An Insider’s Guide to the National Storytelling Festival

We can’t wait to welcome you to the 47th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough. (And if you can’t make it this year, no worries: You can watch the action unfold from home, in real time.) Whether you come for the day or for the whole weekend, you have a lot of happy decisions ahead. The full schedule is up online if you want to get a head start on planning your personal itinerary—or take the laid-back approach, and park yourself in a tent for the day. You’ll be in great hands with any of our featured tellers.

Today we’re spotlighting experiences that are a little bit off the beaten path—things that you can accomplish in a few minutes of downtime, special activities to occupy your kids, plenty of free opportunities to relax, exclusive performances, and more.



Yoga in the Park

Tucked away behind the International Storytelling Center (our headquarters, on Main Street), you’ll find Storytelling Park: a three-acre reserve where you can pause to catch your breath at any point during the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday morning, we’re offering a free guided yoga practice in the park with yoga instructor Kim Blaine. We’ll even provide the mat (at least while supplies last).

Saturday and Sunday morning, 8 – 9 a.m. Free


Pre-Festival Workshops

Have fun and learn something new! If you’re local or arriving in town early, we recommend signing up for one of our pre-festival workshops. Offerings include Sue O’Halloran’s education workshop, Regi Carpenter on supporting grief and bereavement, and Dan Hoyle on his unique form of journalistic storytelling.

Thursday, October 3, at various times. Separate registration fee


The Gamble Rogers Documentary

Catch a film premiere in our intimate theater! We’re proud to be screening “Gamble Rogers: Down at the Terminal Tavern,” a new documentary memorializing the great storyteller and musician who tragically passed away in 1991. Our own beloved David Holt narrates the 80-minute film. 

Friday at 4 p.m. + Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Free


Schoolhouse Stories and Games

The Oak Hill School structure is more than a century old, but it looks exactly as it did in when it was built in 1886, all the way down to the color of the walls. On Saturday, three tellers—Diane Ferlatte, Hannah Harvey, and Doug Elliott—will perform stories especially suited for kids under the age of 10. The first two sessions will be followed by a round of games that would have been played by the students of the original Oak Hill School. 

Stories are Saturday at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. Games are Saturday at 11:45 and 1:15. Limited seating. Free with swatch


Midnight Cabaret

Close out Friday night with a high-energy concert. Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton’s “Joyful Noise and the Low-Down Blues” will feature songs and stories from the talented multi-instrumentalist, whose work is inspired by American music in the 1920s. The 30-year-old prodigy has mastered the banjo, harmonica, guitar, and more. We guarantee a rip-roaring good time. 

Friday night at 10:30 p.m. Separate ticket required


Faces and Voices Exhibit

Stop by the International Storytelling Center’s HQ to take in our freshly updated Faces and Voices display. We’ve compiled photographs and words from more than 160 featured tellers who have performed at the National Storytelling Festival since it began in 1973.

Free, near the theater in the International Storytelling Center


The Storytelling Sweep

Want two free passes to the 2020 Festival? Head over to the Marketplace Tent for a chance to enter and win the grand prize.

Free, with no purchase necessary


Freedom Stories

We’re kicking off a new two-year initiative focusing on the stories of African Americans in Appalachian history with a session of true tales from the Underground Railroad. With an introduction from ISC president Kiran Singh Sirah and a performance by the incredible Sheila Arnold, “Freedom Stories” is not to be missed.

Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Creekside Tent. Free with swatch


The Jonesborough Novelty Band

Enjoy a drink or some dinner to the sounds of American folk music with the Jonesborough Novelty Band, a local tradition since 1992. Featuring banjo, guitar, and more. 

Thursday afternoon in the ISC plaza and Friday, 5 – 6:30 p.m., in the Dining Tent. Free


Swappin’ Grounds

This time-honored Festival tradition has a brand-new location. Now in the Oak Hill School (next to the Library Tent), the Swappin’ Ground is a place where anyone—and that means you—can tell a story. You can sign up for a slot at the information booth in front of the Visitors Center. 

Various times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (check program). Free