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Dramas on both sides of the state line offer living glimpses into our history

July 8th, 2013 12:33 pm by Debra McCown

Dramas on both sides of the state line offer living glimpses into our history

'Liberty!' will run Thursdays through Saturdays, July 11-13, 18-20 and 25-27, at the Fort Watauga Amphitheatre at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton.

Who knew that both Tennessee and Virginia have official outdoor dramas – that each depicts a very different aspect of local history – and that both are within a short drive of Kingsport?

This is the time of year when both dramas – "Liberty!" at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton, Tenn., and "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" in downtown Big Stone Gap, Va., are in full swing – and both promise a unique show with a glimpse into the past.

"Trail of the Lonesome Pine"

It’s the 1890s, and people from all over the world are pouring into these remote mountain hollows, all eager to make money in the coal business.

In the "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" State Outdoor Drama, this Southwest Virginia history lesson becomes the backdrop of a love story as a young mining engineer is captivated by a young mountain girl, who goes on to education and culture as he becomes a mountain man.

“The story has been one of the best-selling stories of all time,” says Barbara Polly, a longtime resident of Big Stone Gap who has been part of Virginia’s longest-running outdoor drama since it got started 50 years ago. “Before we had paperback books, there were only two books that had out-sold 'Trail of the Lonesome Pine'; one was the Bible, and the other was 'Gone with the Wind.'”

The drama is based in the 1908 novel of the same name by John Fox Jr., a book that has three times been made into a movie - including the very first outdoor Technicolor film in 1939. With the help of local community volunteer Clara Lou Kelly, it was first performed onstage here in 1963.

Marking its 50th anniversary this year, the state’s official outdoor drama is also its longest-running and is celebrating the half-century mark with a reunion, said Polly, who at different times over the years has served as lead actress, artistic director, general manager and president.

She says the show is full of music and includes an onstage hanging that always fascinates the children. Despite sticking to the same story, she said, it’s different every year.

During the day, the town has a variety of related attractions, including a folk arts center, historic school museum, coal museum, Southwest Virginia museum, Fox’s home and landmarks from the stories of another author with local ties, Adriana Trigiani.

This year, "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" began in June and runs through Aug. 24, with performances every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. Each night, pre-show entertainment begins at 7:15 and the two-hour production begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for children 6-12, and younger children get in free. Tickets can be purchased at the door or can be reserved by calling 276-523-1235 or 1-800-362-0149. More information can be found online at


In a place that helped to set the stage for American democracy, the years of 1770-1780 surround the audience in a unique live-action drama, where the scenes and battles of that eventful time take place in front of, beside, behind and around you.

Centered around Sycamore Shoals – where colonists first ventured west beyond what was allowed by the English king and formed an elected government, where they traded for land and battled with the native Cherokee, where they mustered for a battle that would change the outcome of the American Revolution – "Liberty!," Tennessee’s official outdoor drama, runs three weekends in July.

“The story we tell is the story of all of us, it’s the story of our ancestors, it’s the story of the people that fought for what we now call our home,” said Jennifer Bauer, park manager for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, who added that "Liberty!" is put on with an all-volunteer cast.

“We’re not portraying somebody you’re reading about in a history book; as you watch it, you realize that these are not just history characters, but they were real people with real struggles, with joys and fears,” Bauer said.

“The experience of sitting outdoors under the stars in the cool evening air seeing live theatre, spread across a much larger stage than you would imagine in an indoor theatre, is just a wonderful experience. It’s unlike anything else.”

This year, the drama’s 35th anniversary was marked with the opening of long-awaited museum exhibits at Sycamore Shoals, which also depict the history. Visitors to the state historic area can also visit a replica of the original fort and, about three miles away, visit the historic Carter Mansion, which is the oldest standing frame house in Tennessee.

This year, "Liberty!" will run Thursdays through Saturdays, July 11-13, 18-20 and 25-27, at the Fort Watauga Amphitheatre at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton. Performances begin nightly at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students; children under 6 are admitted free. For more information, call Sycamore Shoals at 423-543-5808 or visit online at

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