The streets in downtown Jonesborough were relatively quiet Saturday morning, but every few minutes echoes of laughter, gasps and clapping could be heard filtering through the historic buildings like music from the big white tents at the 41st National Storytelling Festival.
While street food vendors were in preparation mode to serve the next slew of people exiting tents in a hurry to get a prime seat in another tent, volunteer coordinators of the event patrolled the grounds.
Storyteller Syd Lieberman, while in the early slot inside the Courthouse Tent at 10 a.m., already had a huge audience in fold-out chairs, as they waited eagerly with friends and family members for him to start his show.
In between the Courthouse and Creekside tents, Ilsa Dickinson, of Lake Worth, Fla., was examining a map and lineup of storytellers and said she was trying to figure out what tent to visit next.
As a first-time attendee of the festival, Dickinson said she was talked into coming by a friend and said she was having a good time.
“I have a friend who’s been here many, many times,” she said. “She has been after me to come to this festival for a long time.”
Participating in storytelling talks from about 9 a.m. Friday to around 1 on Saturday morning, Dickinson said it’s been a full experience and said she’s liked all of the storytellers she’s seen.
“I’ve enjoyed everyone of them, but Bil Lepp is one of my favorites and Tim Lowry was just great,” she said. “I went to the Midnight Cabaret (on Friday night). That was really wonderful. The audiences are very appreciative and (are) having a good time. I hope to bring my daughters back. I’m going to the ghost story tonight and (one of her daughters is) really interested in that kind of thing, so I’m hoping that she might come back with me some year.”
Sitting on a bench seat in the shade just up the street from the Courthouse tent were two storytelling festival pros, Frances and Keith Rice of Colliers, W.Va., who said they had been coming to the event for nearly 30 years.
“We’ve been coming for a long time,” Frances said. “We just enjoy the stories. We’ve heard some excellent (storytellers) over the years.”
She said while the couple has a total of eight grandchildren, only five grandchildren and two of her children were able to make the trip this year.
“We camp over at Davy Crockett campground and that’s one of the best aspects (of the festival) is being with our family,” Frances said. “We’ve built lots of memories with our grandchildren. We just look forward to it every year.”
As Sheila Kay Adams took a bow after finishing her 10 a.m. set at the College Street tent, audiences quickly exited the tent, while others invaded the area, bring with them a variety of food and drinks.
Toting a guitar case to the stage for setup was storyteller the Rev. Robert Jones, who performed from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
“This morning, my wife and I are going to do a piece we do called “Going to Church — Growing up Baptist,” Jones said. “It’s the idea of music that we heard growing up in the church specifically in a black church. It’s a lot of fun.”
He said he first came to the festival as a new teller around five years ago and said he enjoys performing at the storytelling event.
“You should never take it for granted,” Jones said. “As storytellers, we all come from different perspectives and we have greatly talented storytellers from all over the world who come to this place because it’s so special. Just to be one of those (tellers) is a privilege and an honor and I don’t take it lightly. When you come here you start to feel the tradition, you feel the history of the place. People are so friendly. It’s kind of a magical place, so we really enjoy being here.”
The festival continues today from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the Courthouse, College and Library tents. For more information, call the International Storytelling Center at 800-952-8392, ext. 221.