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‘Playing in the Parks’ is more than a senior project

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Tennessee state parks are getting a little love and live music this spring courtesy of Anna Pearson’s senior honors project: “Playing in the Parks.”

A songwriting major and performer, Pearson combined her passions for music and nature to put together a fundraising concert in Bledsoe Creek State Park on March 20, headlined by Belmont students and alumni. All donations from the performance went to support the park — and it was a success for both the artists and the cause.

“The whole thing kind of started out as just my senior project, but it became much more than that,” said Pearson.

After connecting with state park representatives in 2020 and collaborating with Bledsoe Creek State Park, Pearson was able to create an outdoor writers’ round of Belmont students and alumni.

The lineup consisted of current students Grace O’Shea, Lexi Peto and Pearson herself, as well as alumnus Audrey Rose Miller. Next was a set from Joshua Quimby and his band: Christian Starrett, Zach Bunton, Ella Stubbs, Andrew Robinson and Michael Sharf.

The group was brought together as friends, fellow artists, members of the Belmont community and lovers of the outdoors.

And, like Pearson, the performers felt the importance of the cause.

“Conservation is a very important thing to me, so any opportunity I can to help is a good one,” said sophomore Joshua Quimby. “I’m very inspired by nature and making my music. You know, this is the only Earth we’ve got. Let’s do our best to take care of it and keep it alive and well.”

Senior Grace O’Shea agreed.

“We all love playing shows in general. But being able to have something to raise money or awareness towards adds to the experience, knowing that you’re helping make a difference,” O’Shea said.

“And who doesn’t love state parks? I really think that conserving and putting on more community events are really great things to support.”

Anna Pearson takes the stage at Bledsoe Creek State Park. Photo by Isaac Wetzel.

Due to COVID-19, live performance gigs have been few and far between in the past year, and the artists agreed the opportunity to play live felt exhilarating.

Playing in the Parks was an opportunity for artists to collaborate and connect to the spirit of live music once again. And having the energy of an audience makes for a more exciting performance, said O’Shea.

“The difference between me singing into a camera versus actually having people listening and responding is incredible,” she said.

Alumnus Audrey Rose Miller noticed the change before she even took the stage.

“It felt really weird on the drive up here and it’s just now hitting me: ‘Oh, I’m playing a show.’ I’m sure it’s gonna feel very different when I get up there, just the shock of it all again,” said Miller.

“I think that’s my favorite part about playing rounds is getting to hang out with your friends on stage, and talking about the songs and hearing about their songs and their lives.”

Coming straight off of the stage, senior Lexi Peto was at a loss of words for what the experience was like.

“Honestly, I don’t even know the word to describe it … invigorating, almost,” said Peto.

“It just lifts my spirit and makes my soul feel so full of joy when I hear people singing, especially playing with my friend and sharing in that Belmont community.”

Park officials reported the event was a success, bringing in over $250 in donations.

But for Pearson, the concert at Bledsoe Creek State Park was just the beginning of Playing in the Parks.

“I’d love to keep this going,” said Pearson. “My only focus was doing it for the semester, but just seeing the impact it’s had on so many people and the impact it can have on the parks, I would love to keep doing it.”

Joshua Quimby and his band perform the last set of the fundraising concert. Photo by Isaac Wetzel.

This article was written by Isaac Wetzel. Photos by Isaac Wetzel.

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