Nashville's Big Back Yard

Ryan French

Sara Beth Urban, executive director at the Tennessee Distillers Guild shares insights about Tennessee's 32 participating distilleries. Urban also talks about the association’s advocacy to ensure and enhance the consumer’s experience while visiting destinations along the fabled Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

Cindy Dupree

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer reporting from Florence, Alabama where he visits with legendary fashion designer Billy Reid as he shares tales from his incredible life journey.

Reid is one of only four American fashion designers who have won three or more Council of Fashion Designers or America’s prestigious CFDA Awards.

Alabama Chanin

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a most insightful conversation with Chanin at her combination showroom and School of Making in Florence, Alabama.

For NYC fashion legend Natalie Chanin, it was a fruitless hunt for a NYC embroidery company willing to work on her hand-sewn designer t-shirt projects that spurred her to move back home to Florence, Alabama.

Frustrated with an endless litany of thanks but no thanks from East Coast embroidery companies, it suddenly dawned on Chanin that her network of rural crafter/quilting friends back in Alabama would be ideally suited to work on her discerning hand-sewn designer projects. Chanin moved back home to Florence in 2000 and she’s never looked back. Come along and join the conversation.

Ryan French (left image) Tom Wilmer

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits two distinctly different Episcopal parishes and finds both rectors sharing consistent philosophies predicated on compassion and engagement.

Christopher Bowhay is the Rector St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Columbia Tennessee. Bowhay’s church dates from 1860, but his parish also stewards the antebellum St. John’s Episcopal Church in nearby Ashwood, Maury County, Tennessee.

Ryan French

Franklin, Tennessee historian and attorney-at-law Tony Turnbow, envestigates the possibility that Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, didn’t commit suicide in 1809. Turnbow shares compelling circumstantial evidence that Lewis was actually murdered and robbed while traveling along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee.

Ryan French

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Eric Jacobson, CEO of the Battle of Franklin Trust. Jacobson talks about the last major battle of the Civil War, The Battle of Franklin in Middle Tennessee, November 30, 1864.

He also shares insights about the complex legacy of the Civil War—from advances in medicine to the advent of the KKK. How the 1915 Hollywood film Birth of a Nation and the 1939 debut of Gone With The Wind propelled the advocates who believe that the war was actually a “War of Northern aggression”.

But most importantly Jacobson shares his optimistic faith in the critical thinking skills of the generation of Americans who came of age in the post civil-rights era.

The Spa at Leipers Fork

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer at the Spa at Leipers Fork, Tennessee for a visit with owner, Lisa Crary. In addition to operating the popular spa, Ms. Crary is also the CEO of Sanitas Skincare Corporation based in Boulder, Colorado. Of course Ms. Crary’s eco-friendly, dye-free skincare products are featured at the Leipers Fork Spa, as well as spas and salons across America including world-class resorts such as the Montage, and Sandals Resorts throughout the Caribbean.

Library of Congress

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a visit with historian/docent Lynn Weaver at the circa-1820s birthplace home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Discover fascinating insights about Ms. Keller, her relationship with her mentor Annie Sullivan, her friendship with Alexander Graham Bell, and how she challenged the service group Lions International—which radically transformed the organization’s mission around the world to this day.

Ms. Weaver also shares fascinating insights about Ms. Keller’s role as a radical socialist--an outspoken advocate for child labor laws and women’s voting rights. Ms. Keller received punitive blowback from some influential Americans in power positions.

Thomas Wilmer

Kathy and Michael Dumont operate the historic Commodore Hotel in downtown Linden, Tennessee. In addition to live music every week, they take guests on fascinating Kayak trips down the Buffalo River. Join correspondent Tom Wilmer as he visits with Mike Dumont followed by a visit with two Tennessee musicians, The Professor and The Bull, who regularly perform in the Commodore’s Music Café.

Cindy Dupree

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Mackenzie Jo Cottles, marketing coordinator at the Shoals Economic Development Authority based in Florence, Alabama.

Ms. Cottles shares insights about the Shoals region, its affordable real estate prices where $150,00 buys a cool three-bedroom, two-bath home. She also talks about the area's activity attractions, from trend-setting dining venues to legendary music festivals, and an array of outdoor activities from biking and hiking the kayaking on the rivers.

The Shoals Remote Worker Incentive Program targets tech-centric demographics—people with remote jobs in fields like web design, graphic design, software engineering, computer programming, digital marketing, and more.

Nashville's Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative focused on a natural watershed region wending through the Natchez Trace National Parkway, features 12 rural communities. Leiper's Fork is the northern anchor, not far from Nashville. The Big Back Yard journey traverses Tennessee's southwest Quarter down to Alabama's legendary Shoals region--the mother ship of American Music.

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a fascinating conversation with Mike Wolfe, host of American Pickers on the History Channel. Wilmer met up with Wolfe at his home in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Wolfe shares engaging tales of growing up in Eau Claire, Iowa where he started picking treasures found in dumpsters as a six year-old, his quest to create the television show and how the proud denizens of the heartland of America continue to touch his heart.


Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Rob Robinson, musician and owner of Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Puckett’s has been a community center of sorts in town since 1953. It’s much more than a grocery and eatery—it’s also a rocking live music venue.

Thomas Wilmer

Principal Dr. Ryan Jackson shares with correspondent Tom Wilmer how Tennessee’s Mt Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone preK-12 educational model benefits student’s educational goals by infusing Art into S.T.E.M.

Learning comes alive, as students passionately work on curricular projects ranging from creating NASA-mentored self-sustaining habitats on Mars, to building/selling tiny houses that can result in various trade certifications at completion.

Gone is the “sit and listen” drudgery, replaced by the vibrancy of “think and do”, resulting in kids’ genuine ownership of their educational journeys. 

Click here to listen to Dr. Ryan's TEDX talk

The Dr. Jackson STEAM education show is the 12th in a multi-part series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard--an economic and tourism initiative that encompasses the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama.

Tom Reed came to Hohenwald, Tennessee back in 1971 as a vanguard member of a commune dubbed "The Farm”. Hundreds of hippies arrived in their vans and more than 80 school busses adorned with banners proclaiming “Out to Save the World”. They purchased 1,750 acres and settled in, and the Farm is still thriving in the Hohenwald, Tennessee countryside.

Thomas Wilmer

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a visit with Lee Kennedy, owner of Leiper’s Fork Distillery located on the outskirts of uptown Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Kennedy shares insights about producing Tennessee whiskey and bourbon, events at the distillery and the process of growing his elixir’s market distribution.

Visit Franklin

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee where he visits with two artists, Lisa Fox and David Arms who own galleries in the heart of uptown Leiper’s Fork. The rural community is less than 40 miles from Nashville, but it’s a world apart.

The Art of Leiper’s Fork is the ninth in a series showcasing the Nashville’s Big Back Yard economic initiative—a showcase of rural destinations along the Natchez Trace National Parkway from Leiper’s Fork, down along the Parkway route to Northern Alabama’s Shoals Region.

Thomas Wilmer

Amber Falls Winery and Cellars, situated close to the Natchez Trace National Parkway, is just 17 minutes away from the town of Hohenwald and an hour and a quarter to downtown Nashville. In addition to a tasting room with retail sales and outdoor live-music events scheduled throughout the year, cottages adjacent to the winery are available for overnight stays.

Joe Hendricks Elephants

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with outreach manager Todd Montgomery at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Rescued elephants from circuses and zoos across America find peace at the Elephant Sanctuary. Founded in 1995, the sanctuary is not open to the public to ensure a tranquil retirement environment for the elephants.

Fortunately there’s a wonderful educational visitors' center located in downtown Hohenwald. Video displays include the EleCam, providing live-streaming video feed from the elephants’ 2,700-acre habitat—the largest safe haven in North America.

The Elephant Sanctuary podcast show is the seventh in a series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative encompassing the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama. The town of Hohenwald is located 80 miles southwest from Nashville.

Commodore Hotel Linden, Tennessee

Correspondent Tom Wilmer continues his exploration of Tennessee’s rural communities where modern pioneers invest in and restore historic downtown buildings and along the way infuse new economic life and vitality in the rural communities.

Thomas Wilmer

In the latter decades of the 19th Century, new towns and villages sprung up across Tennessee. Some of the settlers were U.S. citizens relocating from the eastern seaboard, along with European immigrants, all in pursuit of opportunity. Land in rural Tennessee was easily accessible by riverboat, trains and wagons.

German Catholics established the town of Loretto in 1870. Before long Loretto was served by stage and railway. The economy bustled with lumber mills and downtown retail establishments. The Loretto Milling Company opened in 1895 to serve the needs of farmers with feed and fuel and the business is still thriving 125 years later.

But, following WWII the local economy and employment started an inexorable decline when the new U.S. Route 43 bypassed the town.

Today, thanks to visionary, risk-taking young people like Mandy and Eric McClaren a new breed is leading Loretto’s economic renaissance. They opened a coffee house in a renovated derelict 1930s commercial building. Even though the McClaren's opened their doors just days before COVID-19 threw them a curve ball, this past fall they started work on a soon to open brewery. Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Loretto at Mandy and Eric’s Lo-Town Brew to learn the rest of the story.

This show is the sixth in a multi-part series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard--an economic and tourism initiative encompassing a natural watershed region that wends through the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama.

Thomas Wilmer

Sixty years after his passing, Frank Lloyd Wright remains America’s seminal architect. Born on the heels of the Civil War, Wright produced residential and commercial projects until his passing in 1959. A game changing commission was Wright’s Rosenbaum residence, built in 1939 in Florence, Alabama.

GMANE music

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Florence, Alabama for a conversation with rapper GMANE (a.k.a. Geoffrey Keith Robinson). Music and hip-hop rap have been an integral part of GMANE’s life since he was a kid in rural Alabama.

Making his mark in the 1990s, on the independent Slave Kamp Music label, GMANE’s popularity led him on a European tour to Sweden and Denmark.

Thomas Wilmer

In the third podcast installment exploring Nashville’s Big Back Yard, we’ll stop in at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. The studio opened in 1969 and was quickly marking up the charts with number one hits by the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Wilson Pickett, Linda Rondstadt, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon and many more legendary recording artists.

Next up is a visit with Sandra Burroughs, executive director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Burroughs is also mayor of the nearby village of Lexington, Alabama and she couldn’t resist sharing funny anecdotes about her mayoral duties in the town of 850 residents.

Thomas Wilmer

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Florence, Alabama for a conversation with two key players in the Shoals’ regional economic development. Afterwards we’ll visit with Rodney Hall, the son of Rick Hall, founder of the legendary Fame Studios. We'll also meet up with Spencer Coats, Hall’s studio manager.

Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative focused on a natural watershed region wending through the Natchez Trace National Parkway, features 12 rural communities. Leiper’s Fork is the northern anchor, not too far from Nashville. The Big Back Yard journey traverses Tennessee’s southwest quarter down into Alabama’s legendary Shoals region—the mother ship of American music.