While Nashville is inching toward its 250th birthday in 2029, Nashville’s Big Back Yard is celebrating only its first birthday this month, but what a first year it has been!
It was a year ago on Oct. 7 when 12 communities southwest of Nashville and united by the Natchez Trace Parkway proclaimed themselves Nashville’s Big Back Yard and began promoting themselves as a region. All are tiny — fewer than 5,000 residents — and all packed with potential that came to light in part because of the pandemic.
“Come to play, or come to stay” is the motto that Debbie Landers enjoys using as an invitation. Landers is executive director of NBBY and the Hohenwald-Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Hohenwald is part of NBBY.
Many Nashvillians would have trouble locating most of the NBBY towns on a map. Many others wouldn’t even recognize their names.
“Isn’t Loretto where Maker’s Mark is made in Kentucky? Santa Fe is in New Mexico, right? I’ve heard of Clifton, I think.”
They’d be wrong on all three of those, and they probably would mispronounce Santa Fe. The one in Maury County is pronounced Santa FEE (rhymes with Tennessee).
Leiper’s Fork does have a substantial reputation, and Centerville gets acknowledged as Minnie Pearl’s hometown, but less can be said for the name recognition of Mount Pleasant, Summertown, Hampshire, Linden, Waynesboro and Collinwood.
They are scattered about the countryside between the musical meccas of Nashville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which NBBY counts as part of its region and simply calls The Shoals. Attributes in The Shoals include the renowned FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where some of the world’s most famous artists have recorded, including the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Cher and Linda Ronstadt.
“We include Tennessee’s wealthiest county (Williamson) and one of its poorest (Perry),” said philanthropist and NBBY organizer Aubrey Preston, noting that whether rich or poor, every corner of the region has promotable attributes.
NBBY is a place where you can canoe or kayak on the Buffalo River, find one of the best Cajun meals you’ll ever enjoy outside of Louisiana, shop for antiques, admire fine art or be in the audience of a live radio show where the house band includes some of country music’s best studio musicians.
It’s also where you can taste Tennessee wines, perch on a soda fountain stool and order a milkshake made with homemade ice cream, relax on the porch of a bed-and-breakfast, photograph a waterfall and hike in the woods.
Give COVID-19 credit for creation of NBBY.
“In early 2020, we were sitting around wondering what to do. If you were in the service business, you had lost 80% of your revenue overnight. We thought we might be facing another 2010 recession,” Preston said at one of those small businesses, the Leiper’s Fork Market.
Landers recalled the same time period and pointed to a call from Preston that got the ball rolling.
“Aubrey predicted a move to the country. I’d already been getting calls from people in California, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York — just all over. We knew people would be looking for outdoor recreation, and some would want to move here,” Landers said.
NBBY coalesced via telephone and Zoom. To this day, there’s not been an in-person meeting of representatives of all the communities.
Despite that, NBBY has garnered significant national media attention, in part because its spokesperson has been Mike Wolfe, of “American Pickers” fame. Wolfe lives in Nashville’s Big Back Yard and is an advocate for rural Tennessee. It also developed an extensive website with detailed information about all member communities.
As Preston notes, none of the 12 communities can make big waves on its own. They simply are too small.
“We need to rattle our pans and let people know we are here,” Preston said. “We can sell the region. If we can get people to come here for one experience, we all win, because they will come back for more.”