegrass Underground: The Caverns Sessions, which will return to PBS this year for its 11th season. TNDV has now provided all equipment and technical crew for 10 seasons of the venerable, nationally syndicated series.
The live concerts were captured by the TNDV production crew from March 18-20 at The Caverns, which became the official venue for Bluegrass Underground performances for Season 10. Located in Grundy County, Tennessee, The Caverns is a subterranean amphitheater housed in a natural cave. While the facility now includes The Caverns Above Ground Amphitheater, which was opened during the pandemic, The Caverns Sessions were recorded in the underground concert hall.
“This was the rebirth of Bluegrass Underground,” said Nic Dugger, Chief Marketing Officer, Live Media Group Holdings. “We have tried to produce new episodes a couple of times during the pandemic, but we finally got some dates on the books. It was like getting the family back together again – but with a new attitude.”
TNDV used Aspiration, its 40-foot expando truck anchored by a Grass Valley K-Frame production switcher, for the shoot. Setup was simplified with the use of single-mode fiber infrastructure, which TNDV installed for a previous season, as well as on-site power that eliminated the need for generators. The Caverns is “basically off-road,” Dugger explained, so a Class A truck was not an option.
While Dugger said the performances have a “very solid line cut,” and each of the truck’s eight Hitachi SK-HD1200 cameras were ISO recorded to AJA Ki Pro Rack devices for the post. “The director and assistant director play a tag team role in making sure we have accurate coverage across all bands,” he added. “The director essentially acts as a technical director, as he likes to punch his own show. While the song is being performed live, the assistant director is telling the camera operators what’s about to happen. When there’s a guitar solo, we already have one or more cameras ready to capture the performance.”
The production included 64 channels of audio, engineered through a Soundcraft Vi3000 mixer and recorded to Pro Tools, with Sound Devices PIX 270i recorders used as a backup. “In addition to the bands, we also have to mic the room,” he explained. “We need crowd noise and applause. And because a lot of the music is post-mix, we capture that to Pro Tools.”
The new season will be broadcast nationally on PBS in partnership with WCTE, the PBS member station in Cookeville, Tennessee, that serves the Upper Cumberland region. Scheduled performers include Del McCoury Band, Widespread Panic, Lucinda Williams, and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit.
Dugger adds that all entities involved in the production have learned how to work safely with the audience, crews, and performers in alignment with pandemic safety protocols. That included a robust TNDV crew of production professionals. Dugger’s team included eight camera operators and a video shader for camera color correction, in addition to the two-director team.
“The Caverns team worked hard to give everybody a safe yet memorable entertainment experience when they come to enjoy these shows,” he said. “We want that experience to translate to television so that viewers want to come to see a show in The Caverns. And we think we accomplished that with the package we put together.”