“Storytelling is the oldest art form and it is an enchanting medium for humor, history, personal narrative, folk tales, fairy tales, or Appalachian Tall Tales. I find myself attracted to stories that heal or provide insight, but then I realized all stories are healing. We all have stories to tell and an untold story is a story lost. Stories lead us to laughter and hope. Elizabeth Ellis teaches that stories leave us thinking, ‘A-ha, Ha Ha, Ahhhhhh or Amen!'” So writes my friend, Jessica McCune, who has successfully pursued a Masters in Storytelling. I had no idea such a thing existed, and it piqued my curiosity to the point where yesterday I attended the 22nd Annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Orem, Utah.
I found almost a dozen food booths, a free hands-on pottery class, magic and puppet shows, blue grass entertainment, and strolling jugglers. The main attraction, naturally, was the storytellers.
Enormous tents had been set up, one for music presentations, the rest for speakers. I wandered into one, took an empty seat, and was instantly transfixed. As the Festival brochure noted, “as sweet as a Georgia peach and as spicy as jambalaya, Carol Cain is a true steel magnolia.” She was winding up a story about seeing a matinee of Gone With the Wind with her “mama” and I kicked myself for missing the beginning. But she went on to delight us with another. The emcee stood and addressed the audience. “See? I told you you’d come to the right tent!” I had to agree. Next up was 20-year veteran storyteller Milbre Burch, a recipient of the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Network. The close of her presentation brought us to the lunch break, and I approached her to request a photo, though I still had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat from her last tale. She graciously obliged, as did Ms. Cain, surrounded by young admirers.
Eating a turkey sandwich with a side of potato salad at a shaded picnic table, I studied my program for the afternoon’s offerings despite distraction by “Jugglin’ Jimmy” (Hepworth), who blithely tossed razor sharp knives into the air on a nearby stage. Telling tales seems a lot safer, I thought, before heading to the Cliff View tent to hear Susan Klein. Autobiographical material said her past included “growing up on Martha’s Vineyard in the ’50s, waitressing and teaching school in the ’70’s and (being) an itinerant storyteller in Alaskan Yup’ik Eskimo villages in the ’80s.” Whoa! This was not going to be dull. Guess what? It wasn’t. Ms. Klein is a master storyteller who related, with a perfect balance of humor and pathos, the childhood experience of beach “plumming” and putting up preserves with her German mother.
My time was limited, so I dipped into five tents the following hour, catching a bit of Mitch Capel, Charlie Chin, Antonio Rocha, “Utah’s Biggest Liars” and the legendary Donald Davis. On my way to the parking lot I made a purchase at the gift shop, Festival Fanfare, with its notebooks, T-shirts, bags, and importantly, a treasury of CDs and books by presenters. During the ride home I tried to process all I’d seen and heard in such a short period of time and imagined what those who were lucky enough to be present for Thursday evening’s “pregame show” and all day and night Friday and Saturday might be feeling. Maybe next year I’ll find out.
The book lover in me has expanded to appreciate the spoken word in a new way. I look forward to crafting and sharing stories with others: with adults, vignettes from my memoir, Rabbit Trail, and even with little ones, when my grandchildren are old enough.
In the meantime, from the beautiful state of Utah, happy tales to you!