When’s the last time you sat and listened to someone tell a really good story? I was recently introduced to a couple of videos of singer-songwriter Todd Snider in which he tells these really entertaining stories in between songs. It is kind of his thing. Actually, it is kind of a thing with the Americana/folk/country genre, but Snider takes it to a pretty elaborate and hilarious level.
I wrote recently about Nanci Griffith’s live album on which her stories and comments between the songs were as entertaining as the songs themselves. You could say that many songwriters are storytellers, in a sense, but the ones that draw you in to a continuous tale with a beginning and an end, holding you at attention, waiting to hear what happens next, are the truly good ones, aren’t they? Snider is one of a few musicians who are particularly good at telling a story, with music or without, but I’m afraid it is an art form for which we are losing appreciation.
I feel like storytelling happened often when I was young, and I’m not just talking about storytelling to kids. We often heard stories read and told as children, but I also feel like the art of storytelling was more prominent back then.
My parents were fans of a guy named David Holt and I can still remember the punchline from the story that Mom and Dad retold most often. It goes something like, “Did you kill it?” “I don’t know, but I made it turn that feller loose!” It was a short tale of a guy who got the first motorcycle in his rural Appalachian community and was challenged by his buddies to ride it to the top of the highest mountain. The old recluse couple that lived on the mountain had never heard of a motorcycle, and when the man heard it coming up the hill he asked his wife to bring him his gun and he took a shot. Hence, the punchline.
I know I’m revealing my redneck roots for better or worse, but between Holt, Jerry Clower, Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones and Archie Campbell and many more, I have a fairly strong influence of country storytellers in my background. So, it is no surprise that I was thrilled to see the Ridge & Valley Storytellers show up on the scene, and their Big Fibbers Storytelling Festival that is coming up next week.
Terrell Shaw and his storytelling pals have done a fantastic job of showcasing the craft in Rome with events throughout the year. All accomplished tellers themselves, they decided to step it up a notch or two by creating the Big Fibbers Festival that brings us guest tellers, workshops and competitions.
For several years, Chiaha Harvest Fair has sponsored the Debby Brown YoungTales youth program that takes storytelling workshops into Rome and Floyd County elementary and middle schools to teach kids the craft. Katie Chappell, fifth grade teacher at Anna K. Davie Elementary, said of the program, “My students have a difficult time with written expression. They have wonderful stories inside, but struggled to get them out. By learning how to be verbal storytellers, they became stronger storytellers as well as writers.”
Kids are chosen from the programs to participate in a storytelling competition on Saturday afternoon at the Big Fibbers Festival. Because of my role in the Chiaha Harvest Fair I was given the opportunity to judge the student competition a couple of times and it was spectacular! It is so fun to watch these kids get into telling their stories. The thing I find most exciting is how much it helps them discover and feel proud of themselves and learn the skills it takes to speak in front of a large group of people. It is truly wonderful to watch these kids shine and it was always hard to pick the winners.
I found a wonderful TED Talk by David J.P. Phillips in which he discusses the importance of storytelling. The part I found most fascinating is his description of an experiment that a reporter did where he went on Ebay and bought 200 items that cost $1 or less. He then asked 200 storytellers to write a story about each item, then reposted them for sale on Ebay. One item he bought for 99 cents sold the second time for $62.95. All totaled, his collection of items that cost $129 sold for $8,000 after stories were added. How crazy is that? He goes on to discuss how the emotional triggers of a good story influence us, and it is really interesting.
I didn’t expect to find such a powerful argument for the value of storytelling, but what a rich opportunity it is for the children of Floyd County to learn this craft, and what a wonderful chance to experience the craft for ourselves through the Big Fibbers Festival.
This year’s festival is bringing a couple of stellar storytellers to perform, and you don’t want to miss them. Bill Lepp joins us from Charleston, W. Va., and fellow storyteller Barbara McBride Smith sums him up quite hilariously. “Bill Lepp is the Wonder Bra of storytelling. He takes something small and insignificant and pushes it up into something real-l-l-ly big and mi-i-i-ghty interesting.” That says a lot, don’t you think?
Andy Offutt Irwin is from not-too-far-off in Covington, the town he describes as the same town where his mama grew up, the same town where his mama’s mama grew up, the same town where his mama’s mama’s mama grew up, the same town where his mama’s mama’s mama’s mama grew up. He is considered one of the most sought after storytellers in the country and has been a Featured Teller at the National Storytelling Festival for nine years.
Be sure to mark your calendar for the weekend of March 15-17. Look for details about the the event online at bigfibbers.com and get ready to enjoy some real whoppers!