Sunday, September 25, 2016

Possum Town Tales, Storytelling Festival

My Night Out...

I attended the first storytelling event last night at the Columbus Arts Council auditorium, a small venue with a small stage and seating for around a hundred people. But like any event that includes celebrity speakers and musical entertainment, there were books, T-shirts, music CDs, and refreshments for sale, and an excited, milling crowd before the show. The storytelling festival is a three-day event. On Thursday night, which I didn't attend, the storytellers held a workshop for those that are interested. Friday night was the event I attended, and then the next day a tent was set up outside Tennessee Williams's home and museum, where the storytelling and musical entertainment continued, along with a tour of the Tennessee Williams home. Around lunch, burgers and hotdogs were served. I would have like to attend that event as well, but I was tired from my night out.

After the storytelling event, I treated myself to dessert and coffee at Harvey's restaurant, one of the better restaurants in Columbus, Starkville, and elsewhere and one that I have only eaten at a couple of times because of my shoestring budget.

I had already seen Donald Davis's storytelling on a video, which I included in an earlier post, and to see him in person was a treat, but even more entertaining was how the audience responded to tales that were all too familiar to many of us. Davis is from North Carolina and told of visits with his relatives, stories about his brothers and himself growing up relatively poor; especially poignant and funny was the relationship he had with his mother and father and the Methodist church he attended as a child and teenager. As I looked around the audience at the people my age and older, I figured that part of their delight was recalling their own childhoods. The stories Davis told reminded me of my own  rural childhood, even though I had never been to the deep south until 2014. I recalled my aunts and uncles and the farm and ranch lives that most of them lived. Perhaps Davis's stories were a kind of vehicle for those in the audience to be transported back in time to our own growing-up experiences. In an important way, I think that is precisely what storytelling is meant to do.

I thought of my family's trips to visit relatives in the mountains of southern New Mexico, especially to an aunt on my father's side of the family. She was the oldest of nine children, my father was the youngest. Once the crops were up and growing and freshly irrigated sometime in the heat of the summer, we would all load into the family car and make a weekend trip to the mountains to visit with Aunt Carrie and Uncle Bud (who knows what his real name was?). Our arrival would prompt visits from relatives who also lived in the area on other ranches or down in town in Alamogordo, and for a long weekend it would be an impromptu family reunion, of at least one branch of the family. And neighbors would come over to my aunt and uncle's house, usually on that Saturday night, and out would come the fiddles and guitars. The piano would be opened up, and we would gather in the living room and those who could would make music, and the rest of us would listen and talk and exchange stories.

As I looked around at the audience of southerners (most of them, I assumed)  at the storytelling event, I knew that they had similar experiences to my own. On my mother's side were relatives who were born in Mississippi or Louisiana, and Texas, and on my father's side were those like his father who were born in Texas, and they just transported their southern and Irish ways with them into New Mexico. It seems that southerners are true music makers, and as one of the musicians in the show said, music was central to the simple family life in the rural south. Anna and Elizabeth were the musical entertainment. They are storytelling balladeers, neither of whom grew up in the south but both of them have dedicated several years to collecting folk music and they both play banjo, guitar, and fiddle (not to be confused with the music one makes with a violin, even though they are the same instrument). In the hands of country music and folk music, some of which has its roots in Scotland and Ireland, the violin becomes a fiddle.

The video, here, is from Anna and Elizabeth's web site.

The entertainment ended about 9:30 and from there I went for my dessert and coffee at Harvey's. While I sipped on my coffee and indulged in the cheesecake (which Harvey's brings in from a cheesecake factory in West Point, Mississippi, called Jubilations), I thought about my life here in Columbus. I knew a number of people at the storytelling event, some from the writer's group I attend regularly, some of neighbors I have seen here and at other places in town, and I was also introduced to more people. In a town the size of Columbus it is possible to not only begin to recognize faces but to also know the names of people I see out and about. It's beginning to feel like home.