knoxville news
knoxville news entertainment rss linkedin twitter facebook contact smoky mountains knoxville legal notices travel knoxville sports business knoxville daily sun lifestyle food knoxville daily sun advertising about knoxville daily sun

Finding old-timey music on the outskirts of Nashville at Fiddle & Pick
By Tom Adkinson
August 25, 2023

social media share facebook share twitter share

pegram gretchen priest may
Jam session organizer Gretchen Priest-May founded the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee in Pegram. Image by Tom Adkinson

PEGRAM, Tenn. – Nashville is famous for the blaring country music of Lower Broadway’s honky tonks, but just a few miles away, the entertainment is decidedly more restrained at the Music Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee.

That is the formal name. Most people just call it the Fiddle & Pick.

The Fiddle & Pick is in Pegram, a bump in the road along U.S. 70 west of the city. It is across the highway from an active railroad line 20 miles – and worlds apart – from Nashville’s honky tonk heaven.

pegram jammers
A dozen or more Tuesday night jam session participants play for the joy of playing at Fiddle & Pick. Image by Tom Adkinson


Music here is acoustic – simple, subdued, soothing and artistic.

“Fiddle & Pick is a work of the heart,” said Gretchen Priest-May, professional musician, music educator and founder of the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee.

Most of the time, the Fiddle & Pick is a music school, where highly skilled and award-winning Nashville musicians teach private lessons. However, there are times when the front door opens for you to stroll in with your own musical instrument and join a jam session. If you’re not a picker, you are welcome to find a seat and let the music wash over you.

Fiddle & Pick maintains an online schedule of jam sessions and other events, and it’s always prudent to check the calendar before driving out into the country.

pegram guitar player
A guitar player studiously watches the work of another guitar player during a jam session. Image by Tom Adkinson

All of these events are a step back in time and place to where you can experience the simple joy of acoustic music.

It’s easy to feel at home at the Fiddle & Pick because it occupies a farmhouse built in 1903 in rural Cheatham County. The “performance” area is the old home’s expanded living room.

It later became a general store, complete with U.S. post office. Remnants of those years are visible, particularly in a back corner, where an honor-system concession stand operates. (Just drop your money in the glass jar. Tips appreciated.)

Elsewhere in the building is a labyrinth of small rooms for music lessons. A wall in a back room has become an autograph collecting location (Alison Krauss, Pam Tillis, Doug Dillard and others).

mandolin appalachian jam
The resonating notes of a well-played mandolin are part of the mix during an old-time, string band and Appalachian jam. Image by Tom Adkinson

Priest-May and other hosts provide a modicum of organization at jam sessions. There are jams two Tuesday nights a month for old-time, string band and Appalachian music. The two other Tuesday nights are for Irish music.

Jams are casual to the max.

A cluster of musicians gathers in the heritage center’s main space and awaits someone’s inspiration to start a tune known by all – or at least by most. Some of the pickers just feel their way along, trying to learn chords, patterns and rhythm changes. Others could pick these tunes in their sleep.

On a recent Tuesday night, 13 musicians gathered around the fiddle-toting Priest-May. There were a few guitars, a couple of fiddles, a bass, an autoharp, a banjo and a mandolin.

Someone would quietly suggest a tune. Soft responses – positive and negative – emerged until a consensus was reached and a key selected.

banjo fiddle and pick
No jam session at Fiddle & Pick would be complete without a banjo or two – or more – since jams are for anyone who shows up. Image by Tom Adkinson

“OK, will someone please start?” a plaintive voice said. All of a sudden, everyone was playing and playing and playing. It was like being transported to a farm community social in the 1890s.

When the tune wound down, smiles of happiness and murmurs of appreciation spread among the musicians. Instead of applauding, the few spectators simply soaked in the experience. The pickers weren’t playing for affirmation.

The spectators – seated in a hodge-podge collection of rocking chairs, upholstered living room chairs circa 1960, wooden folding chairs and metal stack chairs – were witnessing the depth of Nashville’s musical talent pool.

fiddle and pick concessions
The concession system is simple at Fiddle & Pick. Everything’s a dollar, and money goes into a wide-mouth jar. Image by Tom Adkinson

Among the pickers were a veteran of the Nashville Bluegrass Band, others who have recorded or toured with artists such as Randy Travis, Kathy Mattea, Lyle Lovett and Charlie Daniels and one with extensive credentials playing with chamber orchestras.

Sitting in with them – and fundamentally their peers for the night – were veritable beginners. All were there for the pure joy of playing.

Trip-planning resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the third edition of the book, which is available at

knoxville daily sun

Knoxville Daily Sun
2023 Image Builders
User Agreement | Privacy Policy