History of the Festival

A Short History of the National Storytelling Festival

Since its launch in 1973, the National Storytelling Festival has been America’s foremost storytelling showcase, and nurturing and nourishing the storytelling revival in the United States and all over the world.

Since its first days, the Festival has featured a stunning array of world-class talent that share oral traditions from across history and all over the globe. Cultural representation has included performers from the African American, Jewish, Aboriginal, Egyptian, Asian, Celtic, Hispanic, Israeli, Liberian, French, African, Caribbean, Native American, and the deaf communities, among others. 

The National Storytelling Festival was an ambitious name for a small event tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. But over decades, it has grown into its name, hosting thousands of listeners in Jonesborough each year.

Those first festivals didn’t look much the spectacle you’ll see in Jonesborough today. In October 1973, Jerry Clower, a Mississippi storyteller, leapt to the stage in a hot, jammed high school gymnasium. The crowd stomped and cheered after his performance. The next afternoon, an old farm wagon in Courthouse Square served as a stage. That first lineup of storytellers included a former Arkansas congressman, a Tennessee banker, a college professor, and a western North Carolina farmer. They told their stories and a storytelling renaissance was born.

1976 Festival - Sitting on haybales
1976 Festival attendees on haybales
2002 Festival Doc McConnell Medicine Show Wagon
2002 Festival - Doc McConnell Medicine Show

“It’s not just style and subject matter that contribute to the diversity of performances at the National Festival. The stories and music come from many different cultural traditions and ethnic backgrounds.”

“The old-fashioned art of storytelling has become a 21st century sensation.”

"From all over America, people came to Jonesborough just to hear stories."

“Like a Bonnaroo of the spoken word, the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough presents yarn spinning as a living art that can rock a tent packed with hundreds of rapt listeners.”

Please consider supporting our work.

Click one of the buttons below to learn more about opportunities for sponsorship, donating, or volunteering.