Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor: The Best House Party in Franklin, Tennessee

For more than a century, downtown Franklin’s southern fringe was a working-class neighborhood. Beyond the grand homes were the shotgun houses, and just past them were the railroad depot, coal yard, and ice house. This is Will Jordan’s stomping grounds.

The son of legendary preservationists Rudy and Peter Jordan—largely responsible for the preserved Main Street and residential historic districts Franklin cherishes today—he grew up a few doors down from the Ice House, better known for the past two decades as Franklin Antique Mall.

A writer and photographer by training, Jordan sold newspaper subscriptions as a kid to buy a new bicycle, then went to journalism school at Belmont University before becoming a full-time reporter. Music was always at the center of his world, and he gravitated toward that beat, capturing the emerging Nashville scene in the ’90s and 2000s, both in images and prose. He played music too, and the Jordan house was a place where people would gather with instruments.

“I was a young dad back then, and we would hang out at Clouston Hall (now Gallery 202) and our house on First Avenue,” Jordan remembers. “Then we heard that someone was opening a music venue around the corner, and about 15 of us left the communal jam at my house and walked over to check it out.”

That was November of 2005, and the someone was Ron Kimbro; he and Jordan hit it off immediately. Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor became the place where Jordan’s ad hoc band would play on the little corner stage. A few months later, he was a part owner, launching the songwriters nights on Tuesdays and booking weekend bands. In 2011, he became the sole proprietor.

“I was 34 years old when I became a part of it, but I valued the opinions of my parents and others who had been in the hospitality business in town. They all said, whatever you do, don’t buy a restaurant,” he says. “It didn’t make sense on paper, but it was something I had to do. It brought together all of the things I love under one roof, and it happened in such an organic way.”

He cites the regulars who have played roles in morphing the place into an indoor-outdoor destination. What was originally a single bar in the band room was moved—literally relocated one night while open for business—and ultimately expanded into three bars, including the back patio. 

Many of the people who found Kimbro’s were talented players yet to be discovered, and Jordan’s role covering Nashville’s sounds opened many doors. Live music became a seven-nights-a-week thing, and you never knew who might show up.

John Prine might sit in with his brother Billy, or it could be Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris who showed up one night and Wynonna another. Rock band Ween played after an arena show in Nashville, and the blues phenom Kingfish used to drive up from Clarksdale to play Kimbro’s. The list goes on.

“This was one of the first places the Steeldrivers played in town, with Chris Stapleton at the helm,” Jordan says. “They played Ron Kimbro’s retirement party here when he handed over the reins to me. We’ve had some incredibly talented bands play sets, but you might find world-class players gathered on the front porch on any random weeknight. Music lovers just find this place.”

Local favorites and Kimbro’s regulars such as Jake Burman & Co., Anthony Adams, and the Soulshine Family Band—a group of touring musicians who have a Sunday night Kimbro’s residency when off the road—regularly pack the house. If 100 people are around the main stage, another contingent is playing acoustic on the front porch. Yet, another has gathered in the back room with its dueling pianos, bongos, and community guitars. It’s an old-school house party, Franklin style.

Jordan says he’s always working toward the next step, evolving by feel and giving people what they want. He just launched Saturday lunches to complement the dinner services, occasional outdoor crawfish boils, or whatever sounds fun. The format has become standardized—Monday night jazz, Tuesday songwriters night, full bands Wednesday through Saturday, and Soulshine Sundays—but everything else is malleable. He likes it that way.

“They told me I’d work harder than anyone and make less money doing it… an ominous message for a young guy buying a business, but we’ve figured out how to make it work,” he says. “I’d say we’re right where we want to be: good people, good music, good times. It’s the way it should be.”

Find The Legendary Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor at 214 South Margin Street or online here. Most days, doors open at 4 p.m. and last call is 12:30 a.m. Jordan’s other venues, Carpe Diem Records next door and Mockingbird Theater in The Factory at Franklin, are definitely worth a visit, too.