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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Festival features international line-up of tellers

 Alton Takiyama-Chung is a Japanese-Korean storyteller.
Alton Takiyama-Chung is a Japanese-Korean storyteller.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | September 26, 2018

The National Storytelling Festival features three days of tall tales and personal stories throughout downtown historic Jonesborough.

Storytellers take turns performing under big-top tents scattered across downtown Jonesborough. The diverse lineup includes Alton Takiyama-Chung, Donald Davis, MaryGay Ducey, Chirine El Ansary, Diane Ferlatte, Bill Harley, Andy Hedges, Megan Hicks, Sheila Arnold Jones, Bil Lepp, Tim Lowry, John McCutcheon, Jennifer Munro, Matteson Perry, Connie Regan-Blake, Antonio Rocha, Anne Rutherford and Kim Weitkamp.

Takiyama-Chung is a Japanese-Korean storyteller who grew up with the stories, superstitions and magic of the Hawaiian Islands. His finely spun stories are rooted in his culture and delivered with a deep sense of reverence and authenticity.

Davis is a perennial favorite at the festival. He was born in a Southern Appalachian mountain world rich in stories, surrounded by a family of traditional storytellers who told him gentle fairy tales, simple and silly Jack tales, scary mountain lore, ancient Welsh and Scottish folktales and true-to-life tales of his neighbors and family.

Ducey is descended from generations of Southern women who prize independence and a sassy mouth. She grew up in New Orleans with its ancient charms and lives in the San Francisco Bay area in a culture of shifting social landscapes. Her style has been described as funny, eloquent and close to the heart.

Ansary was born in Cairo and is a storyteller and physical performer living in Egypt and France. Her work includes performances of “The Arabian Nights,” her adaptation of the Banu Hilal epic, Sufi tales, performance poetry and performances based on her writings.

Ferlatte began listening to neighbors and family swap stories, lies and tales on her grandparents’ porch in Louisiana. She shares African-American stories that touch upon our common humanity including personal and historical stories laced with humor, depth and tenderness.

Harley is a songwriter, storyteller, author, performing and recording artist. Recipient of two Grammy awards, he uses song and story to paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of American life. His work honors the universal joys and hardships we all share.

Hedges is a songster, reciter and guitarist. The Lubbock, Texas native tells classic cowboy poetry recitations, obscure cowboy songs, dust bowl ballads and the blues. He has released 10 albums and hosts a podcast, “Cowboy Crossroads.”

Hicks runs the gamut from personal stories, traditional tales, parody, history and storytelling with origami. She has performed across the U.S., as well as in South America, China, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada.

Jones is known for her interactive style, which often incorporates song. She travels the country sharing her stories and songs, historic character presentations, Christian monologues and conductinh professional development programs for educators.

Lep is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest. His outrageous tall tales and witty stories are a signature of his repertoire. He is somewhat of a regular on NPR’s “Mountain Stage” with Larry Groce and his stories can be heard on Sirius Radio as well.

Lowry mixes stories from American history with a variety of folktales and personal narrative. When he isn’t on the road, he often performs stories of Southern culture and history from the “Sweet Tea Trail” in his home of Summerville, South Carolina.

McCutcheon is an award-winning recording artist with a storytelling style compared to Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor. Pete Seeger called him “one of our country’s best songwriters,” and Johnny Cash said he is “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.”

Munro creates funny, original stories that touch your heart, lift your spirits and make you laugh. The characters that populate her stories resonate with the frailty and courage of the human conditions.

Perry is a new voice at the festival. He is a screenwriter, performer, two-time winner of the Moth GrandSlam storytelling championship and the host of the Moth StorySlam in Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan and The Daily Beat.

Regan-Blake captivates the hearts and imaginations of people with her performances. She was recently invited by the Library of Congress to house the memorabilia from her life’s work as a storyteller, including her role in the birth of the American Storytelling Revival.

Rocha is a native of Brazil and presents a fusion of verbal narrative and mime. He tells stories of his homeland, folktales, mime illusions and depicts hilarious characters in outrageous situations.

Rutherford delights audiences with her Pacific Northwest folklore and tales of personal adventure. Her singing and mandolin playing add to the fun, along with vivid vocal and physical characterizations such as her Wild West alter-ego, the adventurous Clementine Ryder.

Weitkamp weaves precious memories and delightful details into panoramic pictures that take the listener on a personal journey. She is an award-winning storyteller, humorist, singer and songwriter and works throughout the U.S.

By showcasing oral traditions from the South and all over the world, the festival inspires unexpected connections and promotes cultural understanding.

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Pre-festival and special events abound at Storytelling Festival

Topics: Storytelling

Antonio Rocha is a native of Brazil.

Chirine El Ansary was born in Cairo.

John McCutcheon is an award-winning recording artist and storyteller.

Kim Weitkamp is an award-winning storyteller, humorist, singer and songwriter. (Photo by

Tim Lowry mixes stories from American history.