Monday, November 2, 2009

The Athens Storytelling Festival

What a good time! Storytelling by some of the best tellers in the country, music by one of my favorite folk musicians, attentive audiences and a welcoming, supportive community. What's not to like?

The festival is set up in the middle of the downtown district. One of the streets around the courthouse square was closed, and a huge circus-type tent erected on the street.
The Storytelling Store and Headquarters for the festival was located in the Boys and girls Club on the same block, allowing attendees to easily get their tickets and shop for books and CDs. The whole festival is a compact, well-organized event. Merchants support it with advertising and promotions; the mayor, state representatives, police and other agencies offered financial and logistics support.
Even Sponge Bob was there to support storytelling (actually, I think he was a Halloween decoration, but who's to say?)
Best of all, the community came out in large numbers to attend the sessions. Even this one, early Saturday morning when it was pretty cold and damp, had a good crowd. On the stage is Bil Lepp, West Virginia's best liar. Bil draws large crowds wherever he goes, and Athens was no exception.
Not all of the audience was local, though--some came from as far away as California. That speaks to the growing reputation of this festival. Its easy access, friendly town, and informal atmosphere all go a long way to making people feel comfortable and welcome.

I have no photos of me on stage, or even with the headline tellers! Larry was busy listening and so was I. But I did get one photo of me with the person who made my time in Athens smooth and problem-free. Nanci is a school media specialist and her care and attention to my needs was something special. All of those involved with the festival were the same, going out of their way to make things as easy as possible for the storytellers.
And....
they sent us home with a gift bag of mementos of Athens, including a signed, numbered and framed print of an original artwork depicting the downtown area. Not to mention an inscribed Case pocket knife, honey, soap, goat cheese, and more.
I don't have any photos of the ghost stories evening, either! It rained by the buckets, the wind whipped, and the camera and umbrella were in the car. So, no photos. But the audience stayed on to listen to the tales until 11:30 pm, and perhaps the weather only added to the atmosphere for ghostly tales. My West Virginia ghost stories seemed to be the kind they were looking for--some were a little gory, all were based on a reportedly true occurrence, and all were spooky enough to send people out with a little shiver that wasn't due to the cold rain. I added a couple ballads to spice it up and many people commented on how much they enjoyed them.
We came home Saturday afternoon, driving across Tennessee and Kentucky as the day turned to night and a full moon shone through drifting clouds, a perfect Halloween night. If the spirits were afoot, I did not see them. Perhaps I was just too tired, or perhaps it was because we were talking all the way home about the festival, the stories we'd heard and the people we'd met.

7 comments:

Janet, said...

Sounds like you and Larry had a great time.

Granny Sue said...

We did, Janet. It's been a long time since I've been down south and we sure enjoyed it.

Nance said...

Your description of the rain and the ghost stories and Liars, made it all very real to me. I would have enjoyed every minute of the weekend . . . AND the ride home. Thanks for sharing!

Jai Joshi said...

How lovely! I'm glad you had a good time and am feeling a little jealous since I've had no storytelling action for quite some time. *Jai mutters to herself about how unfair life is*

Jai

Jai Joshi said...

How lovely! I'm glad you had a good time and am feeling a little jealous since I've had no storytelling action for quite some time. *Jai mutters to herself about how unfair life is*

Jai

Granny Sue said...

Nance, a coworker said, "you mean 1500 people would come out to listen to STORIES? How little she knows the power of the experience of hearing good stories well told with hundreds of others so that the group becomes a community of shared experience. There is nothing quite like it. At the movies, everyone is in their own little world. music concerts come close, but there is not the close connection to the performer that storytelling offers. It is magic.

Granny Sue said...

Jai, I know that feeling! sometimes I hit a drought period (usually in the winter) and then when spring comes and I have gigs again I wonder why I do this. It's so comfortable to just stay around home and do the everyday things without the stress of preparing, performing and traveling. Then I do the first performance and I'm high on storytelling again.

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