The Grocery Store Open Mic Night Not to Be Missed
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork has been a local favorite since it first opened its doors in 1953. The vintage country store and restaurant has become a popular destination for locals as well as tourists thanks to its home-cooked Southern cuisine and a wide array of live music five nights a week. But it is Puckett’s revered Thursday open mic night, established in 2009, that has helped make the venue a must-visit spot for up-and-coming and veteran talent.
Recently added to the National Historic Registry, Puckett’s long-running Tennessee legacy will remain honored. Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork is the home of the original grocery store chain and restaurant of the same name started in the 1950s by the Puckett family. A Leiper’s Fork staple, Puckett’s was taken over by Rob Robinson in 2008 where he continues the long-standing tradition of welcoming patrons 363 days of the year with seven shows a week.
“The music is a huge part of what we do,” Puckett’s owner Robinson says. “We love our Leiper’s Fork musicians and try to never take [them] for granted. [We] appreciate the incredible talent that we see every night out here.”
Robinson, a musician and songwriter himself, moved to Nashville in 1990. He and some friends started sharing their own songs on Thursday nights shortly after he bought Puckett’s in 2008, and their nightly jams evolved into the weekly open mic night. Robinson estimates that people from every state in the U.S. and over 33 other countries have come to Puckett’s to sing two songs on stage any given Thursday.
Newcomers like Nashville’s Lennon & Maisy were discovered at Puckett’s where they’d frequently get up on stage to test out new music. “Lennon and Maisy were living out here and they would come in on Thursdays, sing and play with us,” Robinson recalls. “They were delightful young girls, so much fun to listen to and [had] astonishing family harmony between the two of them. So talented, so young. It’s something we’re confronted with pretty regularly.”
Artists who want to perform on Thursday night typically sign up that afternoon for a slot on the famed stage. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs until midnight. While young acts testing out new material are often expected, there have been comedians, poets, sword swallowers, and ventriloquists, not to mention A-list surprise guests who pop in unannounced. Tanya Tucker, Wynonna Judd, Rodney Crowell, Mac Davis, Keb Mo, Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe, and Daniel Donato, among others, have surprised the Puckett’s audience.
“Those moments happen all the time. But there is something deeper going on out here. It’s an earthy, spiritual element that permeates everything that happens at Puckett’s Leiper’s Fork,” Robinson says. “It’s the ultimate variety show. It’s every type of music: indie, classic rock ‘n’ roll, to country and everything in between.”
Acts that have gotten their start at Puckett’s before signing record deals and becoming household names include Holly Williams, Chris Janson, and The Sisterhood Band’s Alyssa Bonagura. “The magic of Puckett’s open mic night is the down-to-earth, family vibe of the building and the people who work there. You never know who’s going to get up and sing and the best surprises are the people that are just there to share a new song they’ve written for fun,” Bonagura explains. “Most of the time they end up being a song you could totally hear on the radio! There’s endless talent in this town, but Leiper’s is a best kept secret and Puckett’s is the local ‘Cheers’ bar and comfort food joint you want to take your friends and family to. I’m a regular.”
A family-run establishment, Puckett’s often has musician families take the stage together. Both Tanya Tucker and her daughter, Layla, have shared the stage as well as Daniel Donato and his father. “It gives talent a chance to show off their wares,” Tanya Tucker says of playing Puckett’s open mic. “Until you are actually on stage singing you never know how it will work on an audience. It’s great practice before pressure.”
Robinson further details the welcoming vibe of Puckett’s being one of many reasons artists and patrons return each week. “You walk in and you feel at home. There’s no pretentiousness,” he adds. “It’s a very supportive group of musicians and fans, and everybody’s really lifting one another up.”