April 30, 2016
by Andy Johnston
There’s so much music in Franklin, it spills into the streets.
Forget the fact that it’s only 30 minutes from Nashville. This town, once known primarily for its Civil War battlefield, has charged onto the music scene.
Musicians now fill Franklin’s restaurants, pubs and theater on a nightly basis. Even Sweet CeCe’s Frozen Yogurt & Treats (615-807-1412, sweetceces.com) on West Main Street in downtown Franklin hit the right note with a talented singer on our last visit.
Who knew that froyo goes so well with the Eagles?
Step outside and the sounds fill the night as talented street-corner musicians of all ages – one appeared to be the right age for his high school marching band – continue the musical takeover.
The musical resurgence has helped Franklin become a destination for weekend trips from Atlanta, side trips from folks visiting Nashville or from others who just want to check out where so many country music stars live, eat and hang out when they’re not on the road.
If music isn’t your bag, you can trace the route of Confederate troops marching to their death more than 150 years ago, make supper reservations at one of Franklin’s upscale restaurants or browse for dresses in trendy boutiques.
Fill your belly
The Red Pony (408 Main St., 615-595-7669, redponyrestaurant.com) was the first of chef Jason McConnell’s restaurants in Franklin and changes its menu several times a year to take advantage of seasonal ingredients.
Expect the proteins to be of the surf, turf and sky assortment, including ribeye and porterhouse steaks, duck, catfish and trout, prepared in what the restaurant calls a sophisticated Southern style.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant (120 Fourth Ave. South, 615-794-5527, puckettsgro.com/franklin), which originated in nearby Leiper’s Fork in the 1950s, began serving its signature Southern dishes in downtown Franklin in 2004.
Go for breakfast and come back for lunch, supper and homemade desserts, but be prepared to wait on busy weekends.
One of the newest downtown restaurants, Grays on Main (332 Main St., 615-435-3603, graysonmain.com) opened in 2013 in a 140-year-old Victorian building that once was home to a local pharmacy. Sandwiches and small plates at lunch give way to steaks, scallops and stuffed trout at night.
Breakfast apparently is an important meal in Franklin, because Merridee’s Breadbasket (110 Fourth Ave. South, 615-790-3755, merridees.com) is one of several restaurants that serve it.
The restaurant is famous for its desserts, including assorted pastries, muffins, cakes, pies, breads and brownies.
The Frothy Monkey (125 Fifth Ave. South, 615-465-6279, frothymonkey.com) is so much more than a well-known Nashville-area coffee shop, although feel free to order a cup and sit a while.
Once again, breakfast is popular, but the surprisingly sophisticated menu includes salmon, crab cakes and burgers made from house-made sausage.
Fill your ears
Many of the musicians who fill Franklin’s establishments play, sing backup or write songs for well-known and established stars.
Restaurants and pubs have small stages or areas set aside for them, but the bigger names and those past their heyday will fill the historic Franklin Theatre (419 Main St., 615-538-2076, franklintheatre.com).
The popular theater first opened in 1937, but closed in 2007. It was renovated and reopened in 2011, and is now rarely dark.
Movies, live theater and concerts by musicians and comedians fill the space, sometimes on the same day.
The theater showed “Curious George” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” on a recent Saturday, then played host to a concert by former “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks that night.
Some of the musical performers booked this spring include Paula Cole, Lorrie Morgan, Billy Dean and Pam Tillis.
The Franklin Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival (pilgrimagefestival.com) is primed to become an annual event after a successful debut last September.
This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 24-25.
Steven Tyler, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton, Sheryl Crow, Weezer and Wilco highlighted last year’s two-day festival that drew more than 20,000 people to the Park at Harlinsdale Farm, a city park within walking distance of downtown.
Guests also can access the festival by canoe or kayak, via the Harpeth River, and space was provided to park them.
The Pilgrimage Festival is billed as family-friendly event, compared to the larger Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., about an hour from Franklin, or Nashville’s CMA Music Festival.
The concerts ended at 7 p.m. at the inaugural festival.
Fill your mind
Civil War buffs have been flocking to Franklin for years to walk the battlefield where six Confederate generals were killed in assaults against entrenched Union forces on Nov. 30, 1864.
The battle was more of a massacre as 1,750 Confederate soldiers died, compared to only 189 on the Union side.
Carnton Plantation (1345 Eastern Flank Circle, 615-794-0903) and the Carter House (1140 Columbia Ave., 615-791-1861) are both managed by the Battle of Franklin Trust (boft.org) and are open for tours.
The Carnton Plantation was built in 1826 and served as a hospital during the battle. Four of the Confederate generals killed in the battle were taken there.
Part of the land around Carnton Plantation became a Confederate cemetery where about 1,500 soldiers are buried.
Try to count all the bullet holes in the nearby Carter House, which was built in 1830. The Carters and their neighbors hunkered down in their home’s basement during the battle.
The Lotz House (1111 Columbia Ave., 615-790-7190, www.lotzhouse.com), which was completed in 1858, also shows scars from the battle and is open for tours.
You can get another view of the grounds from the 110-acre Eastern Flank Battlefield Park (1368 Eastern Flank Circle, 615-794-2103, franklintn.gov).
Adult admission is $15 for each to the Carter House and Carnton Plantation and $10 for the Lotz House, but you can tour all three for $30. Those tickets can be purchased at various locations, but must be picked up at the museum stores at each house.
Reservations are recommended for the weekday battlefield tours (11 a.m., Tuesday-Friday) and required for Saturday tours (11 a.m.). Call 615-794-0903 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a ticket ($25) for the 90-minute walking tour that focuses on the strategy and key points of the Battle of Franklin.
Call or check out the Battle of Franklin Trust website (boft.org) for a calendar of special events, including vintage baseball games played by 1860s rules.
And the music doesn’t stop at downtown.
Carnton Plantation also plays host to a monthly concert series during the summer, in addition to movie nights.
Guitars might outnumber people in the small community of Leiper’s Fork (population 650), about 15 minutes from Franklin.
Visitors can mingle with famous musicians browsing the galleries and antique stores, and the original Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant (4142 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, Tenn., 615-794-1308, puckettsofleipersfork.com), which opened in 1953, provides music for its customers every night.
There’s a buzz around the area’s vineyards and distilleries, which must use a special process to produce authentic Tennessee whiskey.
Arrington Vineyards (6211 Patton Road, Arrington, Tenn., 615-395-0102, arringtonvineyards.com), co-owned by Kix Brooks of the longtime country group Brooks & Dunn, offers tastings and other events, including Music in the Vines, which are free weekly jazz and bluegrass concerts.
H Clark Distillery (1557 Thompson’s Station Rd., Thompson’s Station, Tenn., 615-478-2191, hclarkdistillery.com) has daily tours ($5 with tasting, complimentary without a tasting).
Leiper’s Fork Distillery (3381 Southall Road, Franklin, 615-476-4153, leipersforkdistillery.com) plans to have tours when it opens.