NBBY Part IV: Leiper’s Fork
Nashville’s BIG BACK YARD truly begins in Leiper’s Fork. This little town is special, and I had the chance to spend a day discovering why. I started my morning with a Mama Byrd latte at the RedByrd Coffee Shop. The scenic drive and the coffee alone were worth the trip, but I was just getting started. I made my way inside Leiper’s Fork Market for breakfast with the locals. Here, you not only get a warm, southern welcome but throughout the store it is a virtual museum of the area’s history on the walls. The owner told me: “Not all of our locals can go to a museum, so we brought the museum to them.” To tell the story of Leiper’s Fork, I spoke with some of the folks that have been here the longest, to learn the history of this fascinating village.
Aubrey Preston is a Nashville-area entrepreneur, avid preservationist and the Founder of Nashville’s Big Back Yard. Several months back I was meeting with Mr. Preston, and he started telling me about all the cool things we have to offer - right in our backyard! His excitement was contagious. I learned more about Nashville’s Big Back Yard and wanted to experience it for myself. Over the past few issues, we have had the opportunity to see for ourselves and pass along our adventures to you. It has been a fun ride. I thank Aubrey for what he and his team are doing and for letting us be a part of it. Now, back to my adventures.
Aubrey came here to Leiper’s Fork in 1991 and started the “Back to the Land” movement to preserve land in 1995. “My goal was to transform our public schools and restore our village where most of the buildings were broken down and many unoccupied, to a place the community could enjoy. We have retooled our community to experience food, entertainment, home stores and art. We have a very vibrant little village versus the broken-down area that it was in 1995,” says Preston. Did you know that Leiper’s Fork has had three names? That’s right; Benton Town, Hillsboro and now Leiper’s Fork. There is an old saying about New York, New York: “The town is so nice they named it twice.” With this town, you could say: “It’s so nice they named it thrice!”
Leiper’s Creek Gallery
After breakfast, I visited Leiper’s Creek Gallery and talked with Lisa Fox, the resident Artist and Owner. Lisa has been in Leiper’s
Fork for twenty-three years, twenty of those with the gallery. Lisa says: “I want to have a variety of representation work to abstract art. I currently have twenty-five artists; seventeen are local. It is strange to have an art gallery in the middle of nowhere, but this is top quality artwork and includes four master painters, artists from Venice Italy, and artists prominently known nationally and internationally. I think that is what is truly unique about this gallery.” When I asked Lisa her favorite thing about Leiper’s Fork, she replied: “That it’s colorful. The people. The mix of people… the locals, the farmers, the horse people, the celebrities. No one is treated any different from another.”
Fox & Locke
Founded in 1947 by Jack Fox and Martin Locke, the historic grocery has been in continuous operation for seventy-five years and counting. In the beginning years of Fox & Locke General Merchandise, folks would stop in for gas, groceries and snacks, but stay for the friendly banter and grapevine news. In 1960, the Puckett family bought and renamed the grocery and the store continued to serve the surrounding area for decades. Everything changed when live music came to the grocery in 2002, attracting songwriters, artists and visitors worldwide. Today, Thursday Open Mic Night is considered the unofficial gateway to Music City by up-and-coming musicians. Fox & Locke had no idea their little country store would someday be known as a top-shelf music venue, but they did know how an authentic, friendly gathering spot can create a tight-knit community.
“Fox and Locke is proud to be THE 120-seat boutique performing arts center venue supported by excellent food and beverage operations here. But we are not really a restaurant – Fox & Locke is a serious music venue that offers a unique experience for visitors. Creators and studio musicians, like David Hood of the Swampers, do not go on tour but will play at the venue. You will see things here you will not see anywhere else,“ Aubrey Preston says. “We will have musicians that travel all over the world that play at places like the Blue Note in New York City or even from Tokyo. We do take a lot of pride and place a high priority on raising the next generation of creators, players and performers,” he says.
Although it is not really a restaurant, if you like southern flavor and good music…you gotta go! They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a full bar, of course. I HIGHLY recommend the catfish and maple pecan pie.
Leiper’s Fork Distillery
Put this on YOUR MUST DO list! This is an experience you will be telling everyone about and will not soon forget. “Leiper’s Fork Distillery is recapturing the lost art of small-batch production, using local ingredients and pouring our heart and soul into every drop we produce to bring a premium Tennessee spirit from grain to glass,” says Lee Kennedy, the Proprietor and Distiller. The retail store is located in a 200-year-old log cabin built by one of the mid-state’s early settlers. The look and feel of the distillery takes you back to an era before the industrial revolution. Lastly, Leiper’s Fork Distillery sits on twenty-seven rolling acres just outside the historic village of Leiper’s Fork – a breathtaking getaway just down the street! They offer tours on the hour, every hour! Visit them for a tour and tasting…you will not regret it!
A Real Local
Cindy IS real estate in Leiper’s Fork. Cindy Garvey is the Owner/Broker at United Country Real Estate Leiper’s Fork. Cindy has lived here for thirty-three years and tells: “When I came here there was Puckett’s Grocery (when it was a grocery), Leiper’s Fork Market, which looked nothing like it does today, Country Boy Restaurant and where the art gallery is today, was a gas station. Some of the biggest changes are family homes being converted into businesses.” She has watched families raise their kids across the street, but come to town today, any day, and cars are lined up and down the street. I asked her what the reason for the popularity is, she replied: “It’s the Kool-Aid! Everybody is drinking the Kool-Aid. You come, you drink it and you love Leiper’s Fork.” Cindy describes Leiper’s Fork as Mayberry with music.
You owe it to yourself to take a break, take a day and enjoy a visit to Leiper’s Fork. You will thank yourself later. Enjoy.
Do Not Miss:
Copper Fox Gallery | Creekside Trading Company | David Arms Gallery | The Spa at Leiper’s Fork | Wines in the Fork
NBBY Part V: Muscle Shoals
On our final leg of exploring Nashville’s Big Back Yard, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting The Shoals along with Mr. Rob Carnegie, President & Chief Executive Officer of Florence-Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Shoals comprise the metropolitan areas of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield, Alabama. The Shoals offers a rich musical heritage, is home to the birthplace of Helen Keller, houses the state’s only Frank Llyod Wright Home and the University of North Alabama. This area presents a wealth of recreational opportunities in their parks and the beautiful Tennessee River. It was a trip I will never forget and cannot tell enough people about it! Getting to meet Rob was a blessing; it was quite the experience and built what I hope is an ongoing friendship. So, without further ado, come along with us to The Shoals.
For starters, any discussion about American music that does not include Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is not really a discussion at all. Heart-pounding. Soul-shaking. Iconic. Many words have been used to describe the Muscle Shoals sound. The sound implored a generation of musicians to travel to the southern banks of the Tennessee River, searching for a bit of that Muscle Shoals magic.
FAME Recording Studios
Originally housed above the city drugstore in Florence, Florence Alabama Music Enterprises was founded in 1959 by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford. In 1960, Rick took over sole ownership, moved the studio to Muscle Shoals (Wilson Dam Highway), and shortened the name to the acronym FAME. This is where Muscle Shoals would have its first international success with Arthur Alexander’s You Better Move On – also recorded by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. After a year of success, the studio moved to its current location at 603 East Avalon Avenue, Muscle Shoals.
The famous sign above the entryway into FAME’s studios reads: “Through these doors walk the finest Musicians, Songwriters, Artists, and Producers in the World.” This is as true today as it was in 1961. Since it first opened its doors, FAME has welcomed a literal who’s who of music royalty from Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato and Jason Isbell. They have all come searching for the beautiful, soulful, sonic footprint that defines FAME Recording Studios.
Muscle Shoals Sound
The studio opened in early 1969 by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, The Swampers (David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett). They began working together at Rick Hall’s Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, where they became well-renowned in the recording industry for playing a unique style of funky R&B. The musicians decided to become entrepreneurs, leaving their positions at FAME, and establishing Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield, Alabama. At the time, this studio was the only recording studio owned and operated by the session musicians. The four musicians were equal partners in the endeavor working as studio musicians, booking sessions, paying the bills and handling all aspects of a running business.
I had the opportunity to visit both historic studios and walking through the doors was magical. As I thought about all the talent and history that took place before me, I was mesmerized. Then, I met and talked with David Hood, bassist for The Swampers, and his wife Judy Hood, Chairwoman of Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. When I asked Judy to describe Muscle Shoals, she said: “For many people, the music created in Muscle Shoals is the soundtrack for their lives. The vast catalog of hits recorded here reflects the talent, creativity and diversity of the musicians who recorded at FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound. The Shoals area is a magical place; visitors are always surprised at the natural beauty and depth of the culture in the area. Those who come here should expect an experience like no other. When I welcome visitors here, I always ask them if it is their first visit to the Shoals. If they answer ‘yes,’ I smile and say, ‘It won’t be your last.’ People always come back; some even move here.”
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue
Now how about you?
And they've been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue
Now how about you?
- Lynryd Skynryd "Sweet Home Alabama"
A boy growing up in Cadiz, Kentucky I always loved this song but had no idea who the Swampers were. A friend recommended me to watch the Muscle Shoals story documentary and it was mind-blowing. I highly recommend you watch and then plan your visit.. I'm a music lover and did not know what I did not know but A LOT of the music of my life was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
"Brown Sugar" – Rolling Stones
"Respect" – Aretha Franklin
"Mustang Sally" – Wilson Picket
"Main Street" – Bob Seger
"When A Man Loves a Woman" – Percy Sledge
"Kodachrome" – Paul Simon
Believe me when I say…I am not scratching the surface…these are just a few of the ones on my playlist or in my vinyl collection.
IVY GREEN: Birthplace of Helen Keller
The Ivy Green home was built in 1820, only one year after Alabama became the twenty-second State of the Union. Since 1954, Helen Keller’s birthplace has been a permanent shrine to the miracle that occurred at a well-pump in the small southern town of Tuskegee, Alabama. Standing at the side of the seven-year-old blind and deaf Helen Keller was a young woman named Anne Sullivan. Anne was steadily pumping cool water into one of Helen’s hands while repeatedly tapping out an alphabet code of five letters on the other hand. Suddenly the signals crossed Helen’s consciousness with a meaning. She knew that W-A-T-E-R meant the cool something flowing over hand. By nightfall, Helen had learned thirty words.
Sue Pilkilton, the Executive Director of Ivy Green, said: “We try to focus on all the accomplishments and barriers that Ms. Keller had to face due to her disabilities. Our mission is to keep Ms. Keller’s legacy alive by bringing hope to those struggling with disabilities. Helen Keller’s birthplace is an international tourist attraction bringing visitors from all fifty states and fifty-five foreign countries in 2019.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House Museum
The Rosenbaum House, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is a single-family home built for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in Florence, Alabama. The Rosenbaum is the only Wright architecture in Alabama and one of only twenty-six pre-World War II Usonian houses. In 1960, Architecture critic Peter Blake wrote, “during the 1930s, Wright built four structures of a beauty unexcelled in America before or since.” After touring The Rosenbaum House, I got to see what all the fuss about Frank Lloyd Wright is…and it is impressive. Every little detail, foresight and planning...genius!
“The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.”
– FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, 1957
As the evening rolled around, I checked into the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa. And I was NOT expecting this – it is incredible! The hotel includes an upscale spa, indoor pool, outdoor resort-style pool, Swampers Bar & Grill and the 360 Grille. Rob and I had dinner at the 360 Grille, a revolving restaurant on top of the Renaissance Tower, some twenty-plus floors up. The food is fantastic. The views are breathtaking. Plan your visit soon: marriott.com/en-us/hotels/mslmc-marriott-shoals.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
On the final morning, I got to play the Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail and… WOW, I was not disappointed. The RTJ Golf Trail is home to two eighteen-hole championship courses and lies between the Wheeler and Wilson Dams on the Tennessee River. The Wheeler Dam is named in honor of General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, the only Confederate General to attain the same rank later in the United States Army. The Fighting Joe course at The Shoals was the first trail course to break 8,000 yards. While the second course, The Schoolmaster, is named for President Woodrow Wilson, who was known as “The Schoolmaster” of politics and was responsible for constructing the Wilson Dam.
“Visitors will fall in love with The Shoals for the hospitality and rich variety of attractions in the area. If you love music, we got it! If you love history, we got it! If you love golf, we got it! And that is just the start. So, come and see why we are the Hit Recording Capital of the World and experience the food, comfort and excitement of The Shoals!” says Rob. I’d say that sums it up! There is much to see and do just 100 miles down the road in our BIG BACK YARD. So, do yourself a favor and mark this on your list! And I’ll meet you in The Shoals!
Alabama Music Hall of Fame | Billy Reid Flagship Store | GunRunner | Rivertown Coffee Co | Superhero Chef’s
Nashville’s Big Back Yard | nashvillesbigbackyard.org