Nashville’s Big Back Yard: Hit The Back Roads For Music, Art, Nature, And Nostalgia

  • Wednesday, May 29, 2024
  • Ann N. Yungmeyer

Nashville’s Big Back Yard is more than a fun slogan – the region is actually a consortium of historic small towns south of the Music City with a spillover of creative talent and music heritage. A natural branding of sorts, according to Aubrey Preston, visionary for connecting 12 sparsely populated communities along the Natchez Trace Parkway, anchored by iconic music cities Nashville and The Shoals of Northern Alabama. “We have natural resources, scenery and layers of history going back to the Chickasaw Nation,” said Preston.

Think vintage with a refresh in these communities focused on revitalization where old barns, filling stations and general stores have been converted into music venues, eateries, shops and galleries. You could find yourself enjoying live music at a speakeasy, sipping wine at a hilltop vineyard, admiring Johnny Cash’s Cadillac, kayaking a quiet stretch of the Buffalo River, or savoring a gourmet meal with your feet in the creek.

Nashville’s Big Back Yard calls for slow travel: experience seekers, nostalgia lovers and culture junkies. Some of the towns – which include Leiper’s Fork, Centerville, Linden, Hohenwald, Clifton, Waynesville, Collinwood, Loretto, Summertown, Mount Pleasant, Hampshire and Santa Fe – are already known as day-trip destinations or weekend getaways; others are on the brink of discovery. I highlight several places where you’ll find unique accommodations and a variety of experiences and attractions.

Just outside of Franklin and 30 miles from Nashville, charming Leiper’s Fork is the crown jewel of rural community revival, an early example of preservation and renewal that began in the 1990s. Named on the National Register of Historic Places, Leiper’s Fork is a thriving village with live music, southern food, distinguished galleries, boutiques, a spa, and distillery. You can listen to upcoming and acclaimed music artists at Fox & Locke, while enjoying fried catfish or meat-and-three. Browse the wonderful shops and galleries such as Patina Home & Garden where you can strum vintage guitars hanging on the wall, and Leiper’s Creek Gallery, designed to feel like a living room. For the coolest dining experience, check the schedule at BAM Foods for creek dinners (sometimes with feet-in-the-water), held seasonally with Country Boy Restaurant and other partners. Central to all the activity, beautiful accommodations can be found at Fork & Field Victorian cottage rentals.

Leiper’s Fork is a blend of authentic elements and rustic-chic style, and each restoration pays tribute to its roots. Where else can you fill up at a Shell station and see Hank Williams’ guitar hanging next to the Coke cooler in the convenience store! Walk into any business here and you’ll sense the passion for community and creative spirit among the locals – a common thread throughout the region of Nashville’s Big Back Yard.

Fans of Minnie Pearl will want to head for the town square in Centerville and sit on the bench with the sculpture of the charismatic comedian. The hometown of Grand Ole Opry star Sarah Cannon, Centerville is a walk back in time with its quaint shops and town-square tradition of Saturday radio hour. The area’s bio-diverse Duck River, a watershed some call the “Amazon of North America,” is a well-known hotspot for fishing and a natural playground for camping, canoeing and hiking.

Near Centerville, Johnny Cash left a footprint in Bon Aqua, a community named for fresh spring water, where Cash’s Hideaway Farm is located. His favorite getaway for more than 30 years, the property is now open for tours as Storytellers Hideaway Farm & Museum. The 200-year-old farmhouse and the museum in the old general store are filled with classic country music memorabilia and some of Cash’s collectibles, including his One-Piece-at-a Time Cadillac. Music fests and outdoor concerts are held regularly at the venue.

Linden attracts people looking for a town with mostly trees and few streets, as told by resident jeweler Terry Klein, who relocated from New York. Hand-made jewelry can be found at his shop on Main St., along with local art, gift and clothing boutiques. Otherwise a sleepy town, Linden draws a crowd for its annual Blooming Arts Festival, summertime Music on Main, and weekend music events at The Commodore Hotel & Music Café. The 1939 hotel and adjunct Miss Berdie’s Boarding House were lovingly restored by Michael and Kathy Dumont, originally from Rhode Island. “Rescued from the wrecking ball,” jokes Michael, who is no stranger to preserving historic buildings.

The boutique hotel offers a great stay with local cuisine, live music and a speakeasy lounge, as well as guided kayaking trips and hiking in nearby Mouse Tail Landing State Park. Café favorites include Chef Hayley’s famous Boozy Burger, Sriracha cauliflower, and made-from-scratch cheesecake. The Dumonts will customize a visit for small groups such as a girls’ getaway in Linden or at their sister property Commodore Inn at Clifton, a Victorian Bed and Breakfast on the Tennessee River.

Hohenwald, which means “high forest” in German, was settled by German and Swiss immigrants and offers the essence of small town living with heritage festivals, a famous fish fry and lively steakhouse called Junkyard Dog. Besides having Meriwether Lewis buried nearby and being home to Oliver Camper Trailers, Hohenwald’s claim to fame is The Elephant Sanctuary, the nation’s largest natural habitat and refuge for retired elephants. The 3,000-acre sanctuary is not open to the public, but visitors can watch the elephants on live cam and learn about them at the interactive Elephant Discovery Center in town. The Discovery Center is an educational resource for distance learning around the world.

Amid hilly countryside, Hampshire boasts three wineries that offer tastings and special events. Amber Falls Winery & Cellars is a standout for award-winning dry and sweet wines, as well as scenery and vineyard views. The owners, originally from Louisiana, host community and fundraising events, bringing some Cajun influence with their Gumbo Sundays, Cajun fest and Music on the Ridge. For overnight lodging, Amber Falls offers a refurbished one-bedroom farm cottage with a working fireplace. The village of Hampshire has attracted artists and makers, and their Copperhead Creek Studio is a popular stop for local artwork and handmade goods.

The Alabama towns collectively called The Shoals represent the music hub to the south of Nashville’s Big Back Yard, and are also worth a visit. Muscle Shoals, Florence, Tuscumbia and Sheffield became known for top music star recordings and studios that produced the famous “Muscle Shoals Sound.” Like Nashville, The Shoals is still a nucleus of recording and live music events. Other attractions in the area include Helen Keller’s former home and museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House, and Florence Indian Mound and Museum.

About Nashville’s Big Back Yard and founder Aubrey Preston

Originally from Cleveland, Tenn., Aubrey Preston is a Nashville area entrepreneur, preservationist and longtime student of music history. He knew the gem of a region at his back door, and during the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, he recognized a “back to the land” movement and lifestyles trending away from urban centers. Highlighting towns with populations of less than 5,000 residents, he launched NBBY in October 2020, with the mission to connect and ignite opportunity for all in NBBY.

Preston’s many accomplishments include preserving the historic village of Leiper’s Fork, founding the Americana Music Triangle, launching the Land Trust for Tennessee, preserving and restoring the historic Franklin Theatre, and preserving the historic RCA studio A on Music Row in Nashville. Most recently, Preston and his wife Michele purchased the original Puckett’s Grocery in Leiper’s Fork and restored it back to its original name, Fox & Locke.

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Ann Yungmeyer is a freelance writer. Read more of her work at her website.

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