October 1-2, 2021
October 1-2, 2021
“What New Orleans is to jazz… Jonesborough is to storytelling.” – Los Angeles Times
Over 40 years ago, a high school journalism teacher and a carload of students heard Grand Ole Opry regular Jerry Clower spin a tale over the radio about coon hunting in Mississippi. And the teacher, Jimmy Neil Smith, had a sudden inspiration: Why not have a storytelling festival right here in northeast Tennessee?
On a warm October weekend in 1973 in historic Jonesborough, the first National Storytelling Festival was held. Hay bales and wagons were the stages, and audience and tellers together didn’t number more than 60. It was tiny, but something happened that weekend that forever changed our culture, this traditional art form, and the little Tennessee town.
The Festival, now in its 49th year and acclaimed as one of the Top 100 Events in North America, sparked a renaissance of storytelling across the country. To spearhead that revival, Smith and a few other story lovers founded the National Storytelling Association. The founding organization became the center of an ever-widening movement that continues to gain momentum to this day. Storytelling organizations, festivals, and educational events have popped up all over the world. Teachers, healthcare workers, therapists, corporate executives, librarians, spiritual leaders, parents, and others regularly make storytelling a vibrant part of their everyday lives and work.
The story of how it all started is one that many Northeast Tennesseans are familiar with. As news of the Festival and of the movement aired on national television and in magazines as diverse as Los Angeles Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, People, and Smithsonian, the story of how a happenstance hearing of a folktale on a car radio ignited a national movement.
Did the story get told again and again because people like stories about innocent beginnings, or because they like to marvel at what can happen with the serendipitous timing of a good story and a carload of receptive listeners, or simply because it’s a colorful tale? No matter the reason, it’s a classic example of how a simple story breathes life into information people want to share with each other. As millions of story lovers all over the world already know, there is no substitute for the power, simplicity, and basic truth of the well-told story.
Canceled In-Person Festival FAQs
ISC has been monitoring national, regional, and local COVID-19 trends since announcing our intention to hold an in-person event this fall in Jonesborough, TN. After consulting CDC guidelines and Northeast Tennessee’s Regional Health Department, we at ISC do not believe we can hold an in-person Festival without placing our patrons, storytellers, staff, and volunteers at an unacceptable level of risk. While we’re sad that we won’t meet in Jonesborough this year, our top priority is keeping everyone safe and healthy so we can look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Festival next year.
We are presenting a virtual National Storytelling Festival this October 1-2 and hope you will join us. We’ll be announcing more details about the event and line-up in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned!
Please choose from the three options below and complete this form by midnight, Tuesday, August 31, 2021. If we don’t hear from you by the deadline, you will receive a complimentary ticket to the virtual Festival as well as a letter confirming your tax-deductible contribution. Please allow up to 6 weeks for all requests to be processed.
- Donate the cost of your ticket(s) to the International Storytelling Center as a tax-deductible contribution. Your contribution will help us get through a difficult year without our main source of revenue. And as a thank you, you’ll receive a complimentary ticket to the virtual Festival.
- Roll over your tickets to next year’s Festival (October 7-9, 2022). These beautiful Tennessee mountains aren’t going anywhere! Join us for the 50th anniversary of the National Storytelling Festival in 2022, which is sure to be a joyful reunion.
- Request a refund. If you can’t donate your tickets or register for next year, we’re happy to process a full refund. Depending on requests, this may take up to 6 weeks.
Complete this form notifying us of your decision by midnight, Tuesday, August 31, 2021. If we don’t hear from you by the deadline, you will receive a complimentary ticket to the virtual Festival as well as a letter confirming your tax-deductible contribution.
ISC is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and ticket sales from our programs to cover all year-round operational costs. Your donation will support ISC’s ongoing outreach efforts, including community work, support of at-risk youth, educational programming, staffing, and more. And as a thank you, you’ll receive a complimentary ticket to the virtual Festival. Complete this form to donate your ticket to ISC.
Yes, as a thank you to patrons who are willing to go above and beyond for the festival by donating their tickets, ISC will send you a complimentary ticket to the online Festival, as well as special recognition in local media and online.
Plans are underway, and we will keep you informed through the Festival website, social media channels, and our newsletter. Visit our FAQ page for additional information on the virtual Festival format. Thanks for your patience.