Lincoln Hamilton slings a guitar over his shoulder, straightens the microphone, and launches his band into a breakneck rendition of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Its Friday night in Nashville, Ind., (pop. 950) and this is what the audience has come to heargood old-time music in a family atmosphere.
For most of his 40 years, Hamilton has been singing and playing on the stage at the Little Nashville Opry. Ive been here more or less all my life, says Hamilton, who began performing with his father at the age of 7. Its almost like a second home.
Back in 1979, the 2,000-seat music hall was just an old barn with a Mail Pouch tobacco ad on it, sitting in a farm field. Lincolns dad, Dewayne Hamilton, and some friends bought the rundown building, renovated it into a family music hall (no alcohol allowed), and christened it the Little Nashville Oprybecause it was considerable smaller than its grand namesake in Tennessee.
Dewayne eventually bought out each of his partners until he and his wife, Esther, were the sole owners. When Dewayne died in 1996, Lincoln became co-owner with his mom.
Over the years, many of the nations country music legendsincluding Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jenningshave graced the stage of the Little Nashville Opry, along with a steady stream of aspiring newcomers and talented local entertainers.
Country music isnt Nashvilles only connection with Tennessee. When Brown County agent Banner Brummet laid out the town in 1836, he called it Jacksonburg in honor of President Andrew Jackson. Because Indiana already had a Jacksonburg, the name was later changed to Nashville as a tribute to Brummets former home in Tennessee.
Tucked into the rolling hills of central Indiana, Nashville has long been known for its country charm. Artists first came to the area in the 1870s on sketching tours, traveling there by horse and buggy from Indianapolis and elsewhere, to take inspiration from the natural scenery. Today, the towns art galleries, rows of gift shops, and proximity to Brown County State Park, with its expansive forests and scenic overlooks, attract 3.5 million visitors a year, making it Indianas most popular tourist destination.
This is the best thing we have, our natural beauty, says resident Sam Johnson.
Liana Franklin, owner of the Totem Post shop, grew up in Nashville and has seen it change over the years. When my parents started here in 1952, there were only five shops and now there are over 300, Franklin says. Weve got people who have been coming here for three generations.
Nashville also has become a stepping stone for aspiring country entertainers, who take their turn every Friday night from March through November on the stage at the Little Nashville Opry. For 17-year-old Merri Grace Spencer of Franklin, Ind., the Little Nashville Opry is a place to polish her singing skills. Finishing a strong rendition of Unchained Melody, Spencer bows and waves to acknowledge the loud applause. Soon shell be signing autographs in the lobby.
Taking his turn, Tom McGannon of Scottsburg, Ind., smiles a shy George Strait grin before launching into The Fireman. Joking with the audience, the newlywed McGannon seems to aim his most flattering comments to his bride sitting near the stage.
For local performers, the Little Nashville Opry is a chance to find a following and maybe get a step closer to the dream of performing at the other Opry in Tennessee. If you have a Nashville, you have to have an Opry, Hamilton reasons.