Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 National Storytelling Festival Redux

I had a great time at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN this past weekend (10/3-5). I carpooled with Martha Reed Johnson and Faye Fulton. We arrived late on Friday, due to an accident that turned I 40 into a parking lot for 1 1/2 hours, but the company and the festival made up for that. 

            It was lovely to experience performances by Tim Tingle and Kevin Kling with my minister, Steve Rembert, and his wife Betsy. Tim shared Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom, a favorite of all Tingle fans. Kevin shared a personal story about a school snow day gone bad. Suffice it to say that it was not a pleasant experience, but Kevin made it darned funny, in spite of that.

            I was late making it to the Exchange Place, so I did not get to see Linda Gorham and Pete Griffin perform, but I heard that they were both wonderful. Cathy Jo McMaken did a great job updating an old folktale about how easily men can be fooled by the wives they love. I loved Catherine Conant’s personal story about auto accidents and changing relationships. John Thomas Fowler’s story of his Appalachian grandmother and her marriages was both entertaining and enlightening. Will Hornyak had the audience in stitches. He certainly knows how to command the stage, as well as tell darn good story.

            The Friday night ghost stories were chilling, but so was the night air. I was never quite sure from which source my shivers were coming. I do know that Leeny Del Seamonds’ telling of  The Jersey Devil is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Connie Regan Blake began the night with some much appreciated comic relief from a story that did not end as expected. International New Voice Daniel Morden’s rendition of Mr. Fox was enthralling.

            On Saturday, I got to hear Susan O’Halloran for the first time, and what a treat that was! Pot of Gold: Irish Stories and Songs allowed listeners to get to know Susan, her family, and Ireland itself; with laughter, wonder, and tears along the way.

            Carol Birch told two chapters from Grapes of Wrath. Her telling of this John Steinbeck classic resonated with me in a way that I cannot describe in words. It opened up a Pandora ’s Box of emotions for me. Two days later I am still thinking about the kind waitress, the starving children, and the compassionate truckers to whom Carol introduced us. Even if it had been the only story I had heard all weekend, it would have made the travel glitches, the expense, and the time from home worthwhile. Since I began telling stories in 1987, there have been four stories that have haunted me, that I have thought about every day. Now there are five.

            Regi Carpenter’s Snap, the story of a teen’s descent into madness and her subsequent recovery, was ELECTRIC!!  The standing ovation she was given was well deserved. Tim Lowry also received a standing ovation for his performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was pitch perfect, train and all.

            New Voice Kate Campbell said that there were “three things about the South: place, religion, and race,” and then proceeded to sing about those very things in a voice so sweet and clear that I entered a state of tranquility that I did not want to leave behind. I especially enjoyed the song she wrote as a tribute to To Kill a Mockingbird. Favorite Kate Campbell quote: “It’s not who you know, it’s who you know that knows somebody.”

            Other than a tiny bit of gray in his hair, New Voice Tom Lee seemed not to have aged at all in the 20 years since I last saw him. He still moves gracefully and easily on the stage, and he still has that deep, rich voice I remember so well.

            Tickets to Megan Wells’ performance of Bram Stokers’ Dracula sold out before I could buy one. My bad. Everyone that I know who saw it said that it was phenomenal. I did not go to either of the midnight cabarets, as I did not bring clothes that would keep me warm in 37 degree weather. Again, my bad. Martha and Faye said that Antonio Sacre’s The Next Best Thing was “amazing.”

            Sunday morning found me at Jonesborough United Methodist Church listening to a powerful story sermon delivered by Geraldine Buckley. Boyd introduced Geraldine, saying that she was “cute as a puppy dog, but twice as lovable.” Favorite quotes from Geraldine: “If you want to hear God’s laugh, tell him your plans;” (when explaining to her Catholic mother why she wanted to be a Pentecostal minister) “I was called to preach, and I can’t afford a sex change.” Vintage Geraldine.

            I heard a second story sermon, delivered by Tim Lowry, at the Sacred Story olio. His story The Manger Scene took listeners on a hilarious trip down memory lane that demonstrated just what the faith of a child, and some small sacrifices, can do. I can still see the image in my head when Tim realized that the Christ child slept where the rats had eaten. Chilling.

            After that, I started running into friends, some of whom I have not seen since I left New England in 1998. I also ran into several of my Virginia friends. I had such a good time catching up that I did not attend performances again until the latter part of the final showcase olios. I found a seat just in time to see Donald Davis take the stage and transform himself into a young boy who falls into mischief. He does this so well that I honestly saw a young boy, not a man from my own generation, on the stage. I have been listening to Donald tell stories since 1989, and his stories are just as fresh now as they were then.

            I wish I could have heard more of Megan Wells. I loved her story about a family trip with a father who “went out of his way to go out of his way.”

            There were some tellers I did not get to see and hear, so I cannot write about them. Maybe next time.

            One final thing about the festival: for the first time is my life, I ate a piece of funnel cake, then another, and another. I ate seven pieces of funnel cake. It was so good I almost bought a whole funnel cake. I have been thinking about funnel cake ever since.

            We left the festival at 5:30 and ran into heavy traffic on I 26 East. I did not arrive at my house until 1:00 a.m. Was the festival worth that aggravation? YES!!!


  1. Is it still available online? Sounds WONDERFUL!!!!!! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  2. I am not sure, Sandi. Let me see what I can find out.

  3. A great recap Linda! It was so good to hug you!

    1. It was great to see you, Kim. You look happier than I have ever seen you.

  4. Thanks for your excellent and beautifully written blog, Linda. As always, it was fabulous seeing you!

    1. I miss you already, Leeny. I may be coming to Sharing the Fire in March. I'll see you in Woodruff in April.

  5. I couldn't go this year and now I got to experience a bit of the Festival. thanks--Jane

    1. It was one of my favorite festivals, Jane. Hope you can make it next year.