Listen to three up-and-coming songwriters perform amid nature on acoustic guitar — in the very national parks that inspired their work.
National Parks Conservation Association and Yellowstone Bourbon have teamed up to highlight three folk and Americana songwriters — Charles Wesley Godwin of West Virginia, Gabe Lee of Tennessee and Emily Scott Robinson of Colorado — and their love of national parks in a new video series called “Park Sessions.”
Presenting beautiful scenes and nature sounds, each video features one of the artists performing a song acoustically in their favorite park. The musicians also talk about what draws them to national parks and why these spaces must be protected.
Charles Wesley Godwin, New River Gorge
“Being outside is my comfort place. It takes all the stress away,” said Godwin, who was born and raised in West Virginia. He frequently visits New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
A hunter and fisherman all his life, Godwin said spending time outdoors lets him unwind when he’s not touring as a musician. It’s essential to his health — allowing him “to slow down, decompress.”
“The outdoors definitely inform the way I write,” Godwin said. He performs “Headwaters,” a song about how the peace and familiarity of nature can provide the same comfort as home.
The New River Gorge is important to his home state, Godwin said, because of its world-famous bridge and breathtaking views — scenes that wouldn’t exist if development were allowed to line the gorge’s rim.
One national park river is widely regarded as the oldest river in North America, formed an estimated 260 million to 325 million years ago — although not all scientists…See more ›
National parks are important, he said, because they offer young people “from every segment of society, every income bracket” the same access to inspiring and majestic sites, allowing them to dream bigger than they thought possible.
“It can change their life — it can make a city kid become an outdoors kid, and it can make a country kid decide to show this to the rest of the world,” he said.
Godwin released his third album, “Family Ties,” this fall. Featured numerous times in folk and country music publications, he has been described as a reflective and soulful songwriter similar to Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.
Gabe Lee, Great Smoky Mountains
Gabe Lee performs his song “Drink the River” in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where as a child he spent time each summer and winter with his family. He continues to visit the park as an adult.
“What I like about visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the peace, the meditation you can find out there, the stillness … the chance to turn off the phone for a while,” he said.
The park’s beauty inspires him and allows him to tap into his writer’s mind, Lee added. The lyrics to “Drink the River,” for example, allude to the power of nature and one’s surrender to forces outside their control.
A child of Taiwanese immigrants, Lee was born and raised in Nashville. He describes his songwriting as bridging country, folk and rock. He has been featured on National Public Radio, in Rolling Stone magazine and in other publications. He has released four albums that reflect his own story and those of other people, too.
“From a songwriter’s point of view, our responsibility and our craft is to keep stories and memories alive, and in doing so, we are respecting humanity. When you conserve places like the national parks, we show they are worth preserving and protecting, and in doing so respect nature,” he said.
Emily Scott Robinson, Black Canyon of the Gunnison
National parks “pull us away from our screens and out of our heads and … put us back in a place of wonder and awe,” Emily Scott Robinson said. “I think we could all use more of that in our lives.”
As a teenager, Robinson taught herself to play the guitar by listening to Indigo Girls and James Taylor CDs. Her debut album, “Traveling Mercies,” made Rolling Stone’s “40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2019” list. Her writing has been described as poetic and healing, with narrative wit and wisdom. She lives in Colorado.
This park protects a 12-mile stretch of the Gunnison River as it flows through an exceptionally deep and narrow gorge. The steep canyon walls keep out much of the sunlight,…See more ›
Robinson performs “Westward Bound” in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where visitors can see some of North America’s steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires.
Robinson said she fell in love with national parks after moving to Colorado after college. “They’re really sacred to me because of that preservation of the wilderness … and of the boundary that’s set around the place, saying this is going to be preserved for everybody,” she said.
“It’s important to protect national parks and public lands — they’re a guarantee this land isn’t going to be developed or sold off to somebody else. We have to keep this preserve, because if it goes away, we can’t get it back.”
Stay On Top of News
Our email newsletter shares the latest on parks.
About the author
Linda Coutant Staff Writer
As staff writer on the Communications team, Linda Coutant manages the Park Advocate blog and coordinates the monthly Park Notes e-newsletter distributed to NPCA’s members and supporters.