Monday, April 19, 2010

2010 Sounds of the Mountain Music and Story Festival

Festival Review by Linda Goodman

I just returned from a weekend at Camp Bethel in Fincastle, Virginia, home of the Sounds of the Mountains Music and Story Festival.

I must warn you: Driving to this festival can be dangerous to your health. Once you exit off of the highway to route 11, the mountain scenery is so breathtakingly beautiful that there is an overwhelming urge to enjoy the view, at the expense of keeping your eyes on the narrow, winding roads.

The staff at Camp Bethel could not been more hospitable. They answered questions with a smile and left no doubt that they were happy to have us. Camp Bethel is a Christian Camp, sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, that services many children who could not otherwise enjoy the camping experience. This festival helps them raise money to do just that.

The Friday night concert began at 7:30 and featured Alan Hoal, Beth Horner, Kevin Kling, and Bill Harley. One of the main reasons that I go to festivals is to hear tellers that I have not hard before. After I heard this set, I felt as though I had struck gold. Alan Hoal, Kevin Kling, and Beth Horner were all new to me. Also in the line-up was Bill Harley, one of my favorite tellers from way back. I was enthralled with each one and could not wait to see what they would do on Saturday.

Alan Hoal proved himself to be a master of tall tales, as well as a philosopher. Alan is the founder of Sounds of the Mountains, and I am sure that the weeks leading up to the festival were extremely busy ones for him. Having been involved in storytelling festival and conference production myself (Three Apples Storytelling Festival, Sharing the Fire), I know only too well how hectic and stressful the weeks (and months!) leading up to such an event can be. After such a grueling prelude, being able to tell a story with the ease and comfort that Hoal exhibited is no small feat. I look forward to hearing him again.

Listening to Kevin Kling was like watching an episode of 24: you could not let your mind wander for even a minute! He told stories of his childhood, of his days hopping freight trains, and of his hitchhiking experiences. He was even brave enough to bare his soul and share the story of his disability and how he came to terms with it. He is a master wordsmith who is highly intellectual, yet accessible. He had people laughing hysterically. He had people wiping away tears. He is an endearing man who captures the hearts of his listeners and makes them believe in the impossible. I have heard people rave about him for years, and now I am raving, too. His stories will stay with me for a long time.

Beth Horner is a delight. She reminded me of a pixie with spunk! Every where I went, there was a buzz about her Civil War story, Silver Spurs (I missed this set – darn it!). I was captivated by her tale of a simple folk singer who wrote a song that saved the Missouri River from being defiled with sewage. I cannot get the chorus out of my head:

“Columbus is building a sewer,
Filled with do-do-do-do-do-do-do”

Beth is now on my radar. Whenever she tells at a site near me, I will be there.

Bill Harley never fails to delight. I first heard him tell was at the Connecticut Storytelling Festival in 1990. After 20 years, you would think that he would have run out of steam, or at least slowed down. Quite the opposite is true, however. He is a little grayer now, but when he takes the stage he is once again that mischievous little boy, that angst-filled teenager, or that befuddled parent trying to figure out how to temper discipline and love when relating to his offspring. He will always be one of storytelling’s grand jewels.

Tim Livengood’s witty pirate version of Cinderella was a tour de force that garnered gut-busting laughter and awestruck wonder. How does he maintain that persona for eighteen full minutes? He is a powerhouse of talent.

Tim and I were at the festival as VASA tellers. I usually do not perform in showcases at festivals, as past experience has taught me that such performances are usually just an attempt to stroke the organization (in this case VASA) as compensation for its support. Such showcases are usually scheduled during lunch or dinner time, or against a national teller that everyone wants to hear. Festival showcase attendance is often so low that it is embarrassing. I am happy to report, however, that Sounds of the Mountains treated its VASA tellers well this year. This is in large part due to the brilliant Kim Weitkamp, the weekend’s emcee (none better!) who ingeniously rearranged the schedule so that the VASA tellers were tagged onto the end of a set featuring Beth Horner and Kevin Kling. The audience, therefore, stayed put, listened to, and (I think) even enjoyed Tim and me. Kim Weitkamp: THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!

Next year’s Sounds of the Mountains Festival will be held during the weekend of April 15-16. It will be the festival’s 10th anniversary, and the featured tellers will be Sheila Kay Adams, Donald Davis, David Holt, Andy Offutt Irwin, and Baba Jamal Koram. I have personally heard all of these tellers except for Andy, and I can vouch for the fact that the ones I have heard are top drawer. Everyone that I know who has heard Andy says that he is the best of the best, so I feel certain you will enjoy him, too.

There are several affordable hotels within 15 miles of Camp Bethel. If you like to camp, you can even spend the weekend on the campground. Mark you calendars so that you don’t miss this storytelling gem.


  1. I'm delighted to learn that you had a full house for your part of the festivities.

    Great review. Except ... what did YOU tell?

    I heard briefly from Norris, who told me you were brilliant. No surprise there. You do us Virginia tellers proud, lady.

  2. Linda, you are way to kind. And humble. Your story about the Primitive Baptist Church was wonderful. I had heard it before, and loved it just as much this time around. BUT you know I am a Dorcus fan. I would drive a long way to hear more of your Dorcus stories. Love the woman...she creeps me out. I love it.!!

  3. I told my story The Mustard Seed. It seemed the right story for the Sounds of the Mountains audience.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with Linda about the tellers. I'm so sorry you missed Beth Horner's story about Silver Spurs. It was riveting and ever so poignant. Blake and I both had tears streaming down our cheeks! I spoke to her and she told me that is just the first part of a 3-part program she does. The 2nd part is about a Vietnam soldier (I think) and the 3rd part is about a female soldier in Iraq. I'd love to hear the rest but not sure I could take it. She's my new favorite teller! A wonderful mix of humor, pathos and warmth. One of the best things about a smaller festival like this is that the tellers are so accessible. All the MCs did a wonderful job but I was especially impressed with Kim Weitkamp who had such creative ways of introducing the tellers. We left after Sat. afternoon tellers but what we heard was a wonderful storytelling experience. Can't wait 'til next year!!

    Susan Clark