Once upon a time

Published 7:02 pm Sunday, March 4, 2018

On Friday and Saturday, Callaway Auditorium featured big crowds who came to hear top storytellers from around the south.

Thousands of visitors made a trip to LaGrange for the 22nd annual Azalea Storytelling Festival. Over the years the festival has featured renowned storytellers from across the country, and this year was no exception.

“This festival is in its 22nd year, and that is such an accomplishment,” storyteller Dolres Hydock said. “The sponsors and the volunteers who put it together are remarkable in that they joke about (how) everyone knows their job, so (Friday) when they were setting up they (said), ‘We got finished so early. What did we forget?’ But they have just been doing it so long, and they do such a great job making us all feel welcome and make the attendees feel welcome.”

When storytellers were asked about their favorite part of the festival, the immediate response was the volunteers and organization across the board, closely followed by the audience itself.

“It’s so well-organized, and because of its age, and the audience has mostly been here (before), but we still have the people who are new,” storyteller Michael Reno Harrell said. “So, they know what storytelling is — what to expect — and they are ready. It is such a great vibe that everybody comes to enjoy it.”

This was Harrell’s third year as a storyteller at the festival, and he reveled in the audience’s rapt attention as he spoke. This was Hydock’s first speaking at the festival itself. However, she spoke at a recent Stories in the Garden event at Hills & Dales Estate, and agreed that the audience made the experience especially enjoyable for storytellers.

“This is clearly an audience full of story lovers, and so they know what to expect, and they are open to it,” Hydock said. “That makes it fun. You just walk out feeling like they are there to embrace you, and you want to embrace them back with your story.”

In the week leading up to the Azalea Festival, two of the storytellers spoke at local schools, inspiring a new generation of storytellers and story lovers.

“This week we were able to put Michael Reno Harrell and Kevin Kling in various schools and civic organizations using part of the funding given to us by the West Point Fund,” Carol Cain said.

Children also enjoyed some time in the limelight over the weekend. Troup County elementary school students in the Strings Attached program got the day started with a performance on violins and cellos. The program is under the banner of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra and works to teach music to elementary students with an emphasis on instruments that would otherwise be unavailable to the young students.

“We are so pleased with this program,” said Joyce Young, a volunteer. “It is in its third year, and we’ll soon recruit again. It is for rising third graders and includes fourth and fifth grades. Our only goal is that these students will stay with strings, will join our ensemble, our youth orchestra, our adult orchestra and that someday they will be on this stage with the LaGrange Symphony (Orchestra).”