We're home from our trip to the Kentucky Storytelling Conference. Any of you who blog or do Facebook know how it is to have close online friends that you have never met face to face. I've been a member of the Kentucky Storytelling Association for a couple years. I join the storytelling organizations in neighboring states because I want to support their work, and in the process I meet many good people.
I'd emailed or facebooked (is that a word?) with many members of the Kentucky group, but had met only a few of them in person, so I was looking forward to this trip. I had submitted a workshop on ballads that was accepted for the conference so I packed up my books, CDs, notes and Larry and we took off Friday morning.
Oddly I took few photos on this trip. I suppose it was because I was focused on my workshop, and the drive was a long one--about 8 hours--so there was not time to dillydally along the way as I like to do. We got on the interstates and pretty well stayed there.
The place was stayed was stunning. The Kentucky Dam Village Inn and Conference Center were in the part of Kentucky known as the Land Between the Lakes; huge TVA dams and lakes form a wonderland for water sport enthusiasts. Larry planned to do some exploring while I was at the conference, but unfortunately a rainy drizzly day changed his plans--so he stayed indoors mostly, and enjoyed that rare treat, a television!
I was intrigued by several aspects of this conference. First, the KSA has partnered with an organization that serves the deaf and hard of hearing, and a number of interpreters from that organization attended the conference. They provided signing for the workshops and storytelling sessions. If you have never seen an interpreter working with a storyteller, I can tell you it is a wonderful experience. Interpreters use facial expression and body language along with the sign language to interpret the stories, so they add wonderfully to the experience for both hearing and non-hearing listeners.
KSA also works with young tellers to develop new talent. These "torchbearers" can then advance to compete at the national level and perform at the National Storytelling Festival. Several young tellers attended the conference and a past winner who is now in college is a new board member for KSA. The inclusion of young tellers in the organization is important to the future of storytelling, and Kentucky is doing an excellent job of supporting and mentoring emerging talent.
In all organizations like this, volunteers provide the backbone that builds success. I met many people of all experience levels offering their services to help their organization grow and remain strong. The sense of "we're all in this together" was strong, and at the same time, there was none of the stress level I've noticed in other volunteer organizations. Maybe they just hide it well, but I don't think that is the case. The group worked well together, took responsibility and seemed committed to making the conference run smoothly. Great work by a great team.
Another interesting approach was how the storytelling sessions were handled. Often a few "featured" performers present a concert or two but in Kentucky there were multiple open mic sessions. Three hats were placed on the stage and a person could put their name in the hat that best described their experience level: tell a little, tell often, or tell a lot. This allowed the less experienced equal time and equal appreciation for their efforts. Names could only be submitted once during the conference, so everyone who wanted to had a good chance to perform.
There was one featured performer, Octavia Sexton. Her Appalachian heritage was evident in her tales that were flavored with a uniquely Kentucky seasoning and a healthy dose of strong Appalachian woman too. Olivia is best known, I learned, for her telling of Jack tales, those trickster stories that traveled to our mountains with early settlers from the British Isles. Octavia's humor and sense of timing made for a highly entertaining presentation. She's a master of her genre.
Brother Wolf of Ohio was at the conference as a presenter too. Brother Wolf produces the podcast series "The Art of Storytelling" along with other ventures. He has recorded almost 100 storytellers from across the US for his broadcasts, and was recently recognized for his work with a National Oracle Award for Service to Storytelling by the National Storytelling Network, which is a prestigious award in storytelling circles. He made use of his time in Kentucky to record an interview with Octavia on the topic of Jack tales, and also recorded an interview with me on Appalachian ballads. I am not sure when the interview will air, but will be sure to post a link to it here when it is available.
The drive home was for some reason easier than the drive down and we came back to a wonderfully warm house--we're still getting used to heat that stays on even when we're not here. Small blessings sometimes are the ones we appreciate most, aren't they?