FILLMORE — Clive Romney is a natural-born storyteller, and with a voice smooth like velvet and a slight western twang, almost everything he says has a storylike quality to it.
Sitting in his home studio, where he records not only his own stories and songs but also those of many local artists, it's clear to see that storytelling is more than just a passion for him. For Romney, storytelling is a responsibility, and it's a responsibility that every person holds.
Altering a quote by writer Agnes M. Pharo, Romney said, “Light from the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. That’s what storytelling gives us.”
It is this belief in storytelling's power, and the conviction that everyone has a story to tell, that has fueled the creation of Utah’s first Old Capitol Storytelling Festival, taking place March 22-26 in Millard County.
The five-day festival, which was planned by local storytellers along with Millard County officials, the Millard County School Board and a long list of donors, will highlight the histories and individuals that are unique to Utah and will feature events spread throughout Millard County. In addition to listening to professional and regional storytellers, attendees can share stories of their own at the open mic sessions.
“The thing that’s closest to my heart is to encourage people to tell their stories,” Romney said. “Telling your story really makes it your own.”
Ken Verdoia, KUED documentarian and festival storyteller, explained that in his experience, it's the personal stories of everyday people that usually mean the most.
“I’ve covered stories nationally and internationally but have found the most rewarding stories I’ve told are found here in Utah and the American West,” Verdoia said. “And the stories that endure are the very individual stories that remind us all that we’re part of this fabric of history, and our kind of moral imperative is to carry the stories forward.”
One such story has become the festival's focal point and symbol.
The small but beautiful red rock Territorial Statehuouse building sits proudly in the center of Fillmore, 140 miles south of the Utah State Capitol. With a history as old and complex as the state itself, the small building was originally planned by Brigham Young to be a single wing of his vision for the state capitol in Fillmore. However, following the compromise of 1850 and the realization that the building’s location was too difficult to access for legislators in the dead of winter, the project was abandoned and the state government was repositioned in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a great symbolic reminder of the evolution of the whole Utah story,” Verdoia explained. “It was born of great ambition and dreams in 1850, brought to life and then practical consequences pushed it to the sideline.”
Despite being diverted from its initial purpose, the building and the areas surrounding it contain rich histories that are important to Utah and its residents.
It has served as a school, a religious gathering place for Presbyterian missionaries and a jail. Thanks to the work of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, it was restored and became a focal point of Utah’s first state park.
Romney commissioned Utah songwriter and storyteller Cherie Call to write a song about the building's history. While researching, Call learned she had an interesting connection to the old building.
Call, who is not from Utah originally but has Utah ancestors, said she often feels a connection to people whose stories she tells. Her connection to the building increased, however, when she learned that two of her ancestors contributed to its architectural design and construction.
“I felt I (could) honor something my ancestors worked on by writing the song,” Call said.
In writing these stories, she said she imagines those people are happy their stories aren't being forgotten.
Call said one of the things that makes her most excited for the new storytelling festival is it helps people realize Utah's histories aren't just "boring, dusty old stories."
“You think that people were so different than you if they lived a long time ago,” she said, “but the more you read their stories, the more you realize that you are so very much the same.”Comment on this story
Pulling from one of the lyrics in Call's song, Romney said, "That’s why we’re doing this festival, so that the stories never end.”
Although none of the storytelling events will take place at the old capitol due to acoustic problems, Romney said the festival will still draw people to the building.
“It will never again be what it was intended to be,” he said. “But it will be, we think, the center of storytelling for Utah and for the whole Utah territory.”
If you go …
What: The Old Capitol Storytelling Festival
When: March 22-26
Where: Various location throughout Millard County
How much: Free