When Julie and James Tucker tied the marital knot 25 years ago with a wedding that included a grand total of eight people, they had no premonition of where they would be standing today.
Last Saturday afternoon, the couple produced a wedding for Mary and Scott Pastor of Grand Junction, Mich.
The groom took his first look at his bride in her wedding dress while the music of “Nobody but You” (a duet by Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani), filled the air in a homemade chapel named the Hitchin’ Post. Less than 12 minutes later, the joyful event, witnessed in front of six of the couple’s close friends, was complete.
It was another happy day in the Tuckers’ Mt. Juliet backyard, one of more than 250 weddings the couple has conducted over the past five years via their Tennessee Tiny Weddings. Here the maximum number allowed at nuptial events is 20 and may be as small as four, counting the bride and groom. Since the venue opened, it has hosted approximately 100 of the ceremonies consisting of the bare minimum number of attendees.
Describing their wedding venue in a nutshell, Julie said, “It is a sweet and simple, stress-free way to get married. Typically, I like to keep the number to 20 or less. Our average party would be about 10 guests.”
Julie and James serve as officiants at Tennessee Tiny Weddings, which proposes six options. The Wedding Time package has proven the most popular, allowing for six to 10 guests at a price of $950. Their fees range from $175 to $1,700.
The marriage model
The Tuckers met in 1993 while working at the Woodbine Post Office in Nashville. James, a mail carrier, has more than 30 years with the U.S. Postal Service, while Julie’s full-time job is managing their wedding venue.
“We got married at the Bridal Path Wedding Chapel in Donelson, and we actually had a tiny wedding. We had no guests and there were four in our bridal party,” said Julie, who grew up in Donelson. “I bet it cost $400 or $500. We all bought beautiful outfits and the bridal party was dressed to the nines.”
The idea for their laidback wedding place sprang from their devotion to their church family.
“Julie and I both do a lot of work at our local church, helping with the bus ministry, teaching and preaching. We’ve done that our whole marriage. In doing that I would be called upon to perform small weddings and funeral services,” said James, a Murfreesboro native.
“At one point, Julie took pictures of me doing a wedding in a small backyard, and then a friend asked me if I would do her wedding. I told her, ‘I don’t mind doing this, but it takes up time.’ Preparing for a wedding takes more than just the seven minutes or repeating vows. You have to get there early and stay after and it gets into a whole day. The problem I had was we weren’t charging anything, and they weren’t giving any tips. I thought, ‘Man, this is not working out good for me.’
“When I told Julie that she said, ‘I wonder what people charge to officiate a wedding?’ She did some research and at the time it was $300 to $800. I thought, “For that I might be able to fit weddings in my schedule.’ So, we began doing it as a small business, mostly we went everywhere but our own place, performing weddings in yards, houses and other venues.”
Julie shared how the two eventually brought the business to their home, saying, “My dad was very sick. I struggled with that (juggling work and caring for her father). Finally, James said, ‘Tell the people at work to take the job and shove it and go be with your dad.’ I got to spend the last two months of his life with him. He passed away on St. Patrick’s Day 2015.
“At that point I didn’t know what to do. One day at lunch a friend said, ‘Julie, why are you not having weddings in your backyard?’ That’s when Tennessee Tiny Weddings fell out of heaven.
It’s just grown and been amazing. Although it’s tiny, we do go into detail.”
Unique and memorable ceremonies
Julie recalled that the debut wedding they staged in their backyard “was kind of hilarious. We didn’t do anything. This wedding was a five-minute-or-less wedding. The couple had waited until the very last minute to be wed and had to have their paperwork into the county clerk’s office by the end of that day.
“Just imagine this to the music of Benny Hill, the officiant, the witness and the bride and groom pulling in the drive, everyone straight from work in uniforms, dashing to ‘the Love Shack’ for a shotgun wedding with the vows written by their 16-year-old daughter.”
Julie said the tiniest wedding she has held was simply the bride, groom, a witness and herself. She has broken her rule of a maximum of 20 and once allowed 31 guests on site.
The quickest ceremony she put together occurred one day when a couple called her at noon and the nuptials began at 3 p.m. “I don’t like it that rushed but it has happened,” she said, noting their clients must have a marriage certificate before the ceremony can begin.
The couple shared some other memorable stories about the weddings that have taken place in their yard.
“We had a small ceremony with maybe 12 guests in front of the Love Shack, 200 feet from the garage,” said James. “We were going to do a first look. The bride was gonna walk from the garage, and he was at the Shack with his back to her. I had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. She dressed in her gown and got in the car, and I opened the door of garage to drive the car out I began revving up the engine. The groom couldn’t stand it and looked and must have thought ‘who is this nut with the hot rod ruining my wedding?’ He had no idea she had been working behind the scenes to surprise him in that manner.”
Julie recalls another ceremony that created very different emotions.
“A couple in our area was celebrating their 20th anniversary with a re-enactment. It took the wife seven months to put everything together and it was a secret for her husband. They had just found out that he had leukemia. She wanted to celebrate their 20 years together as they began to celebrate the fight for his life. Their daughter danced at the wedding, and there was not a dry eye on the property,” said Julie.
Photo ops at the Bright Place
The Tuckers live on five acres they named the Bright Place, just across the Wilson County line in Davidson County.
Here couples can select from four backdrops: the Love Shack, their first original outdoor location (“this is where the magic began,” said Julie); the Hitchin’ Post, a covered rustic area illuminated by a vintage chandelier that fills the room with a Southern elegance with a décor that features barn wood and doors from 1790; the Reflection Pond, a 45-foot-diameter pool with a five-foot waterfall; and the Tiny Church in the Wildwood with its walk down a trail to a clearing secluded by evergreen trees.
The landscape abounds with colorful flowers across the seasons such as iris, Tennessee cone flower, marigolds, crepe myrtle, zinnia, buttercups, wildflowers as well as herbs and ferns.
Also parked around the grounds are seven vintage vehicles (they all have names) that include a 1923 Mercury industrial truck, a 1947 Allis-Chalmers tractor, a 1950 Chevy delivery van, a 1950 Chevy school bus, a 1957 Chevy truck, a 1959 Chevy tow truck (named Tow Mater, of course) and a 1963 Impala. All have proven to be popular spots for taking pictures.
“You really got to love rust to have a Tennessee Tiny Wedding,” quipped Julie. “We’ve just got lots of cute little photo ops.”
The couple takes turns officiating.
“Some people want more traditional so we give them an option for male or female (officiant), and during the initial consultation tell them that may change if something happens,” said James.
“Julie was supposed to do a ceremony, and the day before she performed a wedding at Opryland Hotel. She lost her voice because she had to speak so loudly over the sound of a waterfall. When that happened, all I had to do was get her notes and change the wording around.”
Tennessee Tiny Weddings has drawn newlyweds-to-be from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The Pastors, who wed here last Saturday, had vacationed in Nashville last year and liked the town, thus they decided to be married in Music City. Mary went on the Internet and found the Tennessee Tiny Weddings Facebook page.
“It had everything I wanted and all these places for taking pictures,” she recalled.
As for her wedding experience, she described it as, “Amazing. A perfect day. It’s beautiful here.”
According to Julie, during these extraordinary pandemic times the venue has been blessed by fulfilling its mission to offer sweet, simple, small and safe weddings.
“The coronavirus has affected the wedding world and everything in a horrible way,” she said. “Tennessee Tiny Weddings has been a blessing for couples to have a safe place to come because we do small weddings. Some brides ask me, ‘I don’t have to wear a mask, do I?’ I tell them, ‘No, honey.’ ”
There are fringe benefits for the Tuckers. They were able to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary here themselves a few weeks ago. Julie said what she enjoys most about the venture is “being able to work in my backyard. I love the people. The best thing is when people leave, they say it’s so peaceful.”
Added James, “Our goal is to under-promise and over-deliver. When they leave here, we want them to feel like they’re our friends and family. Really, it’s about the relationships, and isn’t that what is most important?”
Tennessee Tiny Weddings
The Mt. Juliet venue near Percy Priest Lake offers wedding, elopement and vow renewal ceremonies at morning, noon or evening by appointment. To keep things simple, smaller and safer, a maximum of 20 guests are allowed. The site has four backdrops: the Love Shack: the Hitchin’ Post, the Reflection Pond and the Tiny Church in the Wildwood. There are six packages with prices ranging from $175 (just the two of you) to $1,700 (16-20 guests). The betrothed must have a marriage license, and no outside officiants are allowed. Phone: (615) 686-8367. Address: 4821 Alvin Sperry Rd., Mt. Juliet. Website: tntinyweddings.com.