National Storytelling Festival

National Storytelling Festival

How do you know anything about your great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends? How do you know about your own parents or contemporaries? You got it—through stories.

Perhaps someone in your family is a storyteller. My mother, whose roots were in the deep South of the Mississippi Delta, loved using dialect to tell tales about her life growing up on a cotton plantation. My husband’s mother told about the first time she ever saw an airplane at a fair, and about the story his dad wrote for a local newspaper describing the day he “took the ride of his young life” as a balloon pilot in WWI.

What is your story? It may be simple, like the era and place you were born, how you grew up and with whom, your school days, or church life. We all have a story, and someday we may be remembered by it or the way we told it.

That’s what storytelling is all about, and that’s the gift the National Storytelling Festival gives you. We heard from some of the best, and experienced with them some of the funniest, heart wrenching, sentimental, and awesome stories you could ever want to hear, and we were challenged to let our story be heard, too. You may have only one or many, but each of us can be a storyteller!

National Storytelling Festival
©Tom Raymond, Fresh Air Photographics

For years we had been hearing about the National Storytelling Festival that always begins on the first Friday in October in Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. It began in 1973 when town residents rolled a farm wagon to the courthouse square, and several storytellers (including a former congressman, a banker, a college professor, and a farmer) told tales to a small group of folks sitting around on the grass, the curbs, and folding chairs. The stories opened up whole new world of people and places, and allowed those listening to become acquainted with each other.

When we attended the 43rd Festival last year as part of a WBCCI Special Event Rally, the whole village was decked out for fall and the Festival food tents and restaurants were ready for the crowds.
Sponsored by the Northeast Tennessee Unit, we camped with full hookups at the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Grey, Tennessee, approximately ten miles from the festival. Several circus-sized tents each seating up to a thousand folks were open all day, and late into the night on the weekend. Tellers were scheduled for hour, half-hour, and fifteen minute segments. We could pick and choose who we wanted to hear from a printed schedule that helped us plan our day. Many chose to stay in one tent for the entire day, as the tellers moved from one tent to the other.

Creekside Tent
©Tom Raymond, Fresh Air Photographics

One tent was set up to sell books and CDs (also on sale at the Visitor’s Center and the new modern Storytelling Center on Main Street). Workshops were available to teach visitors how to become an accomplished teller or story writer. Local churches and groups have food vendors as a convenience, but you may bring their own snacks, drinks and sandwiches from your Airstream. Seat cushions are a great idea!

Storytelling festivals have become a popular draw for those who like to hear, love, learn and laugh. Many of the best-known tellers can be heard on U-tube, Sirius, and on CDs. This was our first live experience, and we will go again! In the meantime, we have several new CDs of stories to listen to as we meander along in our Airstream.

©Tom Raymond, Fresh Air Photographics

2016 Featured tellers include:

Clare Muireann Murphy— Professional liar Murphy has performed internationally, from the Globe Theatre in London to the Toronto Storytelling Festival.

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton—Nominated for the International Folk Music Artist of the Year, Paxton weaves jazz, blues, folk, and country music with humor and storytelling.

Will Hornyak—Named “Artist of the Year” by Young Audiences of Oregon, Hornyak teaches storytelling in professional communication and performs throughout the country.

Bil Lepp—Internationally-known storyteller, author, and recording artist; “a satisfying blend of Bob Newhart and Jeff Foxworthy”. Five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest.

Motoko—A native of Osaka, Japan, Motoko’s repertoire includes Asian folktales, Rakugo and Zen tales, mime vignettes, and personal stories from her childhood in Japan and life as an immigrant.

Plan your visit

The 44th annual National Storytelling Festival—“One Festival, Three Days, and a World of Stories”—will be held October 7–9, 2016 in historic Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Register online or purchase tickets onsite. View the 2016 Festival Brochure for more information.

Park your vehicle at the elementary school located along Highway 11-E and ride the shuttle bus to the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center where Festival registration is located.

Handicapped parking and facilities are available, and nationally certified sign language interpreters from Chicago will be interpreting throughout the Festival weekend.

October weather in northeast Tennessee is unpredictable. Dress in layers. Tellers share their stories under tents, and the Festival continues rain or shine.

Pets are not allowed on the Festival grounds (except service dogs).

From Interstate 81, Jonesborough is located along U.S. Highway 11 E, 15 minutes southwest of Johnson City, 25 minutes northeast of Greeneville, and 90 minutes north of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Nearby campgrounds:

Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park
Limestone, Tennessee

River View Campground
Highway 107, Jonesborough, Tennessee

Riverpark Campground
Highway 81 South, Jonesborough, Tennessee

-Contributed by Elna Thompson
Photos ©Tom Raymond, Fresh Air Photographics