It’s been ten years since a group of civic minded Athenians brought the first Storytelling Festival to our wonderful town, and since that time, it has grown into an annual favorite of both the attendees as well as the ‘tellers. It started out as a dream, after a group of local citizens came back from the internationally famous Jonesboro Storytelling Festival held in Tennessee, and now it has become one of the most enjoyable as well as award winning parts of our local fall festival season. This year’s festival will be held from October 18th through the 22nd. A committed group of hard working volunteers and local businesses has kept the ‘tellers happily coming back each fall. In addition, the police, Athens State University, Athens Renaissance School, legislators, teachers, and just about the whole town comes together to pull it off without a hiccup. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers and supporters of Storytelling,” Wayne told me. He continued with gratitude as he mentioned that the pumpkins are provided by the Isoms, and Hobbs’ Farms provide the corn to decorate the tent and the Square.
To gain some perspective as to just how special our festival is, there are approximately 300 storytelling events held each year all over the country, and the ‘tellers are on the road far more than they are at home. When they tell you that they greatly love coming here, it is not to impress, they genuinely are stunned each year by how we take care of them with our southern hospitality. While I was conducting the annual Athens Now Storytelling Festival interview with Wayne Kuykendall, who heads up the event, I had a chance to send Carmen Deedy, (one of the students’ favorite ‘tellers) a text from the two of us, telling her how much we would miss her this year. She has some family responsibilities that are preventing her from being a part of this year’s festival, and she made no small showing of her disappointment at not being able to attend. The ‘tellers love everything from the tent on the town square to the way the kids treat them when they see them, and they are not reticent to let that be known.
Speaking of the kids, once again this year there will be an extra day for them to hear the ‘tellers. That is because our local state legislators have secured funding for public school, private school and homeschool students to attend for free. We are all grateful to Senators Orr, Holtzclaw and Melson, along with Representatives Crawford, Williams, Greer, Hammon and McCutcheon for making it possible for students to attend. We are the only Storytelling Festival in the country to do so. This year Bil Lepp and Carol Cain will be handling the school kids’ event, and Wayne also told me that “now Storytelling meets two of the curriculum core standards.” Another feature of this year’s kid’s event is that high school students are able to attend. Students from the age of 9-18 will be able to soak up all the benefits of storytelling, one being that some students have indicated to their teachers that they want to make ‘telling their career.
So, what is new for the 2016 festival? “For the 10th anniversary, we will have Three On A String,” Wayne told me. These guys are out of Birmingham, and have done music for Rick and Bubba, played for two US Presidents, and are in the Alabama Blue Grass and Alabama Music Halls of Fame, respectively.
The rest of the legendary ‘telling troupe includes Donald Davis, Andy Offut Irwin, Michael Reno Harrell, and Dolores Hydock. In addition, Bobby Horton of Three On A String and Dolores are going to pool their talent to tell a tale from the Civil War era about a young woman from Florence, AL, and it happens to be true.
For the 4th time, there will be an amateur night held on Tuesday, October 18th. It is now called “The Dan Williams Memorial Annual Storytelling Night” in honor of our recently departed Mayor and State Representative, who was a fine ‘teller in his own right. Wayne and Leah Oakley both told me that they have a great line-up of local competitors who can spin a yarn with the best of ‘em.
The winner of the amateur contest will be announced on Thursday night at the event called the Olio. “Olio” has two interesting definitions: a miscellaneous collection, or a variety act or show. It is the perfect “opening act” for the rest of the weekend, one where you could very well “laugh ‘til you cry, and cry ‘til you laugh.” Come to Storytelling 2016 with your family, and enjoy the dream that has become a delight for us all.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.athensstorytellingfestival.com, or for more information, call Wayne Kuykendall at 256-232-0400.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner