Storytellers Gather For Annual Festival Near Roanoke

Apr 10, 2019

The telling of tales has deep roots in Appalachia and the Blue Ridge region; those roots will be explored this weekend, when nationally known story tellers come together to share their craft in a festival that has been carrying on the tradition for nearly two decades. 

Bil Lepp has been known to tell some tall tales.

“You know, I started with the West Virginia Liars Contest which is an annual event held in Charleston as part of the Vandalia Gathering which is a celebration of traditional Appalachian arts and culture.”

In fact, he is a five-time champion of that contest.  He says he builds his fabrications as his stories unfold.

“They start out small and sort of gradually and work into more greater and greater exaggeration kind of sucking the audience in until really, you know when they finally realize that what I am saying is completely untrue they’re so intrigued by what I am saying, hopefully, that they’re going to hang on.  And then create a narrative which offers the audience three or four different ideas of how it might end and then hopefully I pick a choice that they never saw coming.”

It’s like a create your own adventure, but he chooses the ending, to the delight of his audiences.

“I have to say I pioneered this all myself. What I created was the JELL-O balloon.  Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is and yes, it is that genius. It’s like a water balloon, only it’s filled with JELL-O. See?  It’s a lot like a water balloon except it’s a lot more viscous, so when you hit somebody with it, it doesn’t just get them wet, it sticks to them all over.  See?”

Lepp is one of the story tellers performing this weekend at the Sounds of the Mountains, a music and storytelling festival.

“It’s an event that’s been going on at Camp Bethel, this is the 18th year.”

Alan Hoal, cofounder and committee chair for the festival.

“It was inspired I guess you would say by my travel to Jonesboro, TN, to the national storytelling festival, where I just, I got hooked on storytelling, whether it be personal stories or folktales or what have you. And, I was just mesmerized.”

There will be a mixture of stories at the festival, including those of Gayle Ross.

“Gayle Ross is a direct descendant of John Ross, who was a Cherokee chief during the time of the removal; the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. And, she has quite a repertoire of traditional Cherokee tales.”

And, there will be personal stories and folk tales from Donald Davis and stories and music from Josh Goforth.

“I was very lucky to grow up in Madison County, NC.  Such a great place to grow up.  And, also every Sunday go down to the little country church, every Sunday morning.  Actually, such a country church that for my first communion, to represent the body of Christ, they used Necco Wafers. To this day, every time somebody says communion, I think root beer.” 

Alan Hoal says Sounds of the Mountains carries on a long tradition.

“You know, that’s how people communicated. That’s how you passed along your values, that’s how you passed along your family history. That is how people communicated, entertained themselves, around the dinner table, around the fireplace, on the front porch; telling stories.”

That tradition continues at Sounds of the Mountains at Camp Bethel, just north of Roanoke , Friday and Saturday.

More info HERE

***Editor's Note: The Sounds of the Mountains festival is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.