by Phil Houseal
The Texas weather has been so hot it makes crawling into a cave sound cool.
“Cool” is what Cave Without a Name has become. The limestone formation with the non-name lies in Kendall County, about 30 miles from Fredericksburg as the crow flies, but since you can’t get there by crow, plan on 50 miles by car.
I first wrote about this site back in 1985, when it was so far off the road there was barely a road that lead to it. The eccentric and wonderful Eugene Ebell owned the property, and would take you down for a personal tour if you happened to stop by.
He would share the story of the discovery of the cave by three kids in 1935, which involved a lost sheep and a hidden moonshine still (that’s another column). In 1998 Tom Summers became owner of the Cave Without A Name and proceeded to bring it up to standards as a destination. He improved the roads, added bathrooms, and upgraded the grounds with a pavilion, picnic tables, camping areas, and hiking trails through native-friendly landscaping.
But the most innovative improvement is putting live music inside the cave eight times a year. Yes, you can walk down 126 steps and sit in 66-degree temperature to listen to everything from Bach to Tibetan singing bowls.
“Yes, we definitely want to increase it,” he said of bringing live music to the large Queen’s Throne room. “We see this evolving into a music center with top quality classical music. I think there is a need for it, and the people who come truly appreciate it. The acoustics are spectacular.”
Summers has featured two opera programs, a woodwind ensemble, a world music group, and on Labor Day will bring back the Axiom String Quartet.
I was able to experience the cave during the Summer Solstice. The Celebration Circle Band was performing, and a capacity crowd attended.
It had been 25 years since I went in, but little had changed, which is not surprising as the cave is tens of thousands of years old and time is measured in the drip of water.
Cave Without A Name has to be inch for inch the most beautiful in the world. The cave boasts 2.7 miles of passages, with the public area comprising six large “rooms” a quarter of a mile long. The central room is the setting for the music groups, backlit with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, columns and draperies. The cave is “live” in that it continues to grow from water still feeding its formations.
On this night, it became magical. The band, which is one of the few that features a didgeridoo, presented an hour-long concert. Listening to music in a cave is an immersive experience according to vocalist Sarah Gabriel, who has been performing here with of the Celebration Circle Band for eight years.
“The Throne room is so resonant, it’s incredible,” she said. “It’s amazing to go into this space and celebrate the turning that native people have done for eons before us. To reconnect with the earth; to be in the womb of the earth, it’s a powerful thing.”
That power flowed through sounds produced by an array of acoustic instruments and the most haunting instrument of all–the human voice. Mid concert, the lights were switched off for a 10-minute soundscape in the total darkness that can only be found underground.
Sitting in the dark with 200 people 90 feet below ground is something you don’t experience at a concert in a high school auditorium. It’s also a reason people keep coming back.
“It’s awesome,” said Nancy, who has been attending concerts here for three years. “Both the acoustics and the music. The cave is a beautiful place to have a concert.”
This was the third visit for both Chris and Eva.
“It’s just a place like no other,” said Eva, who is a trained classical musician. “To go into this huge beautiful space underground, and to participate in this amazing sound that comes from any of the groups we’ve heard–I don’t think there is any way to describe it other than to experience it. It is as good as any concert hall you’ll ever play in.”
Emerging after the concert into the starry Hill Country evening almost feels like rebirth, to flog the metaphor.
If you get the chance to go, go. It will be cool–both physically and metaphysically.