Storytellers find inspiration from different cultures
By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
“I was always the kid who hung around with the old people,” said international storyteller Michael Reno Harrell, who performs across the U.S. and Europe. “When I was 10 years old, my best friend Stover Mason was 80 years old. He had a story for every occasion.”
Like most storytellers, the stories he tells were passed down from family members or friends while he was growing up, and eight storytellers from North Carolina passed their stories on to the crowd Saturday at the 2009 Jackie Torrence Storytelling Festival.
The festival was held Saturday at Granite Lake Park from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The weather was cool and damp, but the performances were well worth a few chills.
Harrell said about his friend, “He was 24 years old when the Wright Brothers flew.
“There were three of us: myself at age 10, Stover at age 80, and our friend Sam Burton, who was 40 years old and got me started on the guitar.”
Harrell said he started playing guitar in 1961 and bought his first “good” guitar in 1963.
“I had my first show when I was 13,” Harrell said.
Harrell has performed across the U.S. and even as far as Amsterdam, England and Ireland.
“Family stories are family stories,” Harrell said. “People love stories all over the world. Up until recently the whole history of the world was oral.
“People told life lessons, which is how you learned to act.”
Harrell is a North Carolina native, originally from Haywood County.
“I lived 300 feet from the Tennessee line, and when you stepped off my front porch you were on the Appalachian Trail,” Harrell said.
Harrell played the guitar and sang a song or two, and his storytelling had members of the audience falling out of their seats, laughing.
One of Harrell’s stories was about the death of his mother and how he and his brothers had to clean out her house.
“It took 17 weekends to clean that house,” Harrell said, “and it took me two weekends just to clean out the couch.” He said he and his brothers were having a contest to see who could find the most ridiculous thing.
“She had a lot of ‘collections,'” he said.
Harrell said he thought he was the winner when he found a bicycle wheel under the couch cushions, but then one of his brothers found the bicycle under his mother’s bed. Later, one of them found a hubcap full of buttons, which ultimately took the prize.
“Grandma Honey’s” (Trueblood) performance of Uncle Remus and Br’er Rabbit was a tribute to Jackie Torrence, an internationally renowned storyteller living in Granite Quarry who died in 2004. Grandma Honey put her own spin on the tale, but her passion for storytelling was just as strong as Torrence’s, and you could see it in her facial expressions and through the voices she used for each character.
“My favorite part was when she did the voice of the little frogs,” five-year-old Riley McCullough said.
Trueblood has been telling stories for more than 25 years, and she tells comical and eclectic-themed stories,, most of which she makes up.
“I can walk down the street and think of a story,” Trueblood said. “I love to put my little flavor on things.”
Trueblood said she loves performing for children and loves coming up with stories to help them learn about black history, science, language, “everything,” she said.
“Once those kids hear me, I get their attention,” Trueblood said.
Trueblood has traveled to Virginia, Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Winston-Salem for storytelling, and she said she would love to travel as far as she can with her stories.
Bartlett, from Charlotte, told an old family tale of a sausage maker, the story of how the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County got their names, and also the history of stock car racing and moonshine.
Bartlett is a puppeteer and storyteller who teaches at schools and other children’s groups.
“When you engage a child in a story, they become a part of it,” Bartlett said.
Akinlana performed stories and songs of African folklore. One story was about an African village whose people loved to eat bones, throwing the meat away.
According to Akinlana, a man faked his death because his greedy bone-eating uncle stopped by and was hanging around because he smelled bones cooking. His wife told the uncle he was sick, and the uncle still didn’t leave. So the wife then told the uncle that her husband was dead, and the uncle decided to give a lavish funeral.
Finally, as villagers were starting to cover the man up in his grave, the wife said, “He no die, he lie!”
The chief of the village said because of the man’s greed for bones, he would make a law stating that from then on, no one in the village was allowed to eat bones, only the meat.
“So that is why we eat the meat off the bones,” Akinlana said.
Akinlana started storytelling in college in 1971 and became a professional in 1981.
“The inspiration for my stories comes from my grandparents and parents,” said Akinlana. “They filled our air with stories, and we all shared experiences. They stimulated our minds to be creative.”
Erika Kosin, coordinator of the festival and youth services supervisor for Rowan Public Library, said even though the weather was not ideal, the turnout was good.
“There was some great storytelling here today,” Kosin said.
For more information on the festival, contact the Rowan Public Library at 704-216-8228.