Chili and tall tales a good match for Harrell

Published 3:00 am Saturday, December 6, 2014

When Michael Reno Harrell tells people that he’s a storyteller, 99 percent of the time they’ll say, “Oh, you’re a librarian” or “Oh, you work with children.”

Harrell, who performed at the Brundidge Historical Society’s annual Chili Country Christmas event at the We Piddle Around Theater Thursday and Friday nights, laughingly, said folks don’t know that storytelling is a profession just like a mechanic, a doctor, a long hauler or a long, winded preacher.

“People don’t know what storytelling is,” Harrell said. “Storytelling is for any age but I don’t tell stories to children and adults at the same time. Not unless it’s in Utah because, when they come to storytellings out there, they bring their whole families. But children and adults have different interests so the stories I tell are different for adults and for children.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Harrell’s ‘different’ doesn’t include ghost stories.

“It’s easy to sell tickets to a ghost storytelling event because people know what ghost stories are and they’ll go,” Harrell said. “They just don’t know what storytelling is.”

Harrell said professional storytelling really took off when storytellers stopped telling folk tales and started beginning their stories with “what happened to me …”

“People just aren’t going to listen to stories about ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’ People like personal stories, stories they can relate to,” he said. “But, you’ve got to get them to a storytelling event first. If I walked out on the street and pulled someone into a storytelling event with master storytellers, I would give them a hundred dollars if they walked out not liking storytelling.”

Harrell could keep the hundred dollars in his pocket as far as Scott and Jeannie Swindall are concerned.

The Swindalls attended the Chili Country Christmas because it was something to do before Christmas and, too, they like chili. But they walked out of the We Piddle Around Theater sold on storytelling.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Jeannie Swindall said. “We’ve been to ‘Come Home, It’s Suppertime’ and really enjoyed and it’s like storytelling in way. So we weren’t totally surprised but we were totally pleased.”

Swindall said Harrell’s stories brought back memories for her and her husband,

“We’re still talking about it today,” she said. “His stories were funny and touching and he told them in such an entertaining way. My grandchildren, ages 13 and 16, were with us and they enjoyed it, too. Young people need to hear things like that.”

Scott Swindall said Harrell is a master at bringing the audience into his tales.

“The storytelling was far better than I had even expected,” he said. “It was super and to think that we got a ticket like that for only $20 and with food. It was great. And, Michael Reno Harrell told the stories with feeling and humor. We’re already planning to go to the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in January and we just might go to the national storytelling festival. I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”

On the other hand, Bennie Jinright has been to several storytelling events and she is passionate about the age-old art.

“Not everybody is going to like storytelling but, for those of us who have memories that storytelling rekindles, there’s nothing to compare to it,” she said. “The stories Thursday night were great. I got so much enjoyment from listening to them and they brought back wonderful memories of my grandparents and my father-in-law, who was a great storyteller.”

Jinright said thinking back on the memories is a by-product of storytelling.

“I wish I could sit again and listen to those old ‘corny’ stories my family used to tell but that can’t happen,” she said. “But storytelling brings back those memories and that’s the next best thing to my loved ones being here with me.”