Adams, Davis and ASCA undergird storytelling festival

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fifteen years ago, the Brundidge Historical Society was experiencing success with its original folklife play, “Come Home, It’s Suppertime” and wanted to do more to promote the folkways of the people of the rural South.

The folklife play was a storytelling of sorts because those who took the stage were not actors, just simply people telling stories.

The members of the BHS were not ambitious enough to go headlong into a storytelling festival. First, they needed to prime the pump, so to speak.

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“We heard Sheila Kay Adams, from the mountains of Western North Carolina, at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee in 2004,” said Mernette Bray, BHS storytelling committee member. “She told great stories, played the banjo and talked like us. She could get us off to a good start.”

Sheila Kay Adams was in concert at the We Piddle Around Theater in the fall of 2005 and again in 2006. The BHS storytelling committee decided it was time to move ahead with a weekend storytelling festival.

Adams’ advice to the committee was to get the best storytellers. “If you don’t, you ain’t gonna make it,” she said.

“Although we thought we were wasting our time, we asked Donald Davis, the Dean of Storytelling, and the most in-demand storyteller in the country to come to our festival,” Bray said. “He was booked solid for four years but wanted to help us get our festival off to a good start. He could change one thing on his schedule and come. We didn’t even ask him how much.”

The Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) bought into the idea of a storytelling festival and provided the seed money for the first Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in 2007.

The response to the festival was greater than even the most optimistic members of the BHS could have imagined.

“After our first festival, we sat down with Donald Davis and asked him what we needed to do to continue to have a successful storytelling festival in rural South Alabama,” said Lawrence Bowden, BHS president. “‘Don’t ever get out of this theater, (Trojan Center Theater),’” Davis said. “‘It’s a perfect storytelling venue, for the tellers and for the audience – and get a T-shirt.’”

“Twelve years later, we’re still at the Trojan Center Theater and we have a T-shirt,” Bowden said.

Bray and Bowden agree that the success of the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival is based on good advice from Adams and Davis and the continuing support of ASCA that allows the BHS to bring the best storytellers in the country to Pike County.

The storytelling festival features pre-show music by The Benton Brothers & Company, the Lighthouse String Ensemble and The Henderson.

“People come 30 minutes early to enjoy the old-time music, which is a perfect fit for storytelling,” Bowden said. “Back years ago, people would sit on the porch and play music and tell stories. That’s the atmosphere we try to re-create with the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival. There are not many opportunities to be entertained by only the spoken word. It’s fascinating.”

The 2018 Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival features masters tellers Donald Davis, Josh Goforth, Tim Lowry and Elizabeth Ellis.

The festival opens to a sold-out audience on Friday night January 26 at the We Piddle Around Theater in Brundidge and continues with storytelling concerts on Saturday, January 27 at the Trojan Center Theater on the campus of Troy University at 10 a.m. ($10), 2 p.m. ($15) and 6:30 p.m. ($10).

For tickets to the Saturday storytelling concerts call 334-344-9427 or 685-5524 or 670-6302. Tickets are also available at The Messenger on South Brundidge Street in Troy.