Thursday, January 08, 2004

A Look at Jonesborough, Tennessee

Jill Jordan Seider travelled to Jonesborough Tennessee for "The Savvy Traveller" radio series. Listen in Real Audio (June 2003)

Later, in October, she wrote about for U.S. News and World Report:

Mother Nature is to blame for global warming. Seems she was watching a bunch of guys ice-fishing. It was so cold their mustaches froze. They'd been staring in a hole (and neglecting their wives) for days. "How did I create this moron?" she asked herself, and she turned up the heat.

At least that's the way Bil Lepp tells it. But don't call the EPA to
share the news. Lepp is a well-known "liar" from West Virginia who shared his fabrications at the National Storytelling Festival earlier this month in the Blue Ridge mountain town of Jonesborough, Tenn.

The festival began in 1973, when 60 people came to hear mountain men and others spin yarns from the back of a hay wagon. In the 30 years since, the old-fashioned art of storytelling has become a 21st-century sensation. This year, 10,500 listeners flocked to Jonesborough. Some 200 annual gatherings take place in the United States. And in 2002, the folks at Jonesborough opened the $10 million International Storytelling Center. Funded primarily by government grants and loans, and affiliated with the Smithsonian, the center hosts summer storytelling and periodic workshops.

Why this burst of popularity? The answer lies in the appeal of a good story. It can make you laugh, like one of Lepp's fibs. And it can bring tears to your eyes, like Donald Davis's tale of the day of his birth. The infant and mother were near death; the terrified father had to run home from the hospital to milk the family cow, which he found chewing on the last row of corn on the Davis farm. In a frenzy, he whipped the
beast, then cried and "bellered" with her. She licked him. "He never did tell me if he licked her," says Davis. "Then my daddy set down, and he milked that sweet old cow. I'd spent my whole life thinking that men feel no pain in childbirth. If I had known about the story sooner, maybe I would've had the grace to not cause him some of the deliberate pain I was so good at dishing out later."

Only a rambling and intimate story can reveal such truths, which tend to be subsumed by the roar of our electronic, visual, and virtual culture. "Nothing in modern media can compare to being face to face with a person and feeling that person's heart and soul being poured into the images and action of their stories," says Joseph Sobol, author of The Storytellers' Journey: An American Revival. "It can be intoxicating."

It certainly is for Andy Saladino, 60, a pathologist from Baltimore who attended the Jonesborough event for the fourth time this year. "It's magical," he says. "It transports you away from all the troubles in the
world and makes you feel more focused on what's really of value."

Burst of popularity? I know this was edited down for a travel piece, but what's so different about the "appeal of a good story" in 2003 that wasn't there pre-1973?