Last year, a Curious Nashville reader noticed an unusual sign on the side of the road. Like many of the most intriguing questions we receive, answering it demanded a visit to the site. WPLN News contributor Tasha Lemley took up the search.
Middle Tennessee is home to many groups that offer community for like-minded individuals: Other than a plethora of Christian churches (as well as a fair representation of worship spaces for other major world religions), we have an expansive yoga retreat center in McMinnville, a vibrant family nudist park in Murfreesboro, and the Radical Faerie commune not too far from there.
We’ve also got The Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, where thousands of babies have been delivered since the 1970s. And a group in Columbia that believed, according to a 2016 Nashville Scene article, that the cats they rescued were “divine creatures that will carry the 144,000 souls mentioned in the book of Revelation.”
Perhaps our many possibilities for finding a tribe are what led one Curious Nashville listener to wonder if a mysterious sign in her neighborhood was connected to a cult.
“At the dead end of Foothill Drive off of Murfreesboro Pike in South Nashville, there’s a sign that says ‘The Gathering.’ From what little I can find online it looks like a cult… would love to know more.”
We’d love to know more, too. So is this question going to lead us to a friendly neighborhood commune — or down another road? There’s only one way to find out.
The changing sign
The religious group our anonymous inquisitor found online is actually The Gathering Place, formerly The Gathering International. It’s the late Wayne Jolley’s ministry, which got some press a few years ago.
To investigate the sign, and see if there’s any connection, WPLN News decided to check it out firsthand.
I find it in front of an inset, really clean residence, admittedly looking a bit like a small compound. By the time I get down there, though, the clearly referenced sign no longer says “The Gathering.” It’s still there — but it’s been repainted with cheerful and rustic hand lettering: “Another Town, Damian McGinty, est. 1992, Derry Northern Ireland, Nashville, Tennessee.”
For the uninitiated — like me — 27-year-old Damian McGinty is an Irish baritone known for the singing group Celtic Thunder, as well as a stint on the TV show Glee.
So here I am, wondering if this kid has gone and built himself a little community at the end of Foothill Drive. And what in the world, if anything, he could have to do with The Gathering.
I knock on the door of the closest house, and an older man answers who says he’s there visiting his son. I ask him about the sign and tell him I’m looking for a group that may be meeting there. He doesn’t know anything about it, but tells me, “Wendy is into that kind of thing.”
His son arrives as I’m taking off and mentions that the sign referred to “some sort of concert,” and, since I’m looking for a gathering, he takes me down another street, where he thinks someone may be holding a Bible study.
I don’t find answers there, either.
Was he in the dark? Or dodging my question and brushing me off on my way? And, who is Wendy?
Luckily, like many musicians, Damian has a “street team,” an online group for some of his biggest fans. They’re committed to helping him with promotion in exchange for getting one step closer to the object of their affection.
It’s through them that I’m connected with Wendy Felber, a woman who hosted Damian’s house concert this past fall at her Foothill Drive home.
Wendy lives at the place with the sign out front. Unlike the man I met earlier, she’s more talkative. She tells me she is close to her elderly mother, who lives in another state, and a self-described caregiver “by every means necessary.” She also loves writing and building things and painting, and she tells me she’s the one who designed the sign in question.
“I’m a creative. I’ve always been,” she said. “I found an old fence on Craigslist. … I power-washed it down — it was just old boards — and put it on a couple of 2x4s and made a sign.”
Wendy tells me that 15 years ago, her mom got her into Celtic Thunder, a traveling Irish music group with a rotating cast of singers. They went to a concert and “fell in love with their act and energy.”
“Plus,” Wendy adds, “they had talent, were cute boys, and had an accent.”
After that, she and her mother kept going to shows and collecting other women friends along the way. Their ladies’ group grew, and Celtic Thunder concerts became a tradition.
Wendy’s friends, including a woman reaching her 90s, also started attending smaller concerts for the true Celtic Thunder fans — where individual singers from the group perform separately, including sharing their own music.
So when Damian McGinty announced a small solo tour late last year, Wendy offered her home.
But this wasn’t her first house concert. Celtic Thunder has nearly a dozen current and past members, and Wendy heard that two current members, Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly (known as Byrne & Kelly), were going on a house concert tour early last year. So she put together an incredibly detailed proposal to host it at her house — and got the gig.
Byrne & Kelly’s tour name? The Gathering.
So the gathering in our question, it turns out, is not so much of a religious cult but a group of devotees, nonetheless — fans looking to connect through their shared enthusiasm and love for an icon.
Besides that sign, she and her roommate have put thousands of dollars into renovations on the house to create the venue — converting their deck into a stage, complete with concert lighting, and spending nine months to turn their basement into a “green room.”
“Having 50 strangers in my house isn’t a big deal. I love making people feel comfortable,” Felber says. “I have my mom [fly in] to every concert and because she’s getting older, you know, it’s been kind of a blessing. We don’t have to go out — she comes to my house and visits.”
Wendy’s most recent show was scheduled to be Paul Byrom — yes, also previously from Celtic Thunder — in late March. That show was, of course, canceled by the pandemic and has yet to be rescheduled.
For the time being, Wendy has again painted over the sign, this time with an Irish flag.