Each spring, cast members of Tennessee’s Official Outdoor Drama, “Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals,” begin to gather. They hold open auditions, plan their roles, and subsequently take on the characters of settlers, 18th century leaders, and Cherokee Chiefs and warriors.
In the thick of all this activity, a familiar face holds true; that of a man who is proud to have the opportunity to honor the people who settled along the Watauga Old Fields during the late 18th century.
Michael Barnett, currently President of Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, held his first role in Liberty! in 2008 when he portrayed Preacher Matthew Talbott, the miller who gave up his home place for the construction of Fort Watauga in 1776. At that time, Michael had been invited to join the Board of Directors of the parks Friends group and quickly became involved in a multitude of ways.
Mr. Barnett is the owner of Big John’s Closeouts in Elizabethton and Mountain City, a locally owned and operated building material supplier. But as a true Tennessee volunteer, Michael shares an enormous amount of his personal time with several of our local organizations. In addition to Sycamore Shoals, he serves as President of the Elizabethton Women’s Center, The Carter County Animal Shelter Building Committee, and the Advisory Board for the Animal Shelter. Additionally, he is Vice President of East Tennessee Spay and Neuter.
His strong connection to Sycamore Shoals and the people who came before us is evident, “There have been times I have sat down by the fort and wondered what is must have been like in the 1770’s on the frontier, knowing that your survival could be threatened by so many factors. Powerful and successful British officers such as Tarleton and Ferguson, or Cherokee warriors trying to preserve their way of life were all threats to the new settlers and their families”
“How they must have loved the pursuit they held so dear to their hearts; establishing a new nation with unlimited bounds and a host of freedoms. It is really incredible when you reflect on it.”
So it is very fitting, that Michael has the opportunity to play the role of “Chester” for the 35th season of Liberty! Chester is not a specific person, instead, he is a character who represents the patriots of all wars; those men and women who give all for the love of their country.
As our story opens, the American Revolution is going full bore and it is 1780 just prior to the Muster of the Overmountain Men to Kings Mountain. Chester, now up in years, is reflecting on previous wars in his lifetime as his friends in the Watauga Settlement prepare to head out in search of British Major Patrick Ferguson. Then, in a flash, we have dropped back to the early 1770’s where our story begins.
When asked what kind of a man he thought Chester could have been, Mr. Barnett stated that, “He would have been a patriot in the true sense of the word. Although he was a grandfather, he was still willing to sacrifice his life and possessions in the pursuit of Liberty and freedom. Chester exemplifies the mental fortitude of so many people during the late 18th century.”
“In addition, Chester reminds us to be everything we can possibly be, to do good things, and always pursue our dreams. Here, at Sycamore Shoals, people of many cultures came together and worked together, setting the foundation for the subsequent independence of our country from Great Britain.”
As Liberty! reaches towards its 40th year of production, Michael hopes that through Friends of Sycamore Shoals, we will be able to present portions of the drama to regional schools and community organizations. It is his dream to take our story everywhere possible, reaching out to young people who will one day be charged with the protection of our historic places.
“When we took Liberty! to Nashville several years ago, we performed for several thousand school children at the Bicentennial Capital Mall State Park. It was just wonderful; no, it was amazing! I could never have imagined what a huge impact our visit may have made on the many folks who came to see our show.”
Sycamore Shoals is where Liberty began – a new settlement outside the 13 original British colonies where community leaders had great dreams that ultimately became reality.
“I believe that everything we hold true today has its roots in the soil of Sycamore Shoals.”
Sponsored by Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area,
11Connects – WJHL TV, the Tennessee National Guard, Big John’s Closeouts, LeBleu, A to Z Rentals, and Holston Gas
(Liberty! runs Thursdays-Saturdays, July 11- 13, 18 – 20, and 25 -27, in the Fort Watauga Amphitheater at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton. Performances begin nightly at 7:30. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $9 for students. Children 5 and under are admitted free.
Reservations for our Dinner Theater can be made by calling the park.
For more information, call SSSHA at (423) 543-5808).
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area
1651 W. Elk Avenue
Elizabethton, TN 37643