Storytelling fesstival next weekend

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 25, 2011

LAURINBURG — Scotland County is often referred to as “The Soul of the Carolinas” because of its connection to the many heritages and cultures of North Carolina. One such connection is to the art of storytelling, whose roots are as old as language, and as comfortable as a front porch.
The epicenter of storytelling in the South is The Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast, which will host the fifth annual Storytelling Festival of Carolina April 1-3. The three-day event features performances by world-class, award-winning storytellers.
Held at the John Blue Complex in Laurinburg, the festival includes multiple performance stages. Festival admission passes range from $15 to $35. Single day and weekend tickets are available — as are military, senior and family packages.
“Our featured performers are absolutely the best when it comes to the talent, craft and skill involved with storytelling,” says Jan Schmidt, executive director of the Storytelling and Arts Center. “They all have a natural charisma that reaches into the audience with honesty, poignancy and down-to-earth appreciation for laughter and wit.”
Schmidt adds that many continue to confuse the art of storytelling with that of listening to someone read a story. “When someone hears, ‘storytelling’ they often think of children sitting criss-cross apple sauce in front of a teacher reading. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They need to think of a performer putting on a one-man play, capturing and creating drama, laughter and suspense with their words and presentation, using their storytelling skills, not books.”
Headliners at this year’s festival are Bil Lepp, Barbara McBride-Smith, Michael Reno Harrell and The Healing Force, an Afro-American folkloric troupe.
The Smithsonian Center for Folks Life says, “Lepp is a side-splittingly funny man.”
A storyteller, author and recording artist, Lepp’s works have received awards and recognition from The Parents’ Choice Foundation, The National Parenting Publications Assoc., Storytelling World and the Public Library Association.
McBride-Smith grew up in Texas, was educated in Massachusetts and discovered the ways of the world on the Jersey Shore.
As a performing storyteller, she has entertained audiences across the U.S. and is frequently featured at the National Storytelling Festival. She is a member of the National Storytelling Circle of Excellence.
Harrell is an award-winning songwriter, a veteran storyteller and entertainer, and he’s from the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina (and has performed at The Blue Vine in Salisbury).
Harrell’s recordings top the Americana Music Association charts year after year. His original songs and stories have been described as “Appalachian grit and wit.” The songs he writes and the stories he creates reflect an insight into people’s experiences that catch the ear like an old friend’s voice.
Founded in 1975 by the husband and wife team of Joseph and Gail Anderson, The Healing Force began full-time professional work in 1990. Their daughter, Sonji Gardner, and son, Karim, complete the group making their performance a family affair.
Together this performing family presents programs which are designed to encourage positive behavior and provide creative opportunities.
A final musical group rounding out the program will be The April Fools, an old-time Southern string band (fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass) playing a repertoire of traditional fiddle tunes and songs drawn from the hillbilly barn dance era.
In addition to the featured performers, winners of the festival’s Aspiring Voices Competition will take the stage. Four tellers were selected after taking an intensive workshop under the tutelage of Lepp and Kim Weitkamp. Four were selected and will have the opportunity to perform on the same stage as festival celebrities.
Other festival activities include a Family Storytelling Olio, or performance sampler, on Friday evening; a Saturday Evening Gala at the Storytelling and Arts Center in Laurinburg; and a program of faith and spiritual stories on Sunday morning.
Also included are autograph sessions, workshops, open stage time slots for amateur storytellers, tours of the John Blue House, a children’s play center and food vendors.
For more information contact the Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast at 131 S. Main St. in Laurinburg, at (910) 277-3599, and online at