Where Country Music Swings…in Chesapeake

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Where Country Music Swings…in Chesapeake

By JOHN DOWNS, SR.

Dan Mumford on Steel Top guitar

Dan Mumford on Steel Top guitar

For a couple of hours each Saturday night, world famous country night spots like Gilley’s and Billy Bob’s in Texas have nothing on the Hardee’s at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Centerville in Chesapeake. The traditional fast food family restaurant undergoes a weekly transformation for country music fans that many say is the best show in town. Stools and tables are moved to the side to make way for speakers. The dress code changes from beach flip flops to cowboy boots, and the decidedly senior crowd fills the booths to enjoy a genuine country jam session.

The crowd begins to arrive an hour early. Many come to have a bite to eat. Most are here to see old friends and reminisce about the good old days of country music. Well before showtime at 7 pm, the parking lot is full and overflows to neighboring businesses. Inside, the atmosphere becomes pure honky tonk. Veteran country performers are setting up microphones and amplifiers. They carefully remove their treasured guitars from their protective cases. Tuning up begins with a great deal of playful banter between the artists. It’s almost as much fun as the actual performance.

The Country Rebels Perform

The Country Rebels Perform

On this night, Bob Hall and the Country Rebels are performing classic country renditions of memorable hits such as Waltz Across Texas, Oh Lonesome Me, Your Cheatin’ Heart, and Blue Spanish Eyes. Along with Bob, the Country Rebels consists of Dan Mumford playing the “steel top” guitar and Stoney Agee on bass. Featured performer with this talented group is local country music legend Tee Meroney. Country music enthusiasts remember Tee’s popular group Nashville East. Tee’s long and memorable career includes stints with Grand Ole Opry host Little Jimmy Dickens and also playing with the undisputed “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin. Tee also recently released his latest CD of country classics on the Lure record label.

John Norris of Virginia Beach makes the weekly trip to Chesapeake just to enjoy the show. “All these guys are great artists but Tee is my favorite,” John says, “I’m here every Saturday night. You couldn’t keep me away.”

During most songs, the seating booths empty and the narrow restaurant aisles fill with cowboys and their dates waltzing or line dancing. Even those still seated are tapping their toes and have broad smiles on their faces.

Meanwhile, Bob announces a brief intermission and encourages the crowd to request their country favorite. A number of regulars use this opportunity to approach the musicians to share a story or simply say thank you for the entertainment.

“We all do this for the love of country music and because we love to entertain our fans,” Tee shares, speaking for the group, “All these guys are very talented professionals, and I’m delighted Bob included me.”

Stoney Agee on bass guitar

Stoney Agee on bass guitar

While the Country Rebels perform at birthdays, anniversaries and other special events for a modest fee, they are not paid for the Hardee’s gig. Long time fan and former country line dance instructor Joan Dodd, however, gives the local crowd an opportunity to express their appreciation for the free show. “I causally walk around the restaurant once a night with a small wicker basket,” she explains, “Patrons can drop a dollar or two in the basket which helps to defray the cost of the show. The artists appreciate it but there is absolutely no pressure to contribute. It’s purely voluntary. The local country music community is really like a family and we all help whenever we can.”

After the break, Bob Hall begins the second set with an audience request, “Walkin’ The Floor Over You”, an Ernest Tubb classic. Once again the aisles fill with Texas two-steppers having the time of their lives.

In between songs Bob Hall makes a strong pitch for support of the Virginia Country Music Association. “Everyone who loves country music should join,” Bob urges, “It’s only $15.00 a year “ Tee Merony, former board member and president of the VCMA, is featured in the association’s monthly newsletter. For information about joining and to see what’s happening on the local country music scene, visit the site at:  www.virginiacma.com.

A Slow "Waltz Across Texas"

A Slow “Waltz Across Texas”

As the 9:30 pm ending of the show approaches, the bulk of the enthusiastic crowd still remains. Red shirted Hardee’s wait staff scurry from table to table serving last minute orders. Empty Hardee’s iced tea cups dot the booths and tabletops. Tee’s corny homespun humor, his trademark and a crowd favorite, continues to the end. The professionalism of the artists really shines through as the last song is played with as much talent and enthusiasm as the first. There’s a feeling in the air that these guys and their fans would stay all night if time permitted.

At one time, a local country radio station had the call letters – WCMS. Supposedly, the letters stood for “Where Country Music Swings”. These days, country music swings each Saturday night in Chesapeake at the Hardee’s on Mount Pleasant Road, and it’s free. Grab your Stetson and your best gal and head on over!

Honky Tonk Movie email from Glenda Ennis on Vimeo.

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