September 7, 2021

GOING TO A STORYTELLING FESTIVAL

I’ve always loved stories—whether listening to them, reading them or telling them! Going to the annual international storytelling festival in Jonesboro (or Jonesborough), Tennessee in the fall of 2009 was a wonderful experience!  This was our delegation—Mary Jo (right), Judy (left) and I from Nashville, and Earleen (kneeling) joining us from South Carolina.

Mary Jo and Judy had been before, so they knew what to expect.  And Earleen and I were definitely not disappointed. Thousands of people come each year to this historic little town at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains near Johnson City.  Founded in 1779, the town is older than the state of Tennessee—originally being part of Western North Carolina and later, the capital of the failed State of Franklin. 

The festival operates very efficiently—with storytelling events scheduled over several days in several huge white tents with hundreds of folding chairs.  The atmosphere is reminiscent of going to a “tent revival.” Programs list the schedules with details about each storyteller and you can move from tent to tent according to your preference.  We made our tentative selections when we got our programs a few weeks ahead, but often someone we sat by would have such an enthusiastic recommendation, we might change plans.  It was fun talking to people in the tents from so many different states.  Sometimes busloads of nearby school children came for several sessions.

I had heard one of the leading storytellers Donald Davis several times when he held storyteller workshops for teachers and students in South Carolina.  He has mastered the art of carrying the listener along with his stories, some hilarious and others heartbreaking. A new favorite from the festival is Sheila Kay Adams, from Western North Carolina.  She is a true daughter of Appalachia who carries on the traditional family stories of her region.  She also is an accomplished musician, playing the banjo and singing Appalachian ballads.  She was mentored by Lee Smith, another of my favorite Southern writers, and has published several books.  I read her My Old True Love after hearing her at the festival and enjoyed it very much.

This quote from her book seems to sum up many of the stories she told:

“Some people is born at the start of a long hard row to hoe. Well, I am older than God’s dog and been in this world a long time and it seems to me that right from the get-go, Larkin Stanton had the longest and hardest row I’ve ever seen.”  That’s Appalachia!

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