Total Solar Eclipse Fest | Shawnee Cave Amphitheater | 4/5 - 4/8/24

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Saturday, April 13, 2024

As the moon slid gracefully between the Earth and the sun, the sky transformed into a masterpiece of deep indigo. A transcendental shade, indigo knows and holds the universe's secrets within its depths. The celestial dance summoned the wizard of cosmic wonders, weaving a tapestry of wonder together for all who bravely gazed upon its majesty.

Shawnee Caves Amphitheater in Murphysboro, IL had the serendipitous opportunity to show off its fantastic renovations and host music all weekend long under these auspicious conditions. They began the weekend with a pre-party Thursday night bash featuring Pity Thy Neighbors and Lucas Wayne and the Cottonmouths. Friday at 5 o’clock they kept the party rolling with Miss Jenny and the Howdy Boys, Lone Howl, Whiskey Mash Band, and the headliners Old Shoe.

That's not the appropriate place to park your van

Some may say that music fests are only for the elite. For us, there was no way to get out of work so we were not able to get down to the southernmost part of the state until 5 pm on Saturday. That turned into 6:30 on Saturday. We missed the band Fresh Hops at 4 pm and even though we thought we’d squeeze by and see some of the funky fresh ClusterPluck band, once we arrived on-site to the festival, we slid into a ditch with our passenger van.

Shawnee Cave Amphitheatre was quick to respond and sprung into rescue mission status. It might have helped escalate the rescue because we were smack dab in the middle of the road that carried passengers and their coolers up and down the cavern road. The event was BYOB and they had shuttle vans delivering folks from their campsites to the stage. It was really a royal treatment and we royally messed that up for a moment.

Sunfish to the Rescue!

Within 15 minutes, the kind soul known as Sunfish had the skid steer down, linked up the van with a chain, and pulled us right out. All is well that ended well! With that tragedy behind us, we were able to load up the cooler and head down into the cave for the Charlie Mellinger Band.

Most bands on the weekend’s lineup were stringbands and Swoon. Charlie Mellinger Band is a string band with trippy maneuvering of the music to call along the cave walls. Birds like prairie dogs, were ducking in and out of their shale stone nests. It was modern country in a cave with the Charlie Mellinger Band providing the stalagmite sunset soundtrack. The littlest birds wing the prettiest songs.

Charlie Mellinger Band | Photo by June Jameson

As darkness descended, the Wheelhouse Rousters took the stage, like an amplifier tube made of clay. The cave welcomed them in sending their sound out into the night. The fiddle up front was serving delicious reverb into the crowd. The band from Paducah KY graciously thanked the “moonshiners and hill climbers” and away went the night. The only thing that could have added any complimentary sounds to this set is if they had some Irish clog dancers. At one point, they brandished a bodhran drum, so it seems only fitting. I’d also like to mention the "Bathtub Gin" teaser I heard. Or maybe that was just the cave walls echoing the good times of yesterday. I’m pretty sure that happened Saturday night too. Sometimes my mind has a mind of its own.

Wheelhouse Rousters | Photo by June Jameson

The Mighty Pines concluded Saturday evening with all the charm and wit that we’ve come to expect from the St Louis band. The evening had grown chilly, especially being in the valley as we were, but the Mighty Pines kept the energy high and the crowd moving. They played a tune called Thank You. “I remember that place in your smiling face - in the sun.” It was a psychedelic rodeo at the Shawnee Cave for Saturday night. The mandolin-led jams took us to dark places but the harmonies in unison kept plunging us back into the refreshing cold night air. At one point in the stage banter, they mentioned a “funky Spelunker” and that about sums it up for the evening.

The Mighty Pines | Shawnee Cave Amphitheater | 4/6/24

Gerard Erker on mandolin & Neil Salsich (Season 23 of The Voice)

Sunday, April 7th included 4 bands and a DJ set until midnight. While I was not in attendance for this day of music, I assure you my time in Southern Illinois was still truly meaningful and memorable. Sometimes, you have to explore your surroundings and be present for the quiet parts too. We had a birthday girl on board and friends to celebrate with as the intermittent rain came and passed through that Sunday in the Shawnee.

We returned to the Shawnee Cave for Eclipse Day, April 8th, 2024. In that moment of oneness with the cosmos, as day turned briefly to night, the eclipse became a holy experience without dogma. It was a sacred communion between humanity and the cosmos. The vibe was real and the space was bountiful. Shawnee Cave has many times been dubbed, “the Red Rocks of the Midwest” so imagine that grand scale in a micro setting. The weather was perfect.

Doug Hagman of Terrapin Flyer | Photo by June Jameson

At high noon, Terrapin Flyer set the scene with a meticulous setlist, timed out in perfection. The clear sky shined down upon us all with a blessed warm day! Finally! Truly, a reward for those of us who had been bundled up all weekend, hoping just to wear some sandals and have a proper spring break. They played:

If you try it, you'll find that staring into the Abyss creates a reflection that stares back

Here Comes Sunshine (!! what a way to open the show!!) 
Greatest Story
Ramble On Rose
Bobby McGee
Bird Song 
Promised Land
China Rider
And then…
Darkstar - Verse 1

Terrapin Flyer on stage during Total Solar Eclipse | 4/8/2024

They played until just before totality. The band came out to view the eclipse and we all stood together stunned at the sky. For four precious minutes, time seemed to stand still as silence descended upon the world, a reverent hush that echoed the ineffable beauty of the celestial dance with drops of Darkstar still hanging heavy in the air. 

Mike Cole of Terrapin Flyer | Photo by June Jameson

Terrapin Flyer returned to the stage and played Dark Star verse 2. The Shawnee Cave Total Eclipse Fest became much more than a music festival at that point. It was a cosmic celebration of music and nature - wonder and delight. What we all just experienced was pulsing through us all. These are the memories of a lifetime. Drummer Jonathan Reed put out his best heartbeat in Drums>Space. We all need a miracle every day. They got funky with "Shakedown" and then closed their set with the ever-blessed, always meaningful "Ripple." It was truly special. There were not many simple words to describe it. 

As if it could get no better than it did! For the first time ever, Allie Kral debuted her new band. She took center stage, where she has always belonged. Allie & the Night Krals was birthed in that cave that day, after a major celestial event. 

Allie & The Night Krawls | Photo by June Jameson

Sure, you may have heard Pink Floyd’s "Eclipse" but have you ever heard it with Allie Kral singing? That woman can sing! Those words, so dear to so many of us, rang out like a bell in the Shawnee Caves. She rearranged me till I was sane.

All that you touch

And all that you see

All that you taste

All you feel

And all that you love

And all that you hate

All you distrust

All you save

And all that you give

And all that you deal

And all that you buy

Beg, borrow or steal

And all you create

And all you destroy

And all that you do

And all that you say

And all that you eat

And everyone you meet (everyone you meet)

And all that you slight

And everyone you fight

And all that is now

And all that is gone

And all that's to come

And everything under the sun is in tune

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

Caleb Mulholland live painting to the Eclipse

The monumental crescendo of that song after witnessing such a powerful event bonded us all into standing strong as individuals and together as a collective in the caves of the Shawnee.

Allie & The Night Krawls then went into "My Wasted Life," "Damn Your Eyes," "Jolene," "Till I Need You," "To Be Young," and when they rocked into "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett, you realized, Scott Tipping is such a masterful blues guitar player, it’s hard to match that energy of his style and tone. But here it was, here it has been all along, yes. A violin. That is the perfect compliment to Scott Tipping’s shedding guitar. It seemed deceptively simple! Jon Reed was thumping in the canyon with Janis holding it down on the low end and yes! Allie & The Night Krawls is a rock band. Allie and the Night Krawls were literally rocking from the rock walls of inside a cave creating a ROCK band, none so evident as when they closed with Misty Mountain Hop.

Allie & The Night Krawls | Photo by June Jameson

One gal in the audience had to leave the venue because it was messing with her pacemaker. She returned, okay and smiling to Full Cord’s stringband version of Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Things got intense there for a minute! It was good to keep on strumming and picking until the evening concluded around 7 pm, for us anyway. We needed to make the long trek back north. Duty called.

Amid this empyrean spectacle, with the sun's corona blazing like a crown of fire around the moon's shadow, a little pink sideboob peeked out at us. It was a magical Moon Day on Monday, April 8th, 2024. We shared a sense of wonder and reverence, basking in the majesty of the universe unfolding before our eyes. It was a cosmic dance of light and shadow that reminded us of the boundless beauty and wonder that surrounds us every day.

Wavy Dave of Terrapin Flyer with my husband Rich Jameson

Dandelions in the wind turned into butterflies like fairies in flight. For four precious minutes, time seemed to stand still as silence descended upon the world, a reverent hush that echoed the ineffable beauty of the celestial dance. The present was a gift for everyone shared equally. For four fabulous days, we chose the sounds of the Shawnee and all was right in the world. Standing on the precipice of the unknown like standing on top of the cliffs in Southern Ilinois, it was abundantly clear that the bonds forged through music would weather any storm. Even if we fall off into the ditch sometimes, glad to know that we can still get by with a lil help from our friends.

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