It is undeniable that music is at the heart of what makes Franklin, Tennessee a uniquely captivating place. As a born-and-raised Middle Tennessee native who grew up just outside Nashville it was easy for me to take music for granted. The family down the street is gone for months at a time touring? Seems right. The lady on the other end the church pew each Sunday has multiple No. 1 hits to her name? No big deal. Having friends whose parents were in the music business was just as common as friends who's parents were teachers, or lawyers or factory workers.
It wasn't until I left for college and lived away from this area that I truly understood how special it was. Not everywhere do you find open mic nights regularly dotted with Grammy winners or hit songwriters, not to mention the plethora of artists grinding day-to-day looking for their big break.
Since moving back, taking the music in Franklin for granted is a distant memory. Nowadays I savor that you can't take a stroll down Main Street without finding live music almost every night of the week and that the Factory at Franklin is home to incredible weekly shows like Music City Roots and Music City Pickers Live. I could go on-and-on about each of the 30-plus live music venues around Franklin, but it's more than just the performances that make the music in Franklin special.
Most any artist or songwriter will tell you that you draw inspiration from where you are, and what you're going through in your life. With so many songwriters calling this town home, Franklin has certainly found its way into a number of songs you've heard for years, along with some you may be singing along to on the radio today.
One of the songs climbing the country charts right now, "Star of the Show" by Thomas Rhett all stems from watching his wife Lauren while he was performing in a writers round one night at Puckett's of Leiper's Fork. Rhett shared the story that inspired the song recently in an interview with Billboard Magazine.
“I went to Puckett’s Grocery out in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn., and I was doing a songwriter’s round out there. I remember walking through the bar, and Lauren was wearing like a T-shirt and jeans — nothing fancy or special — and I remember people looking at her, and me looking at her thinking, ‘Why do you look so amazing and you don’t do anything?’ I want to say that the idea spurred from that.”
You may have only recently heard of Chris Janson when he skyrocketed to the top of the country charts with "Buy Me A Boat" last year but he has been a staple in the songwriting community for a number of years, penning hits for some of the top names in country music like Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., LoCash and many more.
His second single from the Buy Me A Boat album, "Holdin' Her," not only shows off his incredible storytelling ability but also puts Franklin as a central character. Franklin is where Janson and his wife fell in love and even got engaged. As he eloquently tells their love story, the music video shows the couple and their kids dancing in front of the Franklin Theatre, down Main Street, and even the park bench where they got engaged.
"On a park bench down on Fourth Street, that's where I popped the question."
Fun fact, that "park bench down on Fourth Street" is right across the street from the Visit Franklin offices! Also, much of the video was shot by Janson's oldest daughter on a home video camera and iPhone. As a long-time fan of Janson's I know I'm likely biased, but how can you not love that story!
If you've not heard of Walker Hayes, you're not alone. Consider this your introduction, and you can thank me later. Hayes is one of the classic stories of a guy that moves to town with nothing more than musical talent and a dream. For years Hayes spent his days working as a booker for motivational speakers at a company in Franklin and nights playing on stages around town at restaurants like Puckett's Restaurant & Grocery, Puckett's Boathouse and Gray's On Main. He often thanks, Puckett's owner, Andy Marshall for giving him his first regular gig and the chance to pursue his dream. In addition to playing he also hosted "Walker Wednesdays" open mic nights at the Boathouse.
Much of Hayes music is born out of those years struggling to make it. One of my favorites is "Lela's Stars," where he tells the story of sitting in the Franklin Costco parking lot (where he'd taken a second job) dejected and wondering if his musical dream was worth all he was going through before looking up at the thumbtacks his daughter put in his car's ceiling to hold the falling interior up. Remembering the joy she had putting those "stars" in the car gave him a lot of perspective on how lucky he was to be pursuing his dream, even though he was going through hard times.
That song was part of Hayes' independent release "8 Tracks, Vol 1 & 2," which is packed with emotional struggles and catchy tunes like "You Broke Up With Me," which is his first full studio recording after being signed to Monument Records. I can't wait to hear Haye's first studio album and to see how those years on stages across Franklin work their way into his new music.
It's not all country acts where Franklin takes a starring role. The first crush for a generation of teenage girls, Justin Beiber, used Franklin as the setting for his 2011 Christmas tune, "Under the Mistletoe." As Bieber weaves a story of young love at Christmas, he and his date make their way down a snowy Main Street.
It's one of the state songs of Tennessee and has been recorded by different artists over the years, including The Osborne Brothers, Dolly Parton, and even Phish, but the song Rocky Top is best known these days as the unofficial fight song of the University of Tennessee. The song that bellows from The Pride of the Southland Band on gamedays in Knoxville also comes with a bit of controversy as to where it originated. While it was written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant in Gatlinburg, Tenn., most assume it is about the Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee but many also believe it is based on an encounter the songwriters had with a moonshiner named Paul Howell just outside of Leiper's Fork.
Howell was a local moonshining legend and after a run-in with the law was clearing land for the Bryants on a piece of property they owned near Leiper's Fork. The songwriters began asking him about his moonshine-running days, the stills in the area and other elements of moonshining that eventually found their way into the iconic song. Another neighbor to the Bryant family recalls a time while out helping shovel to clear land on the property he said, "There's nothing but rocks out here. I ought just call this place Old Rocky Top."
Whether you believe the local lore or not, one thing that is never in question is just how impressive it is when 100,000 people sing Rocky Top together at Neyland Stadium for a Tennessee football game.
These are just a few of the songs with a #FranklinTN connection. With so many incredible singers and songwriters drawing inspirations from Franklin daily, this town's influence on music knows no bounds. What are some of your favorite songs with a Franklin influence? Share them with us in the comments below.