The 12th Annual Ojai Storytelling Festival celebrated another blockbuster year with over 3000 “listeners” attending events that ran from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, in two venues: The Art Center, and the grassy field behind Chaparral School.
With Libbey Bowl out of commission, organizing locations for the 21 events scheduled throughout the weekend was like a Sudoku puzzle – but the festival ran smooth as silk – thanks to the dedicated volunteers, under the direction of the festival’s founder Brian Bemel, who forced imaginations to spawn, feeding our souls with song, laughter, tears of joy, and sadness, as we rode a fantasy wave that was ethierially nutritious and delicious.
On several occasions, this “listener” had a stomach ache from laughing too hard, and “I’ll never miss this event again” is her new tattoo.
The artistic lineup of tellers was A List – A+ if there were one. The lucky seven performers came from across the country, and each one brought a unique bouquet of stories that delighted listeners of all ages, mental shapes, and sentimental sizes.
Boston born Antonio Sacre, son of an Irish mum and a Cuban Papa, opened the ceremony with Ghost Tales, sharing haunting bilingual folklore on Thursday evening, and capped the event along with tellers Regi Carpenter and Billy Jonas, during “Naughty Nights,” on Saturday, to a 21 plus crowd whose gutsy laughter could be heard blocks away.
Donald Davis, one of our country’s founding fathers in this performance genre, came from Ocracoke, North Carolina – deep within the bread basket of storytelling, where it’s roots run thick throughout the Carolina’s and the back hills of Tennessee.
Davis, who abandoned a long career as a Methodist minister to become a storyteller, shared a personal tragedy that involved Davis’ younger brother’s long, curly hair and a pair of scissors that Davis used inappropriately in a jealous reaction as the two vied for mother’s attentions. A simple, common situation had the audience tearing from laughter, and surprise, as if the scene were being played out before our very eyes.
Dan Keding, the Emcee, also a storyteller of international acclaim, gave us guts, nuts and bolts, and “spoon songs” that is his tapestry of tales handed down from his Croatian born grandmother.
Billy Jonas, with his tenor voice and one-man band, had the entire audience singing “I’m peeing in the rain” (I guess you had to be there) while, again, laughing through tears.
Jude Narita, a newcomer to the Ojai Storytellers Festival, tore at our hearts with stories of her Japanese ancestors, and tales of internment camps Japanese citizens suffered during WWII.
It was a sad moment when the proverbial curtain fell. Now we have to wait another year till we are back in the storytelling circle. Elizabeth Ellis, a storyteller who performed at the festival in 2005 perhaps said it best:
“It may be that many people have forgotten with their conscious minds the importance of storytelling. But I do not believe that our subconscious minds have forgotten. Any artist, in any field, be they a film maker, writer, dancer, whatever – when we try to describe their work, we run out of superlatives, we call them “a storyteller.” That is the highest compliment we can pay in our culture. Why? Because, subconsciously, we still remember that the most important thing about being human is the story.”