The seventh annual Storytelling Festival of Carolina kicked off Thursday at the John Blue House, and will continue today and Saturday.
More than 1,000 storytelling aficionados are expected to attend to hear the tales of Willie Claflin, the Rev. Robert Jones, Barbara McBride-Smith, and Bil Lepp, who all performed Thursday for an audience of local schoolchildren.
The West Virginian Lepp shared stories of outlandish dreams, involving being a pirate and pursuit by a polar bear, all in the middle of his bedroom. The Rev. Robert Jones of Detroit, Mich., also a blues musician, accompanied his stories with his steel guitar. Jones gave an overview of American music history and a story from his own childhood, complete with flamenco riffs, of when his grandmother helped him buy his first Madeira guitar.
A Tulsa, Okla. librarian, McBride-Smith told a story of Jack after the beanstalk, spending the night in a haunted house while seeking his fortune. Though her stories for a general audience will be different, McBride-Smith said that her themes tend to remain consistent.
“I want them to be themselves, be who they are,” said McBride-Smith. “Their fortune may not be money; their fortune may be something entirely different, but go out and see what’s out there and live life to the fullest. I think that’s what every good story is really about.”
Some 400 elementary school students and teachers from North and South Carolina schools attended the festival’s Thursday morning session, interacting with the tellers in songs and in choruses of ocean and creaking door sounds when the stories called for them.
Jan Schmidt, executive director of the Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast, said that this year’s tellers were selected based upon the humorous elements of their stories. Aided by the exertion of laughter, the crowd remained warm in heated tents despite the brisk temperatures.
Claflin, who told “fractured fairy tales” to the younger students with the help of his puppet Maynard Moose, takes a broad approach to his stories.
“For me it’s very simple; I never believed in putting morals at the end of stories because I think stories have so many morals in them,” said Claflin, of San Francisco, Calif. “I do old traditional Scots-Irish ballads, fractured fairy tales, I do family stories. A lot of it’s just communicating face-to-face; the more personal the story, the more universal the appeal, people think ‘Oh something like that happened to me,’ and start thinking about their own lives.”
The festival officially kicked off last night with an olio at the storytelling center, where the four featured storytellers gave brief performances. In addition to the four featured tellers, Laurinburg resident Gwen Rainer will also perform throughout the weekend.
The John Blue House grounds will open at 8:30 a.m. today and Saturday, with the day of storytelling beginning at 9:30 a.m. Performances will be offered in one-hour blocks, with half-hour breaks between them in which festival attendees can sign up to tell their own stories. There will also be a selection of food and craft vendors on the grounds.
Admission to the festival is $35 for adults, $30 for seniors and military, and $10 for children. The cost for a single day is $25 for adults, $22 for seniors and military, and $7 for children. Tickets may be purchased at the gate.