BY PAM WINDSOR
The PBS show Reconnecting Roots, which kicks off Season 3 this month, has an interesting connection to Columbia. Local fans may have noticed familiar sights appearing randomly throughout the nationally broadcast show over the past two seasons. There's a good reason for that, a number of the production staff and crew live in Columbia.
"I love being local," says Gabe McCauley, who hosts the show and owns lilDRAGON and Soul Feather Studios, the two companies that produce it. "So, when we can, I always kind of default to shooting in Columbia."
He says it limits having to travel so much, and the people of Columbia go out of their way to help.
"There's just such a willingness with people and business owners here. It's been nice to have a community that is truly interested in developing good art and educational programming."
Reconnecting Roots is a series of 30-minute shows that looks at American life over the past six generations. It was inspired by Frank Smith, a Canadian American engineer, author, and songwriter who wrote a book about America.
"He basically came to us and said we want to turn this into a television show," McCauley explains. "And the fun part for us has been figuring out how to take someone's observations over the course of 80 years about what makes America great and turn it into a compelling and entertaining TV show."
They do it with creativity, innovation, music, graphics, and on-site field trips. The episodes are fast-moving, with McCauley serving as host.
"We didn't actually start the program with me in mind. In fact, we weren't even sure there would be a host. We were just trying to figure out what the show is and how to make it work. And because I was part of the production company developing the show and I was free as talent to be on camera, we said let's try it out," McCauley said with laughter.
Reconnecting Roots takes viewers through different aspects of America's history. Previous episodes have touched on education, national parks, horses, hunting, bicycles, and more. In addition, the show has showcased Columbia with singer/songwriter Rory Feek's one-room school house, an interview with Mike Wolfe at Motor Ally, Muletown Coffee, Skipwith Hall, Possum Holler, and more.
McCauley's wife, Mandy, a singer, songwriter, and musician, is the Music Supervisor. She helps find songs to support the storyline. The show also has a house band that performs some of the music.
"The house band is a duo called firekid which is actually Rory Feek's daughter, Heidi, and her husband, Dillon. What they do is find public domain songs that are relevant to the topics we choose," McCauley explains. "As an example, for our hunting episode, they did a version of "Home on the Range," for the Irish immigration show, they did "Danny Boy," and for a travel episode, they did "Wayfaring Stranger."
Each season, they release an album of the music used in the shows. One side has original versions of the songs and the other features firekid's versions.
Season 3 kicks off in April with the first episode on Space. Since each PBS station makes its own schedule, the best way to find airtimes is to check local listings. But new shows, along with previous episodes from Seasons1 and 2, are available online at https://www.pbs.org/show/reconnecting-roots/
McCauley, who stays busy with other projects through his production companies, says "Reconnecting Roots" has been one of the most interesting projects he's ever worked on. He's already gearing up for Season 4.
"I've worked on a lot of projects that have been fantastic, but there's something unique and special about this one. It's really been a lot of fun."
By Pam Windsor
Casey Marvin opened Veritas Guitars more than a decade ago in Vancouver, Washington. He’s proud of how it’s grown into the operation it is today – now based in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.
“I started the company in 2010 in my garage by myself,” he says. “It was a one-man shop for a long time, and just kept growing and growing. I never thought it would be as big as it is.”
Veritas builds custom-made guitars for a wide range of clients, from those who play music for fun to professional musicians. Well-known artists, he’s proud to call customers include Thompson Square, Russell Dickerson, Kelsea Ballerini, Mercy Me, Zach Williams, and others.
Marvin developed his passion for guitars at a young age.
“I fell in love with the guitar at the age of 10,” he recalls, “and I wanted to start a band. Then, when I was 12, I took apart the Squier Strat my parents bought me, because I wanted to see how it worked. My mom was really upset when she came in and saw my whole guitar taken apart.”
She was also surprised when he successfully put it all back together. From then on, he had a fascination with the way guitars are built and how they sound.
“I began modifying and tweaking a lot of my friends’ guitars. Then, at 16, I decided I wanted a really nice guitar, and since I couldn’t afford one, I was going to build my own.”
As soon as he finished, he realized he’d made some mistakes.
“I strung it up, strummed one chord, then took it apart and started on my next guitar. And that’s when I fell in love with designing guitars.”
It would be a while before he did it for a living. A talented musician in his own right, Marvin played semi-professionally for years. Later, after hanging up life on the road to start a family, he built guitars on the side. Then, someone suggested he do more with it.
“A friend of mine who owns a drum company called Truth Drums kind of pushed me into doing it as a career. I decided to give it a shot and call it Veritas, which means truth, since he encouraged me to do it.”
His guitars are all tailor-made, specifically designed for the musician who will play them.
“They’re all original; I design all of them,” he says. “I love vintage guitars and have always been a big vintage guitar guy but could never afford one. The thing I don’t like is the struggle. Vintage guitars don’t always play in tune, they can be noisy, troublesome, and finicky. So, when I approached this, I said let’s take what makes vintage guitars special and fix all of the things that make them challenging.”
He had a lot of success in Washington state, where he started, moving from one bigger building to another.
“And then COVID happened,” he says. “Then, the rioting and everything, and it made things extremely difficult for us. It was no longer a safe place to raise a family, and the way of life didn’t align with how we wanted to live.”
So, he and his family headed to Nashville, where he was already doing business with artists buying his guitars.
“We wanted to be part of a community and be in a small town, and we found this building in Mount Pleasant. We fell in love with it and the people here. It’s been amazing.”
Marvin has an exceptional team that shares his passion for creating one-of-a-kind guitars. To learn more about Casey Marvin and Veritas Guitars visit veritasguitars.com.
By Jason Zasky
As the owner and chairman of the board for Columbia-based WireMasters, Inc., David Hill has long been a fixture in the local business community. But in the past 15 years, he’s also been pursuing his passion for preserving the history of Columbia and Maury County.
Most notably, Hill and his wife currently own three historic properties in Columbia, namely: the Mayes-Hatcher house; the Skipwith-Harlan home; and The Depot at Union Station.
The first of his purchases was the Mayes-Hatcher house—aka Mayes Manor—in November 2007, which was built by Samuel Fulton Mayes on the eve of the Civil War.
“I was in Florida considering retirement, and upon returning home, I learned that the Mayes House (in Columbia’s historic district of West 6th St.) was going to be sold at auction two days later,” recalls Hill. Long story short, Hill paid $480,000 for the property, “which everybody thought was crazy,” because the home was a “total mess,” as he puts it.
“The house was basically used as a warehouse from 1968-2007, and the roof was leaking, and the plaster was falling in, and the chandeliers were gone,” relates Hill, “so I restored it back to its glory. Now, if you go inside, you think you’re going into a museum. All the furnishings are to the period when it was built.”
Similarly, the Skipwith home—which was built circa 1811 for Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene’s daughter and her husband—was dilapidated and in danger of falling down.
“When I bought Skipwith in 2011, it had been on the market for at least three years. If I hadn’t purchased it, the house wouldn’t have lasted three or four more years,” opines Hill, before adding that he did a “complete restoration” and “got it out of the situation it was in.”
Last but certainly not least, Hill went on to purchase Union Station, which opened on Nov. 13, 1903, and
was used for passenger travel until 1966 and freight traffic through 1982.
“It was brought to my attention that it was on the Top 10 list of the most endangered historic properties in the state of Tennessee,” says Hill, which motivated him to purchase it and begin searching for the materials needed to restore the building to what he describes as “better than new” condition. That included a trip to East Tennessee, where Tennessee pink marble is quarried.
“(The Depot) had been totally stripped of every beautiful aspect that was once there. All the doors were off the hinges, and all the glass was broken. All the plaster was coming off. It was a complete restoration, and no expense was spared in doing it right. I tell people now that’s it’s better than it ever was, and it really is,” says Hill, before noting that the station now has marble baseboards and marble dividers in the bathrooms, like it did in the distant past.
But Hill’s interest in preserving history isn’t limited to architecture.
He also has three authentic log cabins (built in the 1820s-30s) that he moved to his farm, which also happens to be home to a small herd of Buffalo.
“They are beautiful to see—majestic animals—and fit in with my love for American history,” says Hill, who values the idea of “preserving history for the people who come after me. After I’m gone, these things will hopefully be around for a long time.”
And while The Depot and the above-referenced homes aren’t open to the public, tours are available from time to time. For instance, the Skipwith-Harlan-Hill house will be on the Maury Home Christmas Tour this year.
“We finished the restoration of The Depot in 2014, and it’s been on the Maury Home Christmas Tour at least twice,” says Hill, before revealing that there’s a third-floor conference room that Wiremasters uses for executive meetings.
“I’ve always said that WireMasters is one of the best-kept secrets in Maury County. A lot of people don’t even know we’re here,” offers Hill, despite the fact that the company has grown exponentially since he got his start in the warehouse when the operation was just three years old.
“The company was small when I purchased it,” notes Hill. “It had 11 employees and was doing about $9 million in annual sales with one location. Now we have 14 locations in three countries, and we employ over 400 people globally and are knocking on the door of $300 million annually.”
That said, Hill’s philosophy about hiring—and who to hire—hasn’t changed in the intervening years.
“I enjoy helping people to try and get ahead, and we should share our blessings because if we do that, everybody wins,” he begins, emphasizing how WireMasters is always looking to hire.
“We love to hire local people and people we know in the community,” he concludes. “It’s all about commitment. I believe if you really commit to something, you’ll be successful.”
By Pam Windsor
By Pam Windsor
A typical workday finds Jill Harper painting in her home studio in Spring Hill, her dog Daisy Mae, right there at her feet. Harper always loved art as a hobby, but a little more than a decade ago, she found herself able to devote more time to it.
“I grew up drawing and doing art and always enjoyed it,” she explains. “Then, when I had my second son, and I started staying home with them, I wanted to do something on the side. I started doing local craft shows and art shows. Then I started getting into stores, and it became a full-time job for me. It’s amazing. I love it so much!”
Her paintings, which vary in size and subject matter, have become very popular with customers in the stores that display her work, like Vintage 615 in Spring Hill, the Faded Farmhouse in Columbia, and Mercantile 1858 with locations in Franklin and Arrington.
“I paint churches, barns, flowers, but I do love seasonal pieces, too,” she says. “Because when people collect, they can get additional paintings to trade out. If you have a fall piece out, when it’s time for Christmas, you can put a new one in the same spot.”
She also paints local landmarks, showcasing famous and familiar spots such as the Ryman, the Franklin Theater, Arrington Vineyards, and others. Harper was born in Memphis but moved to Franklin when she was 12 years old. She has a rich appreciation for the area’s history, as well as history in general. She has a degree in Human Ecology-Housing and Design from Tennessee Tech.
“I especially love painting some of the older landmarks because there’s so much history and character to them. I learned a lot about architecture in school and just love it.”
She uses acrylic/latex paint to create a textured feel that sometimes gives her paintings a vintage look. She’s passionate, too, about experimenting with different colors.
“That’s another reason I like design - is color,” she says. “I love choosing different color palettes and keeping and adding color in, but making it neutral, also. So, it can still match if you change your colors.”
In addition to the artwork she sells at area stores, Harper does quite a commission work. It can include everything from custom paintings for someone’s home that incorporates a specific wall color within the painting itself to create a perfect match, to paintings of buildings and landmarks with special meaning.
“I’ve done a lot of churches where people get married. I paint for some realtors, and I’ll do closing gifts such as a painting of the home they sold if it was a family home, or a new home. It’s a lot of fun.”
She never dreamed when she started pursuing her art on a part-time level, it would work out so well.
“When I started doing it on the side, I had no expectations. I feel the community here really supports artists and small businesses, and I guess that’s why it works. And I’m also thankful to the shop owners because they’ve been so good to me. Being in the shops is a huge blessing because that’s not always easy.”
Harper, who has a strong faith, says she’s grateful to be able to do what she loves.
“On the back of my business card, it says, ‘I love using the talent God gave me.’ I truly believe there’s so much talent, not in me, but in the world. And for me to be able to do this, I know it’s God leading it.”
To learn more about her art, visit www.jillharperdesigns.com
By Pam Windsor
Wynn Varble has written many songs through the years with cuts by Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, and others. But country music fans are likely most familiar with the three that went to No. 1: "Have You Forgotten?" by Darryl Worley, "Waitin' on a Woman" by Brad Paisley, and "A Little More Country Than That" by Easton Corbin.
Varble, who lives in Maury County, discovered a love for traditional country music as a young boy growing up on his family's farm in Georgia. By the age of 14, he'd learned to play the guitar and was already writing his own songs.
"Of course, they were terrible," he says with a laugh.
But the spark was there, and he knew he wanted to write and become a songwriter.
"I saw an Austin City Limits episode," he recalls, "and Whitey Shafer, Hank Cochran, Floyd Tillman, and a bunch of old songwriters were on there. And they were passing the guitar back and forth, playing songs they'd written for other people, and they were having so much fun. And I said that's what I want to do."
He headed for Nashville at the age of 22.
"I had a cousin that was a tape copy guy at Combine Music which was one of the biggest publishers in Nashville. And he played me some songs that were coming in and being written, and I thought, man, I don't have any songs that are that good. I've got to go do some more living, so I'll have some stuff to write about. So, I left for 10 years."
He played music at clubs, worked the horse show circuit for several years, and hitchhiked around the country. Once he felt he'd "got a little livin" under his belt, he returned to Nashville. That was 1992.
Working side jobs to support himself, Varble focused on the craft of songwriting. Soon, people were recording his songs, and in 1996, he had his first song, "Fit to be Tied Down," recorded by a major artist.
"They took me over to the record label to play the cut. And it was very surreal to see a guy I'd heard on the radio, Sammy Kershaw, singing one of my songs."
It would take another six or seven years before he had his first big hit with "Have You Forgotten," a song he and Darryl Worley wrote together after the 9/11 attacks.
The song resonated with a wounded America. Varble was asked to sing it at a rally at Marshall University. Before the performance, he met a New York City firefighter who asked to stand beside him onstage.
"He'd been there cleaning up the stuff after 9/11, and digging out the bodies, and he shared some stories," Varble says. "It blew my mind when he told me how important this song was to them, and how it kept them driving on when they were so exhausted."
Varble took to the stage and sang, and as he got to the final chorus, the firefighter was overcome with emotion.
"He threw his arms around me," Varble says, "and was hugging me while I was still singing. And I was trying not to squall. It was really something, I'll tell you."
His most recent No. 1, "A Little More Country Than That," is a co-write with songwriters Don Poythress, and fellow Maury County resident Rory Feek.
Varble says song ideas can come from anywhere, and collaborating often helps because writers can toss ideas back and forth.
He still writes daily, and even after doing it for so many years, he still loves it.
"The process of writings songs is still as fun to me as it ever was. You just do what you do, and every once in a while, you write one that'll stick."
To learn more about Wynn Varble visit: https://www.wynnvarble.com
By Jason Zasky
There’s no shortage of places to visit and sites to see in Maury County. No one knows this better than Kellye Murphy and Erin Jaggers, the two individuals at the forefront of promoting the county—and the county seat—to the visiting public.
For her part, Murphy is Tourism & Marketing Director for Visit Columbia Tennessee, the official tourism entity for the City of Columbia, and has been in her role for the past five years. Jaggers has been Director of the Maury County Visitors Bureau since 2012, where she works alongside an assistant director, office manager, and two part-time visitor center assistants to promote and market Columbia, Mount Pleasant, Spring Hill, and all points in between.
“Our focus is promoting the history, adventure, art, music, shopping, dining” and events in the county, says Jaggers, including the Mid-South Barbecue Festival, held each October in Mount Pleasant, to name but one example.
“Adventure tourism is also big around here,” she adds, with mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and kayaking four of the more popular endeavors. “People come from all over for the antique trail, and we have several Civil War driving tours,” not to mention historic Rippavilla Plantation (Spring Hill), the Maury Country Fair (September 1-5 in 2022) and Maury County Rodeo (July 15-16, 2022). Plus, a diverse array of eateries, boutiques, and music venues sprinkled throughout the region.
As for Columbia, one of its premier attractions is the ancestral home of the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk, located on West 7th St., just a block from the iconic Maury County courthouse square.
In terms of sports & leisure, “Try canoeing the Duck River, biking the Chickasaw Trace Park trails, watching a softball or soccer tournament at Ridley Sports Complex, or trail walking at Yanahli,” says Murphy. Never mind Columbia’s signature annual events, like Mule Day (April) and the Columbia Main Street Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting each December.
Two monthly events are also becoming increasingly popular among locals and tourists alike.
“We want to invite everyone to come out for First Fridays, a family-friendly event the first Friday of each month in downtown Columbia from 5 to 8 p.m.,” Murphy begins. “Shops stay open a little later, musicians perform on the street corners, there are artisan booths and vendors on the sidewalks, and a variety of food trucks serve up their specialties in and around downtown Columbia.”
There’s also Cars & Coffee, which takes place every third Saturday in downtown Columbia from 7 to 10 a.m., where “people show off their favorite vintage cars, muscle cars, hot rods and exotics in Columbia Motor Alley,” she adds.
And don’t forget all that’s been happening in the Columbia Arts District, which Murphy says will undergo a further transformation in the next year or two.
“This fresh facelift will bring wide sidewalks, benches in gathering spaces, lighting, and opportunities for public art,” she says. “This new streetscape will make the Arts District prime space for arts-related, outdoor events.”
Better yet, what’s happening today seems only the beginning of an ongoing renaissance that promises to continue for many years to come.
“I believe Columbia will continue to be a vibrant, growing community and a destination for people seeking the ideal community to raise a family. Downtown will see more residential options and businesses developing. The Columbia Arts District will continue to grow and blossom into a true artist community. As the business community expands, it makes sense that a conference center is in our future,” she adds.
More than that, Murphy hopes Columbia and the rest of the county come to exemplify all that is great about living in one of the fastest-growing parts of Middle Tennessee.
“I hope to see great strides made in cultural diversity, conversation, and connectivity between Columbia’s varying communities, who each have their unique stories and culture to share.”
For more information: VisitColumbiaTN.com ExperienceMaury.com or the Experience Maury Tennessee app
by Jason Zasky
The first thing you need to know about Larry’s Country Diner is that it’s 100% unscripted. “Our show is improv, and you can tell it’s improv, and you never know what is going to happen next,” begins the show’s founder and namesake, Larry Black, before noting that they have never stopped tape in the course of producing more than a hundred episodes in the past 13 years. “I’ve told everyone: We’re going to do one pass. If you screw up, you have to get out of it because we’re not stopping,” he says proudly. The second thing you should know about Larry’s Country Diner is that it’s one of the most popular shows on RFD-TV, where it airs on Thursday and Saturday nights. The down-home variety show combines interviews, music, and entertainment. It features regular characters that include Black and announcer Keith Bilbrey (of Grand Ole Opry Live and Music City Roots fame), not to mention waitress Renae Johnson and church lady Nadine. It’s taped live in front of a studio audience in Columbia, Tenn.—in an intimate, country diner setting. “It’s a very personal show,” says Black. “There are a lot of warm fuzzies, and people feel like we’re family.” That feeling extends to the show’s guest musical artists, who appreciate the opportunity to perform their songs for an enthusiastic, country music-friendly audience. “The thing that hits me the hardest in a positive way is when artists tell us the impact their appearance has had,” says Black. “The Oak Ridge Boys came up to me once and said they got more comments about being on our show than they did when they were on The Carson Show.” Artists also enjoy the chance to banter with the show’s regular characters. Black recalls one occasion when he “got smart” with Vince Gill. “He responded with the same kind of smart-aleck comment, and I said, ‘I don’t have to take that. This is my show!’ Then I got up and walked out,” recalls Black with a chuckle. “But then I was outside the diner wondering how I’m going to get back in. I decided to come back through the serving door with a tray of food and served a table. He just kept laughing and singing.” Moreover, when mistakes are made, they only add to the charm and allure of the show. One time Mickey Gilley forgot the words to “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” offers Black. “We took a commercial break, and when we came back, I had him start up again.” Larry Black’s Favorite Musical Guests As for some of his favorite musical guests, Black is quick to highlight Gene Watson, Exile, and Bobby Bare, among many others. “My current favorites are the Malpass Brothers,” says Black, referring to the “retro” duo of Christopher and Taylor Malpass. “They are like the Smothers Brothers except they are country, and they have a spontaneity that nobody else comes to the table with. “The next three years are going to be real climbing years for them,” adds Black. “My prognostication is that they will be Grand Ole Opry members within the next couple of years.” The Future of Larry’s County Diner As for the future of the show, Black makes it sound as if Larry’s Country Diner might be changing, in part because he’s getting into his late 70s. “For me, we’re pretty much at the end of the road. My mouth still works, my brain still works—at least partially—and I love the people. But when they get to the point where they have to duct-tape me to my chair, then I probably have to stop,” he admits. He also notes that the show has already hosted most of the possible musical guests who are available. “We’ve never had Dolly Parton, and we’ve never had Garth Brooks,” he says, referring to a handful of possible country artists that likely remain out of reach for one reason or another. And with his long film, television, and radio career winding down, Black says he and his wife Luann are thinking of moving from Bellevue to Columbia, as his youngest son, Jared, and five of his 10 grandchildren live in Maury County. “Now that we are getting older, we thought if we get closer, it would be easier for them to come to be of assistance to us. For more information visit larryscountrydiner.com
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Charity Kimes says the idea to create a program to provide snacks for kids in school evolved over time. The seeds were planted during her 27-years as a speech pathologist when she worked in various public schools. "I think that was kind of the very beginning of me coming home and sharing things with my husband about the need in different schools and different areas," says Kimes. Her husband, Bradd, began thinking more about what they could do to help. It led to them creating Bright Apple in 2019. It is a non-profit organization that started small, but now, with the help of lots of volunteers and support throughout the community, it delivers some 200,000 daily snacks annually to kids in six Maury County schools. Kimes says the goal behind getting healthy snacks to kids during the day is to help keep them alert and ready to learn. "Most schools start feeding kids lunch at around 10 o'clock in the morning to get all of them through the line. And that's unfortunate because a lot of our schools don't dismiss until around 3. So, if a teacher is trying to teach reading at 1:30 in the afternoon and that child ate lunch at 10, you can see where there's going to be a problem with them paying attention and focusing." The program focuses on elementary schools where kids learn fundamentals that will carry them through life. "If you don't learn to be a proficient reader by the third grade, research shows things start stacking against yu. From third grade to fourth grade, you really stop being taught to read, and you start 'reading to learn.' So, if you don't get the reading down by then, as you go on to the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, you'll keep getting further behind," says Cimes. Collecting and delivering snacks to school kids isn't as simple as it might seem. In addition to the cost factor, there are specific requirements for what's considered an approved snack under national nutritional guidelines. "When you're taking snacks into the school system, they have to be USDA Smart Snacks," Kimes says, "and that means there's nutritional quality. They can be things like fresh fruit, and we do quite a bit of that, but it's not all fruit. Since we deliver once a week, we start out with fresh fruit, and by the end of the week, it might be a Nutri-Grain bar or something similar." Bright Apple was off and running in 2019, and then the COVID pandemic hit. But while it could have caused a significant setback, Kimes says it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "When COVID hit, the community really got behind us. We were able to put together a website, and people just started donating, which was amazing. Before we knew it, we were in our dining room going round and round a table, putting five snacks in a Ziploc bag." Parents were able to pick up the snacks at the schools. Bright Apple currently uses a distributor to package and deliver the snacks to area schools. It's all funded by donations, most of them coming in consistently, monthly. "We appreciate all donations," Kimes says, "but the monthly donors are the ones really making this happen because we need to know month to month what we have coming in and what we can provide." She's been pleased by the strong community support that's allowed them to grow so quickly. "It started with one school, then two, then three. At this point, we now have six schools and can see, in the foreseeable future, adding more. We are also talking to people about doing this in other counties. But we're really happy it started here." And happy, as well, to see it making such a difference. "I love the feedback we get from teachers and even some parents about the behavioral changes. Kids are focusing better, and all from a banana or an apple at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. If we can help these teachers help these kids with something so simple, that's a win." To learn more about Bright Apple or donate, visit: brightapple.org