Carden entertains at storytelling event

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, June 9, 2011

Appalachian storyteller Gary Carden’s roots are showing.

And, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carden has been telling stories since he was 6 years old and heard a fire and brimstone preacher work his congregation into a frenzy. Carden went home and preached his first sermon to 150 white leghorn chickens and did a pretty good job of ruffling their feathers.

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Since that time, Carden’s told more stories to more audiences than you can “shake a stick at.” He’s a highly acclaimed storyteller and he’s also a highly decorated playwright and accomplished folk artist.

Three years ago, Carden was given an honorary doctorate at Western Carolina University. He has also received the prestigious North Carolina Folklore Award and the state’s playwright award. That’s when he decided that he had an obligation to reflect on the Southern Appalachian culture with authenticity and integrity.

“Warts and all,” Carden said, laughing. “I want to show our culture and heritage in a true light but not make fun of it.”

And, that’s exactly what Carden did when he took the stage at the We Piddle Around Theater in Brundidge at noon on Thursday.

Carden painted a picture of the past in his hometown of Sylva, N.C. that was a mirror image of the small towns that dotted the countryside of rural South Alabama during slower and simpler times.

Jim Medley of Brundidge said Carden was the favorite of storytellers he has heard.

“Some storytellers are really standup comics but Gary Carden was different,” Medley said. “He’s a true storyteller. He painted a picture of different personalities – his grandfather and grandmother. His uncle. And he was a very imaginative, wild child who did his own thing – something that we can all identify with. He did an outstanding job. I was impressed.”

Lawrence Bowden, president of the Brundidge Historical Society, agreed that Carden brought a lot of “real” to the stage.

“Gary Carden told the kind of stories that many of us grew up listening to,” he said.

“When our grandmothers or grandfathers told stories, they were about real people and things that really happened. They were about our people and the places we knew. Gary Carden made his people and his mountain culture very real. He’s a true storyteller and the audience seemed to really appreciate such an entertaining and honest performance.”

Carden said being in Brundidge was like being at home in a sense.

“Down here, you have preserved your culture more than in other places,” he said. “Things have changed so much, even in the Southern Appalachians.”

Carden said that if he could create the perfect place for folk life presentations, it would be the We Piddle Around Theater.

“It’s a perfect place for folk life presentations,” he said and added with a smile that “The Raindrop Waltz,” “The Prince of Dark Corners” and, of course, “Birdell” would be perfect fits for the theater. All three are award-winning plays by Carden.

“Birdell” was performed to a very receptive audience at the We Piddle Around Theater in 2008.

At age 76, Carden is looking for different ways to preserve and promote the culture of his mountain people. And, now he has more resources with which to do so.

For 35 years, Carden was deaf but, thanks to modern technology, he now hears “unless you’re way over there.”

Cochlear implants have opened new avenues of sharing for Carden including “The Liars Bench,” which began on the window ledges of stores in Sylva but has now been “adopted and adapted” by Western Carolina University.