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Nancy Hansonstormy Mountain Boys
People gather at a previous Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

OREM — Jay O'Callahan believes that "there's nowhere better in the world to tell stories than the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival."

According to O'Callahan, Mt. Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon — the main site for the long-running festival — boasts "these beautiful canyons, red rocks and natural wonders the likes of which you've never seen."

The canyon "is an ideal setting for storytelling, and it says more than words can possibly express," he said in an interview from his Marshfield, Mass., home.

Of course, "sometimes that makes it a challenge to keep the audience interested in what you're saying. You have to choose your words very carefully," he added with a laugh.

O'Callahan has been a professional "tall teller of tales" for 30 years, earning several awards in the process. And his travels have taken him around the world. He's performed in Europe and New Zealand as well as at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. He is also a regular presence on National Public Radio.

As his gushing would suggest, he has also been to the annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and is returning to perform at this year's festival.

O'Callahan will also conduct a morning workshop, "Dream Your Dreams."

And he said he hopes to see others perform, as well as interact with his fellow storytellers. "That's one of the many perks of being on the festival circuit."

In addition to more "traditional" storytellers like O'Callahan, this year's dozen-plus festival acts include Antonio Rocha, a Brazilian-born actor who breaks the "traditional" mime silence by talking while he performs.

Rocha studied under Tony Montanaro, a student of the legendary French mime Marcel Marceau. However, he uses mime in a different way, one that "illustrates lessons from different aspects of life.

"Using the versatile yet simple nature of (both silent and spoken) art forms, I help the audience and workshop participants activate their imagination through rich symbolism and imagery," he explained.

Rocha said he is excited to come to the Orem-based event. He was asked to perform at the 2007 festival but had a scheduled event in Singapore. "I am glad that (festival organizers) kept a date open for me after I already told them no."

He spent the week before the Timp festival touring the Southwest and Utah's national parks, and said he is "certainly going to have a lot of new stories to tell."

And like O'Callahan, Maine resident Rocha also calls New England home. "We're a tight-knit, family-like community. We cross paths with each other on the road so often that it feels like we're at home."

While many of this year's storytellers, puppeteers, musicians and other performers are touring acts, there are some local features as well, including the state's longest-running bluegrass act, the Stormy Mountain Boys.

Or, as Tim Morrison, the band's upright bass player, explained, "although it's a storytelling festival, a portion of the show is meant for music.

"We are encouraged to tell our stories through our music," he continued. "The rich and unique heritage of bluegrass music makes that fairly easy."

Of course, it is not without its challenges. "New crowds always look a little uneasy when they see a bluegrass group warming up," Morrison said.

"That is, until the banjo starts playing. All those folks who don't immediately run for the exits seem to warm right up and smile with a distant recognition of something they have heard before. Then they get right into it."

All kidding aside, Morrison said he and his band mates enjoyed performing at the festival last year. And this year, they will be featured in a closing night concert/performance at the SCERA Shell.

Utah singer/songwriter Nancy Hanson says she was introduced to the storytelling festival two years ago, when she performed her own, well-received set there. Now she claims to be "addicted to the festival ... (the festivalgoers) make for a very appreciative, respectful audience."

In fact, she said that she loved her experiences at the festival. "I begged to be included again this year."

Hanson added that she is "looking forward to playing a little 30-minute set for the good folks there" and "then enjoying the rest of the festival weekend with my family, listening to some great stories."

If you go

What: The 19th annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

Where: Mt. Timpanogos Park, Orem Public Library and SCERA Shell, Orem

When: Thursday-Saturday

How much: $100 family passes; single-day passes also available ($15-$20).

Phone: 801-229-7376

Web: timpfest.org


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com