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National Storytelling Festival

Updated on March 3, 2015
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Jules Corriere is a playwright and theater director. She has written over 40 plays, one of which was performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C.

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 image

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Eth- Noh-Tec has been a festival favorite in the past, telling many traditional myths and stories. Their story of the Willow is a true crowd pleaser.
Eth- Noh-Tec has been a festival favorite in the past, telling many traditional myths and stories. Their story of the Willow is a true crowd pleaser.
Eth- Noh-Tec has been a festival favorite in the past, telling many traditional myths and stories. Their story of the Willow is a true crowd pleaser.
jimmy neil smith national storytelling center
jimmy neil smith national storytelling center

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.

andy offutt irwin
andy offutt irwin

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

yarnspinner's party
yarnspinner's party

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.

Who Is/Was Your Favorite Storyteller?

ray hicks
ray hicks

Who's Tent Would You Always Make Your Way Toward During the Festival?

See results

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.

Are You A Festival Goer?

National Storytelling Festival
National Storytelling Festival

Have You Been To The National Storytelling Festival?

See results

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.

A commemorative documentary on the first 20 years of the Festival

The National Storytelling Festival in Photographs

What Do You Think About The Storytelling Festival?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @CruiseReady: Has another Storytelling Cruise been planned? My bags are packed,

      When? Where? Cost?

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 

      6 years ago

      I'd never heard about this festival but it sounds wonderful.

    • CruiseReady profile image


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough sure does sound like fun!

    • senditondown profile image


      6 years ago from US

      Sounds like fun. The "tellers" seem to be an assortment of real characters.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      We have similar festivals in the UK. Never been and must too. Stories are the essence of communicating, so powerful, so emotive so compelling. I would love to visit this festival.

    • dahlia369 profile image


      6 years ago

      It sounds like something worth checking out, that's for sure! :)

    • wilfredpadilla profile image


      6 years ago

      It sounds fun!

    • AlexTedford profile image


      6 years ago

      Awesome lens! I am REALLY interested by this topic...also, if you wouldn't mind, I would really appreciate if you took the time to bless my lens: ...thanks! You are one of my favorite lensmasters!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Sounds like a lot of fun - thank you very much for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 

      6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      My Irish ancestors were great storytellers! It sort of runs in the family .. even today. I'd love to go to this festival and here the blarney.

      Angel blessings.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      6 years ago

      Loved this lens - bringing to light such an important part of our life! I came back to this lens today (Squidoo was not letting us comment last night) I am so glad I did, there is a lot of richness there. My dad is from Kentucky, my mother from Missouri - but she had lots of country ways. I have a deep fondness for the culture. I also have a mountain dulcimer - I am tempted to get it down from the closet and start playing it. I hope to make it to this festival - see you there! Angel Blessed

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 

      6 years ago

      There is a storyteller from Alabama that you should check-out: Delores Hydock.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      6 years ago

      This reminds me of the movie "Songcatcher" where songs were used to tell stories. Thanks for letting me know about Jimmy Neil Smith and his vision. What a great idea to inspire future generations.

    • sousababy profile image


      6 years ago

      Oh, just a suggestion: put your quiz before this guestbook - I noticed I was the first one to take the quiz (got it right too - ha). (You can delete this post, just hope it helps).

    • sousababy profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a fabulous . . bet it keeps kids enthralled.

    • Brandi Bush profile image


      6 years ago from Maryland

      I would love to attend the Storytelling Festival...maybe someday! :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      It sounds like great fun!

    • LouisaDembul profile image


      6 years ago

      I think The Storytelling Festival sounds like great fun! Would love to attend one day.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana

      Storytelling festivals are great chance to connect storytellers with their audience. I have been on several and it was always amazing experience. Thumbs up!

    • choosehappy profile image


      6 years ago from US

      Excellent write up on The Jonesborough Storytelling Festival. It is a huge event!

    • TTMall profile image


      6 years ago

      great work!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      6 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      My own favourite Story Teller is Taffy Thomas, who lives in our village, Grasmere, and has an award from the Queen for Storytelling. Loved your lens. Blessed!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm going to have to plan a trip with my kids. This sounds like a lot of fun. Great lens.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 

      6 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      A Story Telling Festival sounds like a wonderful idea, I'd love to be there to hear the elders speak

    • Rebeljohn profile image


      6 years ago

      Very nice article i really enjoyed reading it thank you for posting it.


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