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Local storyteller Andy Irwin to perform in National Storytelling Festival
Festival to celebrate 45 years of world-renowned storytelling
Andy Irwin

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. - Tickets are on sale now for the nation’s premier storytelling event, the National Storytelling Festival. A beloved tradition since 1973, the three-day celebration of the world’s oldest art form is expected to draw more than 11,000 fans from across the country.

In our age of fast-moving technology, it seems unlikely that thousands of audience members could spend a weekend mesmerized by the voices of storytellers. But that's exactly what happens in Jonesborough during the first full weekend of October each year.

Festivities will run Oct. 6-8, with full performance schedules on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The lineup, curated by the International Storytelling Center, consists of more than two dozen world-class storytellers and musicians who represent oral traditions from different times and places. A variety of tickets are available, including weekend passes, one-day tickets, and stand-alone admission to special events.

The Festival’s core programming consists of meticulously produced storytelling shows held beneath big-top tents scattered across downtown Jonesborough. Those performances will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The diverse lineup includes master of improvisation Ben Haggarty, of Britain, known internationally for his playful, physical and challenging performances; Cuban-American dynamo Carmen Deedy; four-time Grammy award winner and minstrel storyteller David Holt; and Anne Shimojima, who will share folk tales from her Asian heritage and around the world, as well as her Japanese American family’s WWII incarceration camp story. 

This year’s featured tellers also include perennial southern favorites such as Donald Davis, Sheila Kay Adams, and Bil Lepp. By showcasing oral traditions from the South and all over the world, the Festival inspires unexpected connections and promotes cultural understanding.

To complement the Festival’s signature storytelling concerts, many of the special events scheduled throughout the weekend are included in the price of the ticket, including Exchange Place, a concert focusing on new talent; the Swappin’ Ground, where anyone can tell a story; and a Story Slam competition that offers cash prizes.

Separately ticketed events include two pre-Festival concerts also held on the Festival grounds: celebrated storyteller Donald Davis, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, and beloved humorist Jeanne Robertson, on Thursday, Oct. 5. Both all-age shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be reserved in advance or purchaed on site for as long as supplies las. 

Visitors can also expect two nights of ghost stories, which are told in the open Autumn air beneath the stars, and a Friday night Midnight Cabaret featuring Andy Offutt Irwin, who is equal parts mischievous schoolboy and the Marx brothers, peppered with a touch of Southern balladeer.

Three workshops led by nationally-known artists will also be held on Thursday, October 5, in Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall: “Finding the Storytelling in You” with Connie Regan-Blake, “Hidden Gems: Mastering Transitions in Storytelling” with Antonio Rocha, and “Who We Are: A Story-Writing Workshop” with Minton Sparks.

Tickets for the National Storytelling Festival — as well as all special events throughout the week — can be purchased online at www.storytellingcenter.net, at the International Storytelling Center (ISC) in downtown Jonesborough, or on the Festival grounds. The National Storytelling Festival is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Tennessee Arts Commission, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, and Tennessee Quilts. For more information or to make reservations, call ISC at 800-952-8392, ext. 221.