In 2014, ISC welcomed Ellie, our first kid correspondent, to the National Storytelling Festival. This year we knew we had to step up our game—so for 2015, we invited not one, but two, new members of the (small) press for exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage.
Our intrepid reporters were Alex, a 7-year-old student from South Side Elementary School, and her friend Olivia, a 12-year old from University School.
“Peter Cook was the first storyteller I saw,” says Alex, who has officially declared the experience one of her “favorite days ever.” “He was very funny. He used sign language to tell stories. Kim Weitkamp told a story about Christmas and flying pigs. She’s really nice. Bill Lepp told about a Pop Tart. That made me laugh. Waddie Mitchell told a nice story that made me feel good.”
A stickler for the facts, she added, “He has a fancy mustache.”
The question of the day was “What’s your favorite story?” Alex and Olivia put many different storytellers to that test, and were occasionally surprised by what they heard.
“They had lots of favorites and so did I,” Alex reports.
“Peter Cook told a funny story about his mother’s birthday party,” says Olivia. “He communicated to us through sign language and an interpreter. He said that he started storytelling about 30 years ago, at the Illinois Storytelling Festival, and that his favorite story was the story that he told us.”
The girls spoke to many other tellers over the course of the day, including Bil Lepp, who Olivia says told a very funny story about his teenage years. “He said that he has told stories since 1990,” she adds. “He also said that his favorite story is when his tongue got frozen to a train and it left a trail of frozen saliva behind him.”
While ISC could not independently verify that information, that definitely sounds like something Bil Lepp would say.
“Kim Weitkamp used her talent for singing in her Christmas show today,” Olivia tells us. “She was very animated and happy. She also included Bil Lepp as guest star Thug Santa. She said she has been telling stories since she was…well, Alex’s age.”
Both reporters were attending the Festival for the first time, so they enjoyed hearing the perspective of old-timers. “Waddie Mitchell has been in the storytelling business since he can remember,” Olivia says. “He grew up on a ranch, where he says, ‘Instead of watching TV, we sat around and talked.’ When asked what his favorite story is, he said that, ‘Picking a favorite story is like picking a favorite child. I got five kids.’” (At press time, ISC could not verify whether or not any of them has a fancy mustache.)
The girls also enjoyed a hamburger lunch and an afternoon stop at the Lollipop Shop, where they bought Coke and jellybeans to celebrate Alex’s Papaw’s birthday.
It was, according to the reporters and the accounts of their subjects and a wide variety of eyewitnesses, an altogether enjoyable day in Jonesborough, rain notwithstanding. Alex in particular enjoyed the opportunity to interview the talent. “Storytelling makes me feel happy because it brings together a lot of nice people,” she says. “And it was fun to meet the storytellers after everything. It was like meeting the president or something!”