Franklin & Leiper's Fork, Tennessee - Great Destinations on Your Americana Music Trek
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
When people think of music in Tennessee, they tend to think of Nashville. Nashville is great, a lot of fun. It’s also expensive, crowded. Parking can be pricey and scarce. Now, if you want to head just 17 miles south, you’ll find the City of Franklin, population 66,000 and home to some fine restaurants, live music venues and the incredible Pilgrimage Fesitval.
Franklin is another stop in the Americana Music Triangle, a glorious geographic map following the mighty Mississippi from New Orleans north to Memphis and then cutting back toward Nashville. I visited Franklin as part of a media tour hitting key spots in the triangle. Attending the two-day Pilgrimage Festival at a 230-acre farm/park near town was the culminating event of the trip.
The short excursions in Franklin’s 16-block historic district or to the nearby crossroads of Leiper’s Fork had me wishing there was an extra day to savor more of what this area offers. In 1995, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Franklin as a “Great American Main Street” town. Since then, Franklin has been racking up recognition on all kinds of lists designed to spotlight great towns.
We enjoyed a couple meals in Franklin, including dinner at Gray’s on Main. I loved the vibe in this three-story restaurant/live music venue, set in a circa 1876 Victorian building in the heart of downtown. The restaurant opened in 2013; the place had been the Gray Drug Co. for nearly a century. Our hosts touted the master mixologists at the restaurant’s bar. They boast a bevy of signature cocktails. I had to try the Anthym Spirit, an adaptation of a classic Manhattan with the bar’s unique magnolia bitters. It featured premium rye whiskey (always a favorite). I’m told it won a 2014 Best Cocktail in America competition. I can believe it. The food is creative with ample portions and reasonable prices. Try the shrimp, scallop and crab gumbo over smoked gouda grits or an impeccably seasoned and prepared ribeye. If you want to have the music front and center, sit on the second floor. The musicians set up on a small loft a few feet higher than the restaurant tables.
Five miles from Franklin is Leiper’s Fork, a little intersection village close to the Natchez Trace Parkway. This has one of those “just-off-the-beaten track” feels of other tiny way stations such as Luckenbach, Texas. One reason is you never know who might show up and play some music at Puckett’s Grocery. Winona Judd, Tanya Tucker, Rodney Crowell, Keb Mo, Jill Sobule, Phil Everly (The Everly Brothers) and more have played there. The place was a gas station and grocery store in the 1950s before transforming into a series of restaurants. In 2002, Andy Marshall re-purposed the grocery into a restaurant and music venue, establishing menus featuring kick-ass barbecue and first-rate live music. Current owners Rob and Shanel Robinson took charge in 2008 and worked to expand the live music offerings while preserving the reputation for great food. Music starts at noon on the weekends and at 7 or 8 p.m. most evenings. Thursday night is “open mic” night – said to be popular with singer-songwriters. There is a sister Puckett’s Grocery restaurant in downtown Franklin, as well.
A couple art galleries and antique shops are clustered around Puckett’s. One cozy shop, Serenite Maison, specializes in European antiques, one-of-a-kind items including furniture, lighting and textiles from all over the world, as well as eclectic and exclusive lines of jewelry and other stuff. One of the coolest things is thatthe owner Alexandra Cirimelli has several vintage (and valuable) Gibson guitars, mandolins and more hanging on the wall in a front corner of the store. A well-worn leather overstuffed couch and some chairs are available for customers and friends. Pick out your guitar and play. Who can resist?! They aren’t for sale, just available for people to add a little impromptu live music of their own to this quirky-nice little shop.
Leiper’s Fork is a wonderful place to spend a full day and part of the evening. The village hosts an array of cooking and music events throughout the year. You can also check out the Leiper's Fork Distillery, focused on creating high-quality, small batch whiskey.
Now, about the Pilgrimage Festival. This is one cool, two-day event. It’s loosely patterned off the New Orleans Jazz Festival format, in that you will hear all types of music being played. Held in late September, the festival works to include rock, bluegrass, jazz, indie, blues, country and more. Each year features a new array of headliners, such as Beck, Hall & Oates, Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Brothers Osbourne, The Avett Brothers, Eddie Vedder and many more. Now anticipating its fifth event, music programming includes six stages and more than 60 musicians/acts. Acts perform concurrently so there are sometimes tough choices to make as to which stage you’ll visit.
Food and drink is reasonably priced, compared to many festivals and concerts I’ve been to. Last year, an Americana Music Triangle Experience helped educate concertgoers about other road trips they can make to celebrate the richly American music born along the Gold Record Road. Single-day Pilgrimage Festival tickets in 2018 were $125. For that, you get about 10-11 consecutive hours of awesome live music.
The Franklin area has a wide range of lodging options. You can see them, as well as more attractions, events and activities at the Visit Franklin web site. Check out our other trips within the Americana Music Triangle: Tupelo, Mississippi, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee.