Thursday, November 24, 2011

Three Rivers Storytelling Festival 2008 (August 14, 2008)

Current mood: relaxed

What can you say about a fun activity that's not only free, but you get to hobnob with the main entertainers? Such was the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival. For two days (Friday and Saturday), I spent as much time at Northland Library as I could spare, lying on the grass by the tent they'd set up outside, listening with rapt attention as some of the best storytellers in the country told some of the most amazing tales. I laughed, cried, was shocked, was reminiscent, feeling every emotion in the book, as each teller weaved a stream of words that took us to different worlds, different times. The weather was beautiful, which helped, only one heavy shower mid-day Friday to chase us all under the tent. Another set of stories was going on inside the library building, which itself was open for regular business.

What amazes me now is how little of this can be seen online. I looked up Dan Keding, Dovie Thomason, Alan Irvine, Joe Wos, and Bil Lepp, the featured performers, on YouTube, and found almost nothing. Bil Lepp has a couple, poorly filmed by someone. Joe has a small video about his ToonSeum, but nothing about him in action. Dan, Dovie and Alan, though, have not a thing on YouTube. (Update, November 24, 2011: Dan, Dovie, and Alan all have a few YouTube videos, though there is another well-known Alan Irvine in the soccer world; please ignore those.)

The thing is, you just have to go to one of these. Sit there. See it. Videos do not do it justice. Here at 3RSTF, you could sit 10 feet or less from the performers, if you wanted. Most of them had more than a couple 45-minute concerts (I guess that's what you'd call them) each day. Some were geared for young kids, some for older kids, some for adults. Didn't matter. They were all wonderful.

The late-evening ghost stories on Friday were among the best, but that wasn't all of them, as local teller Sean Miller did a few more Saturday morning.

Chicago teller Dan Keding certainly knows how to weave a tale and bring everyone along. He occasionally uses a guitar or banjo or other instrument, but all that's really needed is his own voice. He told of growing up on the South side of Chicago in the 1950s, and what it was like to play baseball in an alley less than 30 feet wide but a block long. His story of "Bobo and the Baseballs" tells of how the game was over if the ball went into one yard, in which an Irish wolfhound would intercept the ball and deliver it to its owner, disappearing into the house, never to be seen again. There's considerably more to the story, though, which, while I cannot possibly try to retell it here, in essence boils down to a couple of brave boys trying to get the ball back, and not only succeeding, but making lifelong friends in the process. It's a beautful tale, which may move you to tears at the end.

It was funny to watch these performers interact with one another. Dovie Thomason and Bil Lepp needled one another like a brother-sister pair who at once can neither stand one another's presence nor bear to be apart for one second. You just cannot find that kind of repartee anywhere. It's the chemistry of the moment, and just as entertaining as the stories themselves. They weren't even onstage and had the crowd in stitches, at least those close enough to them to hear the needling.

I sure hope this tradition continues. This was the 8th year. Storytelling is not a lost art form, but it is not a mainstream one. It's too easy to flip on the tube or paw around the 'Net. It takes some getting used to sitting through a story, if you're not used to the realm. But anyone can tell a story, and anyone can listen. Most importantly, we can all learn from one another's stories. As Dan Keding concludes one of his, "You cannot hate a man if you at least know and understand his story."

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