8th Annual Storytelling Festival: “Imagine A Crisp Fall Weekend…”

“…spent listening to stories of adventure and excitement…a place where memories and magic are captured and spun into tales that make you laugh and cry. Hear stories that tell of a time that used to be. Glimpse into the past and live the imaginary. Learn more about your parents, your children, yourself.” –2014 Storytelling Festival Brochure.
It is that time again, and for the eighth year in a row, from October 21 thru October 25, “Our Town” will host an event that has quickly become a significant reason why Athens is such a wonderful place to live: the Storytelling Festival. One of the many blessings of our particular festival is that it is squeaky clean, and is accurately billed as true family fare.

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Several things stand out about our festival, starting with the fact that out of 300 national events, ours is the only one that sees to it that students from our school system as well as homeschoolers get to attend free of charge. Our legislators Dan Williams, Bill Holtzclaw and Mac McCutcheon work hard to get funding to make it possible. People and businesses alike pitch in to make the event something that, according to event organizer Wayne Kuykendall, “has an 80-100K dollar financial impact on our community.”

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Wayne had some additional news that will most definitely affect our school kids in a positive way. This year the National Endowment of the Arts has recognized storytelling as a sub-discipline under the theatre arts as well as folk/traditional arts, which means that in order to satisfy federal education requirements, more kids will be coming to the festival. Funds will be released to make sure that happens, and next year the school events will be started a day early to make sure all the students get their chance to hear the ‘tellers. Andy Offutt Irwin will be “on duty” with the kids. He started out in comedy, and then added storytelling and music to his repertoire. He is an award winning storyteller, and all five of the CDs he has produced have garnered awards as well.

10-3-2014 11-32-42 AMSo, who else is in the lineup for this year’s Storytelling Festival? Some old favorites as well as someone we haven’t seen in awhile. Kevin Kling, who is a veteran of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, teaches kids about right and wrong through the use of two characters named Goofus and Gallant. Of his two imaginary chums Kevin says, “Gallant cleans his room, Goofus sees if oily rags will burn in a window well.” Interestingly, Kevin has managed to be wonderfully animated in his presentation, in spite of the fact that a motorcycle accident left him with no use of his right arm whatsoever.

Veteran ‘tellers such as Donald Davis, Bill Lepp, Carmen Deedy and John McCutcheon will be back again this year, and all of them rave about the Athens event because of the legendary hospitality and honor that they experience each year. This year there will be an added treat, the Dill Pickers, who were a big hit last year, and they will replicate an old time radio hour. They will be performing on Thursday evening only.

10-3-2014 11-32-52 AMLast year was the first time that local folks were invited to “show their stuff,” and we were delighted to hear tales of what it was like to grow up in Limestone County from several local celebrities. The event, which was held before the weekend officially kicked off, was judged by the professional tellers, and Frank Travis was declared the winner. His prize was being invited to “run with the big dogs” and tell with the ‘tellers when the event kicked off on Thursday. This year the local contestants submitted audition tapes and DVDs, and the final selection will be made after October 1. They will perform on Tuesday night.
Storytelling is about much more than making people laugh, or providing a safe place for families to enjoy themselves, or to put money in the coffers of local tourism. Telling stories preserves cultures, gives a sense of history as well as future, and is the basis of everything from gathering around a campfire to roast marshmallows, to imparting divine truths. It is clearly a way to strengthen our city.

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So, come and see what we have come to love so much, and “laugh ‘til you cry, and cry ‘til you laugh.”
Tickets can be purchased online at www.athensstorytellingfestival.com, or for more information, call Wayne Kuykendall at 256-232-0400.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner