August 23, 2012, is the date a world famous 'Gang' invaded a home in Rutherford County.
That's the date members of the iconic gospel-singing 'Chuck Wagon Gang' stepped into my heart, not with just their music, but with their kindness."
"The Chuck Wagon folk is one 'gang' we welcome to our city," welcomed Smyrna Town Manager Mark O'Neal.
This is the kind of Gang police might consider giving an escort 'into town' as opposed to 'get-out-of-town.'
This Gang's fateful real life reality performance was not on a big stage venue or on national television. Witnessing and fellowship was the only currency involved.
Instead, August 23, 2012, was the date the constant-in-demand, booked year-in- advance Gang came off the road, stopped their bus engine, stayed the night (on cramped bus) at an impersonal super market parking lot in downtown Smyrna, Tenn., in order to be in place the next morning to visit, one-on-one, a dear friend with prolonged health issues.
"We would love to play God's music for your ailing friend, right there by his sickbed," chorused Shaye Smith, the Chuck Wagon Gang's managing owner, who harmonizes the alto part of the Gang's seemingly immortal and unique sound.
That generous offer came back in July 2012 when wife Pat and I were interviewing the Gang after they performed at nearby Middle Tennessee State University.
It was this writer's personal pleasure to drive pretty gal Gang performers Shaye and Julie (soprano) Hudson, along with Shaye's adorable one-year-old daughter, Chloe, to and from their touring road abode (bus) to the residence of John and Hilda Stuart.
John Stuart, age 80, has been in and out of hospitals multiple times in recent years. Male Gang members Jeremy (instrumentalist/ vocalist/ arranger/ history buff) Stephens, Stan (tenor) Hill and Buster (guitar/bus driver) Kendrick chorused their agreement to volunteer
their limited time and vast talents to minister in song for the pleasure of ailing Mr. Stuart, father to Jennifer Stuart and her brother, country music performer Marty Stuart.
"I've loved the Chuck Wagon Gang for years, back to when the Gang came to our hometown Philadelphia, Miss.," confirmed Mr. Stuart.
"I've got more than 20 tapes/recordings of the Chuck Wagon Gang, dating back to the 1940s," echoed Hilda 'Mammie' Stuart, John's wife and retired Murfreesboro bankingexecutive.
Before the music, Stuart and East Tennessee mountain resident Hill shared country boy stories.
"Went hunting with a few buddies, when my mixed-mutt of a pup out-did all the high-priced hunters (dogs) bred specifically for bird hunting," Stuart stepped back in time. "One of the city boys offered me $50 on the spot, if I'd sell my dog.
"'Can't do it,'" I replied. "A few days passed, and he came back with thousand dollar offer. I had to turn him down again..."
Hill recalled one of his own 'special dogs.'
"I cried for days when I accidentally ran over our dog," Hill shared.
After sharing stories and swapping old family photographs, the Gang broke out in song, starting with "Burning Bush" and "Old Rugged Cross."
Tears of thankfulness slid down appreciative John Stuart's face as the Gang's voices harmonized late into the morning, leading up to the last minute before they had to board their bus for a four-hour drive to perform that night in Grayville, Ill.
"It was mighty nice of ya'll to come by and visit a spell," Mr. Stuart shared in his best slow-and-accented Southern drawl. Stay tuned, for the Chuck Wagon Gang has consented to coming soon for a concert at Smyrna's new Parkway Baptist Church located near I-24 on Lee Victory Parkway.