While Jonesborough is blessed with a number of wonderful historic qualities and is famous for being the oldest town in Tennessee, one of its most celebrated events has to do with storytelling.
Now known as the home to the International Storytelling Center which holds the National Storytelling Festival every October, Jonesborough’s foray into the telling of tales began more than four decades ago in 1973.
The story goes that a group of area high school kids and their teacher, Jimmy Neil Smith, happened to be listening to Jerry Clower, then a regular at the Grand Ole Opry, on the radio. Clower, a popular comedian from Mississippi, was known for telling hilarious stories about the South and that day he was spinning a tale about coon hunting. It was from that experience that Smith was inspired to create a storytelling festival in Jonesborough.
So in October of ’73, Smith’s dream became a reality as the very first National Storytelling Festival was held. It wasn’t huge – less than 60 people, which included storytellers, as well as those listening, gathered in downtown Jonesborough. But it became an annual tradition that ultimately put the town on the map in an entirely different way than it had been before, garnering national attention and exposure.
In 1975, Smith and a few other storytelling aficionados, founded the National Storytelling Association – and the rest is history. The Festival ignited interest in the ancient art form of storytelling, defined as an interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while stimulating the listener’s imagination.
Storytelling organizations, festivals and education events have since popped up all over the world, leading to a resurgence that continues to grow.
Now in it’s 44th year, the Festival, considered one of the Top 100 Events in North America and called “the leading event of its kind in America” by USA Today, will draw dozens of renowned storytellers from around the world Oct. 7-9, 2016 – and upwards of 15,000 fans.
Three days of storytelling from master tale spinners in Tennessee’s oldest town – it’s an experience you won’t want to miss!