Grammy winner returns to Azalea Storytelling Festival

Submitted report

February 27, 2014

One of the most popular storytellers to appear on the Azalea Storytelling stage returns for the 18th annual festival that kicks off March 7 at Callaway Auditorium.

“Bill Harley will be back for his third appearance with us,” said Joyce Morgan Young, one of the event’s organizers. “He was here in 2006 and 2007, and people have always loved him. We’re so excited to welcome him back.”

A native of Greenville, Ohio, Harley is a two-time Grammy award-winning artist who uses song and story to paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. He is a recipient of the lifetime achievement award from Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the National Parenting Publications Award. He’s also been recognized by Parent’s Choice, American Library Association and Association for Independent Music.

Harley is the 2001 recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award.

His 28 recordings include song- and story-collections for adults, and a mix of world music, reggae, blues, folk, rock, jazz, do-wop and more. His most recent books include “Lost and Found” and “Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year,” published in September 2013.

Storytellers Michael Reno Harrell and Megan Hicks will be making their debuts at the 18th annual festival, running March 7–9.

Morgan said she heard Harrell recently and was very impressed.

“He is the closest to (longtime festival favorite) Donald Davis as anyone I’ve ever heard,” she said. “Our audiences are going to love him.”

A product of the Southern Appalachian mountains, Harrell is a veteran storyteller, entertainer and musician. His recordings, described as “Appalachian grit and wit,” top the Americana Music Association charts year after year.

Harrell has been a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival, and a teller-in-residence at the International Storytelling Center, as well as performing artist at major music events like MerleFest and the Walnut Valley Festival.

Along with his performances, Harrell often conducts workshops in the art and craft of songwriting and storytelling. “Then There’s Me” is his most recent recording.

Charlene Baxter, librarian for public and technical services at Lewis Library, said she first heard about storyteller Megan Hicks from Carol Cain, longtime master of ceremonies for the Azalea festival.

“Carol recommended her but I hadn’t heard her before,” Baxter said. “However, I attended the recent American Library Association conference in Philadelphia and Megan was there, representing the National Association of Storytellers. I did get to meet her briefly and hear her tell a delightful fractured fairy tale at a short concert held on the stage of the exhibit floor. Fractured fairy tales are one of her specialties. She was wonderful.”

Hicks is a professional storyteller and recording artist. Featured as a new voice at the National Storytelling Festival in 2011, she has appeared in small venues in rural America, regional stages throughout the United States and international programs on three continents.

Her awards include a Parent’s Choice Silver for the CD “What Was Civil About That War…,” which was also a 2005 finalist for an Audie award (best audiobook or spoken word) in the category of best original work.

She received the Parents’ Guide to Children’s Media Award for “Groundhogs Meet Grimm,” a collection of original parodies that was honored by NAPPA.

Barbara McBride-Smith is making a return trip to the festival after being one of the featured performers in 2012.

She grew up in Texas where she learned the craft of storytelling from her two deaf sisters, who “communicated with their entire beings,” and her parents, known by all as the “natural-born keepers of the family lore,” she said.

After graduating from Abilene Christian University in 1966 and from Boston University in 1975, McBride-Smith moved to Oklahoma in 1981. She has been a teacher/school librarian for 44 years and an adjunct instructor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa for more than 20 years.

Traveling the storytelling circuit since 1987, McBride-Smith has appeared at most of the major festivals and conferences including 10 appearances at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. She also has been featured on National Public Radio and at the International Storytelling Festival in Washington, D.C. She is the author of “Greek Myths Western Style” and “Tell It Together,” as well as the co-author and editor of “New Testament Women.”

McBride-Smith has produced five award-winning recordings, She is a member of the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence and a recipient of the John Henry Faulk Award for Outstanding Contributions to Storytelling.

Hogansville native Carol Cain will reprise her role of the festival’s master of ceremonies. For 18 years, she has performed as Rosie the Riveter, sharing with audiences of all ages the stories of women workers in World War II. During the summer of 2008, she served as emcee and as a teller for the Georgia Showcase at the National Storytelling Network Conference in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

In the fall of 2011, Utah’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival welcomed Cain to the national stage. She also appeared in BYU TV’s “What’s Your Story?” a documentary with Donald Davis filmed on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island.

An experienced educator, she now spends a good portion of her summers telling stories for Vacation Reading Programs throughout the state. She has released her first collection of stories, “Alive in Hogansville,” on CD and DVD.

Area musicians will be providing entertainment before some sessions. On Friday night, LaGrange College students will perform at 7 p.m. Pianist David Fountain will be featured before the 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon session, and Anna Howington will play guitar and sing at 7 p.m. Saturday. The annual Dulcimer Troupers performance will be at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Azalea Storytelling Festival has been recognized as one of the oldest such festivals in the state of Georgia. It received the Leadership Award from the National Storytelling Association, and has been recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the Top 20 Events in the 12 Southeastern states.

It has drawn patrons from 26 states and three foreign countries.

Last year, the event and its three founders – Pat Gay, Evelyn Jordan and Joyce Morgan Young – were named winners of the Troup County Tourism Visionary Award, presented by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets are $35 for the full festival, $15 for Friday evening, $30 for Saturday, $10 for Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon, and $15 for Saturday evening. Student tickets can be purchased at a discount, and admission is free Sunday morning.

Tickets will be available at the door or by calling (706) 882-9909.