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'Liberty!' hits historical high notes

David Floyd • Updated Jul 22, 2017 at 11:26 PM

Beating drums mingled with the high-pitched tones of piccolos, actors walked around in period dress, and the history of Sycamore Shoals and Northeast Tennessee came alive.

“Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals” is an outdoor production at Sycamore Shoals State Park highlighting major events that occurred in the area many years ago that helped shape the American Revolution. The production is held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday during the last three weekends of July.

“It’s like a history lesson every year,” said Heather Honeycutt, who plays Elizabethton namesake Elizabeth Maclin. She has been involved in the production for about 12 years. “I learn something new.”

The play starts from the period in which settlers first came to the area and spans the intervening years through the 1780s, depicting the Siege of Fort Watauga, events surrounding the Transylvania Purchase and the Muster of the Overmountain Men, who traveled many miles over two weeks before challenging the Loyalist Army at King’s Mountain.

“In a little over two hours, we actually tell about five different stories,” said Tony DeVault, the director of the play, “but it’s all true and it all happened right here.”

Many of the actors and staff involved in the production of “Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals” have been around for multiple seasons.

Brad Bunten, who has performed in the show for about 24 years, plays Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee war chief who was against the Transylvania Purchase, a land deal in which the Cherokee sold millions of acres of land to the Transylvania Company.

Bunten had his eyes on the role of Dragging Canoe for a little while before he eventually landed it. Having initially performed in a background role, Bunten has enjoyed participating in the production. 

“I fell in love with it, and after I started doing it and was in it a couple years just as a walk-on I thought, ‘You know, I want to play a part,’ ” he said.

Honeycutt said the play offers a good history lesson, particularly for people who are new to the area.

“It’s a great introduction,” Honeycutt said. “It’s exciting. It’s not a history textbook.”

DeVault said there’s a long, rich history of the founding years of the U.S. at Sycamore Shoals and the surrounding area that many people aren’t aware of.

“You know you’re hitting home when you talk to some of the audience and they say, ‘My fourth great grandfather was at King’s Mountain,” or ‘I had a fourth great uncle that served in the Revolution,’ ” Devault said. “They’re thinking back on how their families participated.”

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