The setting is the Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. A soft breeze blows through the stately pines. The ebb and flow in the buzz of the cicadas is ever present. It is joined by the flute like call of the wood thrush, described by naturalist Henry David Thoreau as the most beautiful sound in nature.
“The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. It is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.”
The spicy fragrance of the Cinnamon fern dances in the air. Soon, the breeze, the thrush’s call and nature’s fragrance will be joined by song, both jubilant and sad, when on Saturday, musicians Sparky and Rhonda Rucker take to the stage at the national park’s Wilderness Road Campground amphitheater, performing their “A Pass Through the Mountains: Songs and Stories of Cumberland Gap.”
Park Ranger Matthew Graham poignantly describes the duo’s performance “as a journey through American cultural and folk history. In this special presentation at Cumberland Gap, Sparky and Rhonda will include songs and stories of the early settlers who blazed the Wilderness Road into the ‘dark and bloody ground’ and the struggles between the north and south as they fought for control of the Gap during the Civil War.”
Sparky and Rhonda’s music includes a variety of Appalachian music, slave songs and spirituals, and Civil War tunes. They accompany themselves with fingerstyle picking and bottleneck blues guitar, blues harmonica, old-time banjo, piano, spoons, and bones. Over forty years of performing have led Sparky and Rhonda to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as well as National Public Radio’s On Point, Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, and Morning Edition. Their recording, Treasures & Tears, was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award. Their music is also included on the Grammy-nominated anthology, Singing Through the Hard Times.
Sparky (James) Rucker was once a teacher in Chattanooga, not far from his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.. His recordings include one for children. Rhonda has ancestors who passed through the Gap before the Civil War to settle in Kentucky. Another ancestor fought at the Gap with the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
The Wilderness Road Campground is located in Virginia, two miles east of the Hwy 25E and Hwy 58 intersection. Visitors should proceed to the amphitheater, located at the end of loop C where parking is available.
In case of rain, the free program will be held at the national park visitor center, located on Hwy 25E, just south of Middlesboro, KY.
For information on this free program and other park programs, please call (=606-248-2817 ext. 1075 or visit www.nps.gov/cuga.
This program is also being co-hosted by the Friends of Cumberland Gap and park partner Eastern National.
For more information on the Friends of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and how to become involved, please visit www.friendsofcumberlandgap.org or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/friendsofcumberlandgap.
Learn how Eastern National supports the educational mission of the National Park Service by visiting www.easternnational.org.