I didn't listen to the stories. I absorbed them. —Veteran storyteller Donald Davis
Veteran storyteller Donald Davis says the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is a standout.
And he should know, he's told stories professionally for years and been on the schedule at the Timpanogos Festival since its 1990 origin.
He's featured at more than 30 festivals across the United States each year.
"They're all wonderful," Davis told the Deseret News in a recent telephone interview. "But every one is different. The Timpanogos Festival has the most thorough family audiences, more than anywhere."
Davis said because the festival is located close to its audience, it's probably easier for families to get to the events than festivals that require lengthy travel.
In other areas of the nation, attendees tend to leave the children at home. Here, even the babies are brought along (and eventually they learn to listen, too, Davis said).
To mark the emphasis festival organizers put on families, this year, a classic Norman Rockwell print is being offered: The Saturday Evening Post cover illustration of "Family Tree."
Festival founder Karen Ashton has made special arrangements for a limited number of prints to be available to festival patrons. (Ashton will also be telling stories as part of the "Shivers in the Night" event Friday evening.)
"One of our major goals is to inspire family storytelling," Ashton said. "By that, we mean fathers telling children stories of life, and grandmothers sharing what it was like to grow up years ago.
"That's at the heart of our festival. We watch entertainers on stage tell stories, but the most important stories we hear are from around the kitchen table and at the foot of the bed.
"We felt like this Norman Rockwell piece connected the family to storytelling," Ashton said.
"What we really want is for families to share stories with each other in the car all the way home," she said.
There are activities and events throughout the popular festival that are well suited for families and designed to stimulate families to start seeking out and telling their own stories.
The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is very strongly vetted with an eye to values and wholesome tales, Davis said. "The storytellers are known entities."
Davis said the bluegrass music and artwork and puppetry shows are also something not every festival includes.
"Here, there's always something going on," he said.
Youth storytellers who have won storytelling contests in their classrooms, schools and regions are a unique feature at the Timpanogos Festival as well.
"I just love it," Davis said. "That's not a given at every festival."
Davis said as more people participate in storytelling and become festival fans, more are becoming aware that their family stories need to be told.
In the Utah area, genealogical research is just one step in the process, Davis said. Understanding the value of personal stories is critical.
"We're getting it more and more," he said. "We're realizing that our stories are our identity. If you don't know your family, you don't know who you are."
Davis said although he'd told stories for years, he's not even close to running short of material. As he teaches others to tell their stories, he remembers more details from his childhood in the Appalachian Mountains.
"I didn't listen to the stories. I absorbed them," he said.
In addition to Davis, Carmen Deedy, Bil Lepp and Syd Lieberman, festival organizers have invited back Barbara McBride-Smith, Ed Stivender, Andy Offutt Irwin, Liz Weir and Laura Pershin Raynor, along with new tellers such as Geraldine Buckley (a former minister, radio DJ, television newsreader, food critic and men's prison chaplain from the United Kingdom), Josh Goforth and musician/storytellers Kim and Reggie Harris.
Goforth will be giving a free concert at Riverwoods in Provo on Aug 28 at 7 p.m.
The main part of the festival runs from Thursday, Aug. 29, through Saturday, Aug. 31, with all of the storytellers in rotation on Thursday in the "Look Who's Talking" segment, "Bedtime Stories" at the canyon park Friday evening and "My Favorite Stories" at the SCERA Friday, followed by "Shivers in the Night" in the canyon.
Saturday evening, the storytellers will share "Laughin' Night" and "The Last Laugh" funny stories. (See www.timpfest.org for schedule details.)
Some tellers will share stories that include history highlights from the Civil War, the Underground Railroad and the civil rights movement.
Youth storytellers will be featured on Saturday morning and with seasoned tellers on Friday and Saturday.
Deedy, Lieberman, Stivender and Barbara McBride-Smith are teaching workshops focused on storytelling.
The theme of the 2013 festival is "Everyone Has a Story."
If you go:
What: Timpanogos Storytelling Festival
Where: Mount Timpanogos Park, Provo Canyon and SCERA Center for the Arts Outdoor Amphitheater, Orem. Parking in the canyon is limited. Free shuttle buses will be available.
When: Aug. 29-31
Cost: Varies, family tickets available. Single events, $8.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.