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National Storytelling Festival
Autumn in the Appalachians Brings Thousands to the Storytelling Capital of the World
In the small, picturesque town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, the month of September and early October is spent preparing for the biggest event for Storytelling in the Nation. Since 1973, Jonesborough has hosted the annual National Storytelling Festival, featuring the World's Greatest Storytellers, all in one place. Nearly 10,000 audience members descend upon Jonesborough, a town of about 4,000, to experience this ultimate storytelling event.
A Weekend of Stories and Excitement - Photos from google imageClick thumbnail to view full-size
History of The Festival
In 1973, Jimmy Neil Smith, then a journalism teacher at Science Hill High School, pulled a haywagon in front of the courthouse. A few stacked hay bales served as seating. The Wagon became the platform stage, and the very first National Stoytelling festival was begun.
Jimmy Neil had a vision that Jonesborough, which is Tennesee's oldest town, would be the place where people from all over the country and all over the world would come to hear tall tales, folk stories, family stories, myths and legends.After all, Jonesbroough sits in the heartland of great American stories-- those of Daniel Boone, Davy Crocket and John Sevier, Appalachian Jack Tales, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, the first Abolitionist press, a stop on the underground railroad-- Jonesborough had already long been a home to great stories.
Four decades later, this vision is a reality. The year 2012 will mark the 40th Anniversary of the National Storytelling Festival. The annual event brings more than 10,000 visitors to Jonesobrough over the first weekend of October. For storytellers, it is THE festival to perform. When a storyteller gets booked at the Jonesborough Storytelling festival, they have truly made it in the Storytelling world.
Hard To Choose A Favorite?
Plenty of Storytellers Are Lined Up To Perform
The Festival lasts three days, which gives plenty of time for audience members to catch their favorite act at least once. Large festival tents are set up throughout the downtown area of Jonesborough, all within a reasonable walking distance. Entrance to the Festival is a piece of calico cloth, which is different each year. You pin the cloth to your clothing, and that is your entrance into any of the festival tents. Storytellers are booked for an hour to two hours at a time in each tent. Often times they are paired up for a set. The more sought after storytellers get longer solo gigs. There are also very fun potpourri sets which include six or seven performers each doing a ten to fifteen minute set, so you can get a good idea of the kind of stories they tell. This lets you decide if you want to catch one of their longer acts later in the day or evening.
Because of the excellent scheduling by the event coordinators, audience members should be able to catch their favorite act or combo at some point during the weekend without too many conflicts.
Still, it is hard to choose. When there are only three days, and so many storytellers to see, how do you decide?
It's always a good idea to check out the bios of the storytellers, to find out the kind of storytelling they do. This year's storyteller bios are available through a link later in this article.
Catching an early potpourri set, mentioned above, is another good way to determine who you'd like to see more of.
Additional Programs At The Festival
In addition to the regular line-up of events, there are even more opportunties (for an additional modest cost). Ghost stories outside in the cool, crisp October night. Midnight Cabaret Showcases. Jonesborough's own story production from the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange. And the very popular Yarnspinner's Party, where tickets can be purchased to attend a catered, five-star party and mingle with the storytellers and presenters.
The 2012 National Storytelling Festival - 40th Anniversary Line Up
The storytellers have been chosen, and while not all of the names have been released, here is an exciting "Sneak Peek". In total, about two dozen tellers will be performing. The 40th Festival is GUARANTEED to PLEASE! The International Storytelling Center has lined up the absolute best performers in the business for this Birthday Bash!
Below aresome of the artists chosen to perform this year. If you want to know more about them, simply click their name, and a quick links will take you to the home pages of the selected performers. Brief bio information about each participant, from their own homepages, are below. Remember to check back often, as more names will be added when they are released.
- Andy Offutt Irwin
Some people have inner-kids. Andy Offutt Irwin has an outer-kid. With a manic Silly Putty voice, astonishing mouth noises, and hilarious stories, he is equal parts mischievous schoolboy and the Marx Brothers, peppered with a touch of the Southern bal
- Donald Davis
Donald Davis was born in a Southern Appalachian mountain world rich in stories. "I didn't learn stories, I just absorbed them ," he says as he recounts tales and more tales learned from a family of traditional storytellers who have lived on the same
- Carmen Deedy
Deedy began writing as a young mother and storyteller whose NPR commentaries on All Things Considered were collected and released under the title, Growing Up Cuban In Decatur, Georgia.
- Kevin Kling
Best known for his popular commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and his storytelling stage shows like "Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log", delivers hilarious, often tender stories.
- Bill Lepp
An award winning humorist, author, and recording artist for nearly twenty years.
- John McCutcheon
American folk music singer and multi-instrumentalist who has produced 34 albums since the 1970s. He is regarded as a master of the hammered dulcimer, and is also proficient on many other instruments including guitar, banjo, autoharp, mountain dulc
- Jay O'Callahan
Jay O'Callahan takes a bare stage and single-handedly transforms it into a dynamic and sensitive world filled with compelling characters.
- Connie Regan-Blake
"Storytelling is alive and well, primarily because of Connie regan-Blake"- ABC Good Morning America.
- Rex Ellis
Dr. Rex M. Ellis is Vice president for the Historic Area at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. His presentation, lectures, workshops and consultancies focus on, public programming, diversity, interpretation, and African American History and cultur
- Barbara McBride Smith
A storyteller who transports you from the ancient world of the Greek gods and goddesses to the post-modern experiences of her Baby Boomer generation.
- Michael Harvey
Michael is one of the UK's leading contemporary storytellers. He works at major international festivals in Britain, Europe and North America telling traditional stories from the Celtic countries and beyond with humour, skill and a great sense of enjo
- Hannah Harvey
Hannah's energetic style brings humorous, compelling, contemporary Appalachian stories to audiences of all ages.
- Kim and Reggie Ellis
In music and stories, Kim and Reggie are acclaimed internationally for their contributions to resources and knowledge on the Underground Railroad and the modern civil rights movement.
- Alton Chung
Alton Chung grew up with the stories, superstitions, and magic of the Hawaiian Islands. This combined with his Japanese and Korean roots, gives him a uniqueperspective to tell cultural tales and personal stories with a deep sense of reverence and aut
Who Is/Was Your Favorite Storyteller?
Who's Tent Would You Always Make Your Way Toward During the Festival?
Where Do I Get Tickets?
Tickets are purchased through the International Storytelling Center's website, below. Here, you will find links to purchase tickets, find accommodations, and learn more about the festival and participants this year. You will also find the phone number to the Center, if you have any additional questions. The people at the Storytelling Center are happy to take time and talk with you about any question you may have.
- The International Storytelling Center
Get dates, tickets, and special event information all here.
Are You A Festival Goer?
Have You Been To The National Storytelling Festival?
A New Short Film About Ray Hicks - Veteran Storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival
Ray Hicks is probably the most beloved of all the storytellers who have performed at the Festival. Ray was a master at Jack Tales, which had been handed down through the generations in his Appalachian community. The tales he told had survived nearly unchanged from the stories brought over by his Scotch-Irsh ancestors when they first came to America in the earliest years of the country. Ray was known throughout the world for his storehouse of Jack Tales. A private man, he rarely ventured outside of his Beech Mountain, NC home, so it was always a treat to see this 6'7" gentle giant take to the stage.
Ray passed his storytelling down to his family, and I was lucky enough to meet his son last year. He looked at me, and began telling me a long tale of Jack and King Maudrid. I was surprsed as he spun the story, as the elements in that particular tale he sat down to tell me had so much to do with what was happening in my life at the time. He didn't get to the end of the story before he had to head back home, but he invited me to the family home to hear the rest. I can't wait to go. Now that it is not winter anymore, I'll be able to make it up that road.
He, like his father Ray, would always welcome visitors- if the visitors could make it up the steep, winding, narrow dirt road that led up to his log cabin.
East Tennessee State University has created a new film about Ray and his people, which was released in November 2011. If you love storytelling, Ray Hicks, or the mountain culture, this trailer is a real treat.
Take The Festival Home With You
Most of the Storytellers have book and videos of their material you can purchase and enjoy all year long.