More than 400 music fans took a step back into the past Saturday, when Renfro Valley entertainers, for the first time in about two decades, performed inside Rockcastle County's Great Saltpetre Cave.
"It was just an electric show," said Renfro Valley executive Craig Barnett. "It was a much bigger crowd than we anticipated."
The audience listened to the Renfro Valley Entertainers, led by Kevin Grissom, as they performed their "Front Porch Pickin'" show for a Music in the Mountain benefit for the Rockcastle Karst Conservancy.
The all-acoustic show with banjos, fiddles, guitars and the like benefited from the natural acoustics of the cave's Echo Auditorium, which has 60-foot-high ceilings.
"The sound was just incredible," Barnett said. "The crowd was very ecstatic, loved it and gave a standing ovation at the end."
The benefit concert came together when the non-profit conservancy, which owns the cave, usually open only one weekend a year in May for tours, approached Renfro Valley earlier this year. Proceeds from the event will be used to help the conservancy protect more caves.
Renfro Valley often did shows in the cave during decades past. John Lair, founder of Renfro Valley, bought the southern half of the cave about 1940 and held several shows there in later years.
But the cave, which is about 5⁄8 mile, had a long and storied history before that. It was discovered in 1798 when pioneer John Baker and his family stumbled inside — and then became lost, without any lights, for a few days.
The cave's best-known use — which inspired its name — was as a major mine for saltpeter, the key ingredient in gunpowder.
Some of the band members on Saturday had been among those who played in the cave in the past, Grissom said. But for him it was a first-time experience, though it probably won't be his last.
"All the entertainers felt they were part of history once again, and we hope to do it again next year since it was such a success," Barnett said.