For the past six years, the City of Athens has been blessed to host what has become what the Southeast Tourism Society has called one of the “top 20 events,” and has affectionately been nicknamed “Storytellers’.” 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 Thursday, October 24th, and finish up on Saturday, October 26th. The word picture for Storytellers’ 2013 is found in the idea of serving up the perfect goulash, something made with a little of this and a little of that, not in any way hurried, and most importantly, cooked with love. The word “olio,” used in this year’s brochure to describe the free-to-the-public Thursday night presentation comes from an old Spanish term, olla podrida, which could mean anything from “hodge podge” to “hot pot.” Essentially, there will be something for everyone!
Many of the old favorite ‘tellers will be back, such as Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy and Bill 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 favorites as they travel the storytelling circuit. New to this year’s lineup, (but not at all to the craft,) is Minton Sparks. Ms. Sparks is described as a “lean and literate livewire in a flower print church dress.” She is also a songwriter.
In addition, 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 very first time there will be a local tellers’ contest on Tuesday evening, the brainchild of Jeannette Dunnavent Jones. The finalists will be determined by the level of audience response, and will go on to “tell” interspersed amongst the professionals at Thursday night’s “Olio.” The judges will be looking for style, quality and panache, and will make the final determination. Donald Davis, (who is considered by many to be the “elder statesman” of the storytelling world,) along with Carmen, Bill, and Bobby will judge the final competition. The local contestants are Frank Travis, Sheriff Mike Blakely, State Representative Dan Williams, Attorney Shane Black, retired AHS basketball coach Jerry Todd, and Charlie Hughes. Wayne Kuykendall, one of the founders of the festival, told me that “if this year’s local competition goes well, it will become an annual event, and auditions for next year will probably begin in the summer of 2014.”
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 during the day on Wednesday and Thursday. Our legislators Dan Williams, Bill Holtzclaw, Micky Hammon, and Mac McCutcheon work hard to get funding to make that possible.
One of the things that is being proposed for next year is having a storytellers’ contest in our local schools, with the winners performing at the 2014 event. Students from 3rd through 8th grade will be eligible to compete, and more details will be forthcoming.
People and businesses alike pitch in to make the Storytelling Festival something that, according to Wayne, “has an 80-100K dollar financial impact on our community.” There is more than just financial impact to be celebrated, though, and is best illustrated by the fact that the importance of storytelling has become so significant to educators that a high school in Decatur is now offering storytelling as an elective, and the students from their storytelling class will be attending.
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 in order to roast marshmallows, to imparting divine truths. Come and see what folks 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