The tents are going up and staging is underway for next weekend’s 40th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough.
To celebrate the growth of what began with a few people gathered to hear stories told from a hay wagon to a world-renowned celebration of storytelling, 24 tellers featured in the past 39 festivals have been invited back to the stage in Tennessee’s oldest town.
Beginning Friday morning Oct. 5 and through Sunday afternoon October 7, their stories and those of other lesser known tellers will be told at the International Storytelling Center on Main Street, in five large festival tents set up across the town, by the creek at Mill Spring Park and at Swapping Ground on the hill overlooking downtown.
The featured performers will include such favorites as Carmen Deedy, Donald Davis, Barbara McBride-Smith, NPR commentator Kevin Kling, Michael Harvey, and the famed folk-musician John McCutcheon, to name only few.
All new to the festival this year will be a “story slam” competition which ISC director of program Susan O’Connor described as a new storytelling phenomenon that has been gaining popularity across the county. The event will feature seven selected performers all vying to tell the best five-minute story on the same “Rear View Mirror” theme.
Also all new to the festival and for only the second time at a public event in Jonesborough, there will be a wine garden where guests who come to the area from across the country and all over the world to hear stories told will be able to purchase alcohol from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in front of the storytelling center.
Inside the center and throughout the three-day event, guest will also be able to experience a couple of other “firsts” presented in celebration of the festival’s 40 years, an archival film of video clips from some of the earliest storytelling festivals in Jonesborough put together by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, and listening stations where tales of favorite tellers from past festivals who have since passed away, including Ray Hicks, Doc McConnel and Kathryn Windham, can once again be heard.
Also in celebration of 40 years of storytelling in Jonesborough, the original hay wagon from which the festival’s first stories were told at the side of courthouse in 1973 will be back in town and on display as nostalgic conversation piece.
Two pre-festival events are planned in kick off to the weekend, Donald Davis, the beloved ISC storyteller-in-residence and a longtime festival favorite, will perform “Cripple Joe” stories about his father, Wednesday evening, Oct. 3, beginning at 7:30. And nationally known Southern humorist Jeanne Robertson, a regular on Sirius XM Radio’s Laugh USA ,will perform Thursday evening, also beginning at 7:30.
The festival’s hugely popular open-air ghost stories will be held Friday and Saturday night beginning at 8, and the adult-only Midnight Cabarets, that this year will feature Grammy award winning David Holt and The Lightning Bolts on Friday and funny man Willy Claflin on Saturday, will begin both nights at 10:30.
“We’ve had so much fun working on the lineup for our anniversary celebration,” O’Connor said. “As always, we’re thrilled to feature styles from around the globe. And this year, we’re also including some surprises along the way.”
For tickets, call the International Storytelling Center at 423-913-1276 or 800-952-8392. For a complete a festival schedule and more information about the featured tellers and events, visit www.storytellingcenter.net.