Millions from all walks of life visit the national parks annually. Thousands are so inspired by their visit that they return and give back by volunteering and become a VIP – Volunteer in Park.
In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, volunteers donate untold hours and complete dozens of projects yearly. Volunteers act as campground hosts, restore habitat, fix trails, count birds, monitor bears and other wildlife, patrol rivers to warn visitors of dangers, complete Boy and Girl Scout projects, act as interpreters, and help the NPS in nearly every facet of their mission.
One retired former NPS employee from Three Rivers volunteers every Wednesday at the Foothills Visitor Center and faithfully brings staff a plate of his freshly baked cookies. But one of the lesser known parts of the VIP program is the Artist in Residence.
These VIPs can be visual artists of all types, writers, musicians and all the creative media. Each artist must apply and when approved they make arrangements to visit the park they choose for one or two weeks.
Lodging, often a rural cabin, is provided. The only stipulation is that they must share their art while they are in residence.
Sequoia’s latest artist in residence was Jason Rigenberg, who returned home this week to Nashville. Jason, 58, is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and story teller.
While in Sequoia, Jason performed in Giant Forest and at the Ranger’s weekly campfire in Mineral King on Saturday, June 17.
Jason, who is often compared to Gram Parsons, the father of alt country, has performed and recorded music of several genres including cowpunk, had his most famous run as a front man in the 1980s with the indie rockers Jason and the Scorchers. He recently added to his credits
“Farmer Jason” performing and recording children’s music.
At the Mineral King campfire he acknowledged his musical roots and many influencers playing songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, John Prine, and several of his own arrangements including “Tuskeege Airmen” and the “Confederate Flag in Central Germany.”
Seeing the Confederate flag in Germany is not unusual as it is against the law to display swastikas – folks of that ilk choose to fly the Confederate flag instead. Jason sided, he said in his lyrics, neither with the Confederates or the Nazis. He touted the Tuskegee Airmen in that song
for their great sacrifice during WWII in the throes of institutionalized racism.
The 30 campers who attended the Mineral King campfire were witness to a unique performance and learning experience. But Jason learned plenty too during his first visit to the local park and was inspired by the grandeur of Sequoia National Park.
“When I was in the Giant Forest it was easy for me to see why John Muir called Crescent Meadow the Gem of the Sierra, “ Jason said. “It has inspired me to write a song called John Muir.”
Jason played a snippet from that tune and said he will record the song someday when he has matched the lyrics with the music. When he left the campfire for his Silver City cabin that night he was excited about having his family join him in a couple of days for some Mineral King time.
“They’ve never been west of the Mississippi and I can’t wait for them to see the big trees and the beauty of this place,” Jason said.
Therein is the essence of the artist in residence – sharing an artistic talent and taking the inspiration of the national parks back home in return.