Hello Summer!

Published 9:48 am Friday, June 21, 2019

By William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

And, welcome to the tri-state area! Many of us thought summer arrived with the Memorial Day weekend, but the calendar points us to June 21 as the official start date.

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Whether you and your family are already fully engaged in a long list of summer activities, there is much that is inviting for the weeks ahead. The lakes, the golf courses, summer camps, picnics, and more can be programmed for summer enjoyment in the immediate area.

I was reminded recently of the summer schedules of a number of outdoor plays that offer drama, music, history, and excitement for families. One of them, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” begins its 56th season in just a week in Big Stone Gap, Va.

Written by Professor Earl Hobson Smith, Lincoln Memorial University professor and a prolific playwright, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” was first staged in 1964. It was named the Official Outdoor Drama of Virginia 30 years later.

The play is staged at the June Tolliver Playhouse in Big Stone Gap each week, Thursday through Saturday, from June 28 through Aug. 24. It is one of the longest running outdoor dramas in the United States.

Professor Smith adapted the play from one of America’s best-selling novels written by John Fox, Jr. in 1908. The novel eventually sold two million copies making it second in book sales only to the Bible in the early years of the last century.

Fox explored complex themes related to the boom and bust of the coal industry, the way people deal with change, the importance of family, and our connection to the land we call home. Those themes are present in the stage production and are as timely this summer as they were a hundred years ago.

The history that relates to the tri-state area makes “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” a good target for family members to include in plans for the summer weeks ahead.

One of more than 20 plays written by the LMU Professor, at least four of them were presented as outdoor drama in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. One of them, “Old Smoky,” was staged for several years at Jacksboro, Tenn., and another, “The Long Way Home,” was produced at Radford, Va.

Though both John Fox, Jr. and Earl Hobson Smith are gone, their legacy lives on and their literary accomplishments are enjoyed and appreciated by new generations at Big Stone Gap. Why not include the play on your family’s summer schedule.

William H. Baker is a native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu