With tales of snakes, bears, hedgehogs and the BBC, the sixth annual Storytelling Festival of Carolina took center stage in Laurinburg last weekend.
Despite gloomy weather, the festival brought more than 2,000 patrons from all across the United States to the grounds of the John Blue House during its three-day run.
It is estimated by festival organizers that nearly 500 attended the festival on Friday, during its first full day open to the public.
While Saturday’s event schedule was modified because of the rain, spirits were not dampened, and each storytelling session saw the “Highlander” festival tent packed to capacity, with over 600 estimated in attendance.
The festival was a students-only affair on Thursday, with more than 1000 area students enjoying the festival before it officially opened to the public that evening with an olio session featuring all of the event’s storytellers at the downtown Storytelling Arts Center of the Southeast.
In its sixth year, the event featured nationally renowned storytellers and published authors, including humorists Donald Davis and Doug Elliott, Native America storyteller Gene Tagaban and the Asian theatre of Eth-Noh-Tec along with regional storytellers Sheila Arnold, Geraldine Buckley.
Rebecca Ingram, a return patron attending her fifth festival, first learned of Scotland County’s event last year at the national storytelling event in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
“I’m hooked on these storytelling events,” said Ingram, a master gardener and retired biology teacher from Jacksonville, NC.
“I absolutely plan to return next year,” she added.
According to Ingram, her hotel was filled with people in town to attend the festival.
Festival organizer Jan Schmidt said that this year’s festival, while it may have suffered from slightly diminished attendance due to the rain, still managed to put “heads in beds” by the hundreds.
Featured storytellers entertained not only from the stage, but also in the classroom, with a series of workshops during which presenters instructed attendees in storytelling methods and theory.
“Stories break down walls,” said Alaskan storyteller Gene Tagaban during one of the classroom sessions.
“Look around for the evidence,” said Tagaban, gesturing to a Museum of Scotland County classroom filled with festival goers of various races.
“Not too long ago a gathering like this would not have been possible.”
Humor was a festival theme, and laughter filled the two large storytelling tents throughout the weekend.
“It was a real hoot,” said Chick Palermo, in town from Durham with his wife Dorene for the festival.
“It really was wonderful – (the storytellers) are a lot like standup comics.”
The festival weekend concluded Sunday morning with a nature walk around the festival grounds led by featured Appalachian storyteller and naturalist Doug Elliott.
Elliott took a group of two dozen around the area, telling them stories about the plant and animal life they came across, and instructing them about the various edible and medicinal plants of the region.
Approximately 75 volunteers assisted with festival preparation and in conducting the event, which hosted over 20 crafts and food vendors.
From the vegetarian wares of the Asheville-based “One World Kitchen” to the hotdogs of “Virgil’s Mobile Food Unit,” owned and operated by the Virgil family (father, husband and son) of Hoke County, there was a variety on offer to attendees.
“The food this year was fantastic, and there was a real variety,” said Kristi Nix of Pinehurst, whose daughter Callie enjoyed a flavored snow cone from one of the vendors.