Seven Hidden Gems at the National Storytelling Festival

With the National Storytelling Festival just around the corner, thousands of people will soon embark on the time-honored tradition of choosing which shows they want to attend. Whether you decide to park yourself in one tent for the entire time or to hop around the Festival grounds, everyone has their own approach. With nearly 100 hours of live programming on offer over just three days, it’s good to have a strategy!

Even if you’ve mastered this whole scheduling thing, we guarantee there’s something you’ve missed. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of off-the-beaten path suggestions for anyone who’s ready to take their festival experience to the next level. From brand new features to longstanding traditions you may have overlooked in years past, dollars to donuts there’s something on this list that will make your weekend a little extra special. Enjoy!

  1. The Tellers’ Pick

This year there’s only one Midnight Cabaret show, and it’s a doozy. The Dill Pickers, a six-person group of actors and musicians, is all set to produce their old-time radio show on Friday night—live, on stage, with music, comedy, and plenty of surprises. Endorsed as a “must-see” act by Bil Lepp, Carmen Deedy, and Donald Davis, the Dill Pickers were also a favorite of the late Kathryn Windham, who introduced them to the world of storytelling.

  1. The Time Capsule

Travel back in time to hear iconic performances from Festivals past with our special listening stations. Located at the entrance to the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, the stations feature stories from influential voices like Jackie Torrence, Ray Hicks, Kathryn Windham, and many more. If you have a few extra minutes, take a quick tour around the building—there’s a lot going on!

  1. The Photo Op

This year, for the first time ever, we’re introducing Story Spots: designated areas where you can hop on a miniature stage and try your hand at storytelling. There are three Story Spots across the Festival grounds; just keep your eyes peeled for the flags that mark the spots.

  1. The Intimate Theater Show

Our Festival is famous for its open-air tents, but some stories demand a smaller space. While most of the shows in our storytelling theater are ticketed separately, Eth-Noh-Tec’s Friday afternoon performance (at 4:00 p.m.) happens to be free to swatch holders. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy a quiet performance indoors; just keep in mind that seating is first come, first served, since our theater only seats around 100. That’s part of its charm!

  1. The Spectator Sport

Our fourth annual Story Slam (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., in the Creekside Tent) will feature six tellers competing for glory, cash, and the informal title of America’s Next Top Storyteller. This year our contestants, who hail from all over the country, will have only five minutes to impress the judges. Oh, and there might be a little something in it for you; we’re offering six door prizes to people in the audience.

  1. The Swag

Little known fact: we have not one, but two, places where you can get your shopping fix. The Festival Marketplace, on the northwest corner of the grounds, is a one-stop-shop for all the featured tellers’ recordings and books. (It’s also where you can meet the tellers and enter a drawing for free tickets to next year’s Festival and other prizes.) The ISC Gift Shop, which is in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall on Main Street, carries a less extensive array of recordings, plus other items like puppets and stationary. Both spots offer an array of Festival souvenirs. Rest assured they’re the real deal—they’re the only places in Jonesborough that offer official Festival souvenirs.

  1. The Sing-a-Long

The Jonesborough Novelty Band’s free concert has been a Festival tradition for more than 20 years! Just head over to the dining tent in the food court on Friday any time between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m.

Can’t join us this year? No worries! On Friday, October 2nd, we’re offering a live broadcast of family-friendly storytelling all day, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. For more information visit