Storytelling is an Appalachian art form. Before the Internet, before television, before telephones and radio, before even newspapers made the scene, storytelling was one of the best forms of entertainment. People huddled together on the front porch, around a wood stove, at the general store or anywhere a few people could congregate to hear someone tell a fresh tale.
Despite all the modern devices and distractions, storytelling has not only survived, but it has blossomed in recent years. As a result, storytelling festivals and competitions have sprung up throughout the world, but especially in Central Appalachia. In fact, Jonesborough, Tennessee, is home to the International Storytelling Center.
The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough is held over the first full weekend every October. Started in 1973 by high school journalism teacher Jimmy Neil Smith, it has become one of the Top 100 Events in the country. Smith went on to cofound the National Storytelling Association. The National Storytelling Festival now draws 10,000 people to listen to 20 ‘tellers.
Even though it represents the epicenter of storytelling, Tennessee is far from the only Appalachian state offering storytelling festivals. Kentucky has the Cave Run Storytelling Festival, held on the shore of Cave Run Lake, within the Daniel Boone National Forest, about eight miles from the nearest town (Morehead). First held in 1999, this storytelling fest grew directly out of the Jonesborough festival, but it’s been growing on its own ever since.
North Carolina Storytelling
Storytelling is alive and well in North Carolina, represented as it is by numerous festivals throughout the state. For example, the Storytelling Festival of Carolina in Laurinburg happens in March. The Toe River Storytelling Festival in Bakersville takes place in July.
South Carolina Storytelling
The Stone Soup Storytelling Institute in Woodruff hosts the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival in April. Although this festival is fairly new — it began in 2011 — it attracts excellent storytellers and has gained the moniker “the Official Storytelling Festival of South Carolina.”
Georgia has several storytelling festivals. In March, the Azalea Storytelling Festival at LaGrange College is three days of ‘telling. In April, Madison puts on Do Tell! Stories Under the Bell Tower, Storytelling Festival. Both events attract nationally recognized storytellers for tales and workshops.
The Culpeper Tells Storytelling Festival occurs in March. It attracts veteran storytellers from throughout the region to speak to a growing audience wanting to experience an “intimate and personal form of storytelling.” One of the more recent storytelling festivals — it started in 2014 — it provides more evidence that storytelling is attracting a wider and more diverse audience.