Storytelling is not just for kids but for all kids at heart. I’ve been a fan of storytelling off and on for 30 years, and wish I could point to the first time I heard a story told and say something like “the first time I ever heard a storyteller…”, but I can’t. Of course, it doesn’t really matter when I first heard a story other than those told by my uncles on Sundays on the porch between church and dinner. It only matters that I discovered the world of storytellers and the absolute, hands-down, no doubt about it, best can be found in Jonesborough, Tennessee during the second weekend of every October.
Even though I am passionate about storytelling, and have a desire to learn how, it seems I only get to the festival every ten years or so. This year marked the third time I attended in about a twenty year time period. I was as excited about going as a kid going to Disneyland.
The first day is filled with storytelling “samplers”, where they have all of the weekend’s tellers “tell” for about 30 minutes each. This way you can decide who you want to see do a full 1-hour show on Saturday or Sunday. So I dragged my husband from tent to tent until dinnertime, and returned that night for “ghost stories” where I found myself shivering… not from the stories but from the cold mountain air. The next morning found us in the local Walmart buying long-johns and gloves so we’d be ready for the Saturday night shows.
The most amazing experience was sitting in a tent with 1000 people all captivated by the teller of the moment. Every member of the audience was so enthralled that you could have heard a pin drop except we were sitting on chairs on the grass under a tent. There’s no clear demarcation between storytelling, stand-up comedy, and musical entertainment, because all of those were on display. Many of the storytellers played musical instruments like Bill Harley and John McCutcheon and most everyone told jokes.
In the bustle of our daily lives, we get little chance to laugh like a 4-year old which is just one of the many things that makes the festival so special. It is three 10-hour days of non-stop laughter sprinkled with tears brought about by the common understanding of the human experience. As one teller put it… a great story occurs where the story intersects with our personal experience.