By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
For the past 12 years, our dear town has been the site of one truly special event, the Storytelling Festival. From its humble beginnings in 2006, it has grown to be one of the best in the country, and is unique in that ours is the only one that each year makes a way for students to attend free of charge. That is because our legislators understand that while entertaining, the multi-award winning ‘tellers who come each year for the festival intentionally craft their tales to teach important life lessons. They just manage to be uproariously funny in the process! If all goes according to plan, for the first time this year there will be time during “School Days,” (the Wednesday-Thursday daytime event reserved for students in Athens-Limestone County) for contest-winning school-kid ‘tellers to get up in front of their peers and have their “five minutes in the sun.” Who knows what career and long-term impact this could have? Speaking for myself, more than just about any part of the festival, I have always enjoyed watching the reaction of the kids as they hear the tales!
There is another positive aspect of the Storytelling Festival that we can all celebrate, and that is the “bottom line” as it pertains to economic impact. Wayne Kuykendall, one of the founders of the festival told me that between what tourism industry people call “heads in beds,” vendor food purchased by attendees, ticket sales, restaurant meals served, and just “putting us on the map,” the financial impact on our community is close to $750,000.
For the 6th year, the annual Dan Williams Local Tellers’ Competition (formerly known as Amateur Night) is going to be on Tuesday night, October 23. The plan is to have ten local ‘tellers compete for the chance to be a part of the opening “Olio,” or “variety act or show.” In years gone by, winners have been folks like Athens City Councilman Frank Travis and Limestone County school teacher Barry Pugh. And in his day, Dan Williams was one of the best storytellers around.
The line-up for the 2018 festival includes some familiar faces and some newcomers. Back again are Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, and Bil Lepp. Donald is considered the “elder statesman” of the storytelling world, and his people have lived in western North Carolina since 1781. He says, “I didn’t learn stories, I just absorbed them.” Carmen and Bil have been on such television shows as NPR’s All Things Considered and Comedy Central, respectively. Carmen is also the author of several children’s books which will be for sale at the Center for Lifelong Learning.
Tim Lowry is a nationally known ‘teller who lives in South Carolina and sports a seersucker suit reminiscent of lawyers of a by-gone era. He specializes in tales about American history, folktales, and personal stories. Tim has also performed at the Florence, AL, storytelling festival. Josh Goforth is a bluegrass, old time, and swing musician who started playing instruments at the age of five, and has appeared with Ricky Skaggs, Bryan Sutton, The Yonder Mountain String Band, and Open Road. Josh possesses the ability to pick up any number of instruments and just play them like a pro. Wayne Kuykendall met him at the Jonesboro festival and had the delight of hearing Josh tell stories about his beloved grandfather, whom Josh always called Peepaw. “I just knew we had to have him,” said Wayne.
The festival is going to be held once again at the Courthouse Square on the Marion Street side in a tent that accommodates 1500 people. The ‘tellers are scheduled so that it’s possible for all attendees to hear each one. There will be the usual accompanying festival/fair food, and our charming local restaurants will be ready to feed hungry festival goers. Also, if the weather is nippy, there will be heaters in the tent to keep your toes toasty, but do plan on dressing warmly.
Tickets for the weekend, referred to as “the whole shebang,” are $65 and can be ordered online. There are also tickets available for each day, as well as half days. For more information, go to www.athensstorytellingfestival.com, or call Wayne Kuykendall at (256) 232-0400. Come and celebrate a lovely fall in our beautiful corner of the world by supporting the Athens Storytelling Festival, which is described as “a small town in Alabama where, every year, travelers, and storytellers gather on the downtown thoroughfare to weave memories and magic into captivating stories for wide-eyed audiences. Where spectacular tales of mystery and adventure come to life. Where urban legends meet legendary heroes. Where we glimpse into the past and explore our shared history. This is the Athens Storytelling Festival, where the audience lives the imaginary.” See you there!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner