Highland Rim Music & Art owned by Mike and Carol Neal has a vibe all its very own. Cool and funky with just the right touch of eclectic charm, this place absolutely oozes artsy appeal. I’ve been here before, so I’ve already planned my strategy before I even get inside. First stop? Milkshake. Vanilla with a shot of espresso, because why not?? It's a million degrees outside and I deserve it, or at least that's what I'm gonna tell myself. Mike is behind the counter and takes my order. I can hardly wait! Carol, an accomplished artist whose works you can find featured in the store as well as throughout the state, is waiting for me on the spindle back bench by the front window. It’s here I join her to discuss the stores unique inventory, starving artists, quilt squares and The Velvet Fog… don’t worry, we’ll come back to that in a minute ;-). I can hear the milkshake blender whirring in the background.
Brook: Tell me a little bit about how you got started.
CAROL: (defers to Mike for the date, they narrow down the opening to somewhere around 2001, so 15 years or so..) Mike started with just the music and some of my art in another location on Main Street that used to be known as “The Collection”. The business was very small for a few months, just to get a start. (Brook: I remember “The Collection”! They used to have fruit tea. It was delicious!) We’ve actually had several locations, but we first came to downtown on East Main Street before the renovation and when the renovation was finished we moved in to the current location on West Main. We’ve been here for several years and we really like this location. When we moved here, the Park Theater was being renovated so we branched out into food just before it opened to accommodate that crowd. The gun shop was added because that’s what Mike knows about and likes.
Brook: So you started with just the music and art, then you added the food and firearms after that.. is there anything up and coming that we should expect from you guys?? This is a pretty eclectic store!
CAROL: I think we’re out of room! One of the fun things we do is have music jam sessions on Saturdays mornings, so we have to leave room for that!
Brook: Yes! Tell me about your Saturday’s..
CAROL: Well, we’ve got some regulars, but anyone who wants to can come. We never know who is going to show up! Sometimes when people are in town visiting they will join in. We had a guy who played harmonica here from Miami a few weeks ago who just happened by and asked if he could sit in and jam with the group! He was fabulous! We never know who is going to be here and everyone is welcome! We're usually here from around 11am until about 2pm each Saturday.
(Mike has just appeared from behind the counter and hands me my milkshake, needless to say, I’m probably gonna be useless for the rest of this interview)
Brook: So you can just show up with your instrument and join right in? You and Mike play too, right?
CAROL: Yes! And it’s very family friendly. It’s a lot of roots music like bluegrass and folk.. some blues.. I play the autoharp and guitar, Mike plays the guitar, mandolin, ukulele and sings. We join in when we can, when there aren’t many customers in the store.
Brook: Have you always done music and art?
CAROL: When I was a child I always loved to do art, but when I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had to take an art appreciation class as an elective and that’s when the bells and whistles went off! I thought “this is what I’m going to do”! I got my teaching certificate, but I don’t teach art in school. I can add art into anything I’m teaching. Children who struggle in school can be very successful with art. I personally love to make art out of found things that have been dug up in Warren County.
Mike was raised with a lot of music. His mother, father, and sister are all musicians and singers. Mike used to be the lead singer for a local group called “Just Passing Through” that was very popular here a long time ago. He sings now with a group called “The Company I Keep”. Have you ever heard Mike sing? He’s an excellent singer!
Brook: No, I have not, but I would LOVE to! Would he do it right now??
CAROL: Come some Saturday and we’ll get him to sing. One of our Saturday regulars calls him The Velvet Fog because he has such a great voice! (Brook: (giggling uncontrollably) The Velvet Fog! I LOVE IT! It's so Elvis...)
Brook: So you’re not intending to expand past what the store is currently offering, is there anything exciting coming up? Any events you have planned?
CAROL: We just like to participate in whatever is going on around town. We’ve kind of found our niche market with our Saturday jams and that has worked out really well for us. We just try to complement the other businesses on Main Street so that there’s always stuff to do downtown.
The bell on the front door dings announcing the arrival of customers. I think they might be there for a guitar lesson with Rick Mase. Mike greets them while Carol and I finish up. I loudly slurp the last drops of milkshake from my cup and thank them both for their time as I head out the door.
Highland Rim Music and Art is located at 108 W. Main St. in McMinnville, TN ~ (931) 507-0507
Saturday Jam starts around 11am and usually ends around 2pm.
Highland Rim Music and Art is a proud member of Main Street McMinnville.