Storytelling 2017: Our City-Wide Family Reunion

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
For the past eleven years, the City of Athens has been blessed to host what has become what the Southeast Tourism Society has called one of its “top 20 annual events,” and truth be told, it has grown into a giant family reunion. This year’s festival will be held once again under the big tent on the east side of the Courthouse, and the official festivities begin on Tuesday, October 24, and finish up on Saturday, October 28.

Many of our old favorite ‘tellers will be back, such as Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy (for the Tues.-Thur. School Days presentation only) and Bil Lepp, along with Bobby Norfolk, who has won three Emmy Awards for his work. The ‘tellers all rave about the Athens event because of the legendary hospitality and honor that they experience each year, and our town has become one of their favorite stops as they travel the storytelling circuit.

New to this year’s lineup, but not at all to the craft, are Bill Harley and Geraldine Buckley. Bill is a two-time Grammy Award winner, as well as a commentator on National Public Radio. He is also the recipient of the Beverly Cleary Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award on the national Storytelling circuit. Geraldine hails from the UK and has “told” all over the world, including in New Zealand, Canada, Holland, South Africa, and Spain. Her trademark British accent and dry humor make her a favorite wherever she goes, and interestingly, she has also served as a chaplain in Maryland at a men’s prison. She has taken three golds at the awards given by Storytelling World.

Once again, the Birmingham-based musical and theatrical group, The Dill Pickers, will be performing. The Dill Pickers have been together since 1999, and got their start as part of the cast of the off-Broadway musical Smoke On The Mountain. One of their trademarks, besides being able to do a number of styles of music, is that they each play several characters apiece in their full-length stage presentations.

For the fifth year, the Dan Williams Local Tellers Competition will be part of our “family reunion,” kicking off the festival on Tuesday night the 24th. This is a juried event, with the professional tellers serving as the judges, and the winner will go on to “tell” interspersed amongst them at Thursday night’s “Olio,” or “sampling,” of the ‘tellers’ whimsical wares. If you are interested in competing as a local ‘teller, please contact Wendy Bobo at for more information.

Former local ‘tellers have included the late Dan Williams, Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, Athens City Councilman Frank Travis, City of Athens Attorney Shane Black, Charlie Hughes, and others. Anyone can enter, and the Tuesday night event is a chance to get to know a side of “members of our family” that doesn’t always show up at their “day job.”

As previously mentioned, several things stand out about our festival, not the least of which is that out of 300 national events, ours is the only one where local school students, as well as homeschoolers, get to attend free of charge during the day Tuesday through Thursday. Our state legislators, including Senator Bill Holtzclaw, Representative Danny Crawford, and Alabama State Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, work hard every year to get funding to make that possible. And as someone who has had the opportunity to attend all of the “School Days” presentations, hearing the kids squeal with laughter as they are being taught priceless life lessons is one of my favorite parts of the festival. The phrase “They won’t know what hit ‘em” was never more appropriate, as is “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

People and businesses alike pitch in to make the Storytelling Festival something that, according to Wayne Kuykendall, one of the festival’s founders, “has an 80-100K dollar financial impact on our community.” There is more than just financial impact to be celebrated, though.

The purpose of the Athens Storytelling Festival is greater than making people laugh, or providing a safe place for families to enjoy themselves, or putting money in the coffers of local businesses and the tourism industry. Telling stories preserves cultures, gives a sense of history as well as future, and is the basis of everything from gathering around a campfire in order to roast marshmallows, to imparting divine truths. Come and see what folks have come to love so much, and “hear tales that make you laugh and cry.”

Tickets can be purchased online at, or for more information, call Wayne Kuykendall at 256-232-0400.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner