National Storytelling Festival returns virtually for second year


JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — For the second year in a row, the National Storytelling Festival will be presented virtually. While the impacts may feel hard now, organizers hope this brings more attention to the festival for their big anniversary next year.

“Last year, we looked through ticket sales virtually, and one in five of the people of the households who attended last year had never bought a ticket to any event before,” said Ben Weakley the director of development at The International Storytelling Center. “So, we reached a new audience of 20% from all over the United States.”

Organizers hope to keep people engaged almost as much as if they were here in person by offering Zoom sessions and ways to interact on social media.

“What we’ve weaved in are some live events over Zoom, where patrons can get together and discuss their experiences, who their favorite teller has been, what their favorite story was, and really connect with each other over that,” said Weakley.

According to Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson, the festival can bring in about $8 million in revenue for the city. It’s a hit some businesses are feeling.

Zachary Jenkins, the owner of Main St. Cafe, said he can make several weeks’ worth of revenue in the days leading up to the festival as festival-goers arrive in town early.

However, he said he is still seeing a boost in revenue despite the festival moving online.

“I think people are actually kind of keeping their schedule almost and just coming down and visiting this week because it’s what they do, and maybe that they always take this week off or something,” said Jenkins. “But this week has been busy, obviously not storytelling busy. But week over week, you know, probably up 20% and there’s no real rhyme or reason for it.”

Organizers and business owners alike hope the virtual attention will encourage more people to come out to the 50th Anniversary of the American Storytelling Revival next year. It will all kick off in Jonesborough starting early October 2022.

“I have been told that they’re going to really go all out and let’s hope that they do because you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” said Jenkins.

It’s something the city is looking forward to as well. Dickson said it not only gives Jonesborough an opportunity to show off the town but to get to know people from around the nation and even the world.

“We’ll certainly block off Main Street,” said Dickson. “Hopefully, they’ll be just a big jam session, just a lot of music, and just a lot of fun and just a big celebration. Jonesborough is a community, so hopefully for that 50th anniversary we will have a global community here on Main Street.”

Storytellers pre-recorded their stories for the festival this year. A ticket gains access to view those stories up until Oct. 17 as well as taking part in live Zoom discussions about the stories this weekend.

Tickets will be on sale through Oct. 3.

For more details on the festival and to purchase tickets, click here.

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