We left early enough Wednesday morning (Oct 4th) to not feel rushed facing a 450+ mile trip to Jonesborough, Tennessee. The event was the 45th National Storytelling Festival, and for us it would revolve around the 14th "International Event Airstream Rally" at the local Appalachian Fairgrounds. Jonesborough is the oldest town in Tennessee and is just a few miles from where my mother, Ethel Nevada Pritchett Kintner, was born. This added an extra dimension to the trip.
We traveled the well-known route down I75 until just before the Kentucky/Tennessee border, where we veered off on highway 25 East to wander through a lesser-known portion of Eastern Tennessee back roads – arriving at Jonesborough at 5:30
We were welcomed to the local Fairgrounds by husband/wife Bill/Susan and a long line of silver trailers that had arrived earlier in the day. Eventually, there was a total of 24 Airstreams. It took awhile to set up, tend to Charlie and Annie, meet the folks on either side of us, eat dinner, and settle in for the next 3 days. By dark (8:30!) we had it all under control.
Thursday, while not the official first day of the festival, was the day that we could report to the downtown Visitor’s Center to pick up our tickets and the Program of Events and walk the little town of Jonesborough to get the lay of the land. The whole downtown area was closed to traffic and 8 large tents were set up for the storytelling venues, along with Food Courts, a Marketplace, a Swappin’ Ground, and numerous Story Spots – where you can mount a little podium and tell your own story!
Aside from that, Jonesborough was a proud little town with the very best of shopping, food, and local artisans.
Thursday evening was an assembly of the Airstream folk for a get-together with an appetizer buffet that ended up a whole meal. Although this was an Airstream International Event Rally, this would be the only time that we would all be together. Late evening was a gathering of the new friends on either side of us, planning a line of attack for the first day .
Our plan Friday morning was to be on the Festival grounds by 8:30, ready for the 10:00 kick-off. The day’s arrangement was well thought-out, as each tent had an hour-long “sampler” session of two story-tellers followed by a 30-minute break. Staying in the same seats all day gave us the opportunity for 5 sessions/10 story-tellers/7 hours/4 breaks! And very sore behinds.
You can check out the following website to see all the details about the story-telling festival, including performers and a live-stream of performances: www.storytellingcenter.net/festival/
Some of the story-tellers, we discovered, are much like stand-up comedians, with a story that transitions through a series of funny anecdotes . . . and manages to remain refreshingly family-friendly. Others tell humorous stories that take a sudden somber turn and end up with a thoughtful, bittersweet lesson. Several ethnicities and personalities were represented – a Jewish lady, a world-famous liar, a Japanese woman with WWII stories . . . and a redneck, hillbilly gentleman with great stories about his pap-paw. One strategy they all seem to favor is starting with a story subject and then gradually veering off topic, before returning to the theme for a final wrap-up.
Tom got pictures of our large tent (holding 1,500 listeners!) and a few (contraband) pictures of our favorite storytellers (photos and recordings were not allowed!)
Saturday was a more in-depth repeat of Friday, with each story-teller taking up an entire hour. The idea was to move from tent to tent to link up with your favorite – but it turned out all of our favorites were in the same tent. Thus, at the end of the first sitting we jumped up and re-shuffled to coveted aisle seating, where it was easy in and out for the rest of the day.
While in the area, over the course of Friday and Saturday, we went on a little personal historical jaunt. My mother had been born in Johnson City (6 miles away) in 1913 in a little cabin known as the “old Sherfey place.” On her 80th birthday our whole family did a little memory-walk to relive mama’s early life and actually toured the cabin-home which was the residence of the John Humphrey family – a very distant cousin willing to host a home tour!
Tom and I set out to find the home with clues supplied by sister Tink through a series of text messages. We found a little museum (not open) and homestead cabin of the Sherfeys, but it was not the homestead we toured in 1993. This resulted in more texts to Tink, who found the tour book written by my father that had more specific details.
The next day we were able to find the little cabin on narrow, mile-long Landis Street – the only house on the narrow, gravel road. We stopped for pictures after knocking on the door to explain why were in the front yard. The woman had only lived there for 16 years and did not recognize any of the names I threw at her – Reuel Bowman Pritchett – Ethel Nevada Pritchett Kintner . . . Ella Brown???? Mission accomplished, I figured this would be my last visit to the little cabin where my mama had grown up!
Friday night was the last gathering with our weekend friends, and we sat out a little later than usual exchanging . . . our own stories! Before going to bed and anticipating morning rain, we packed up all the outdoor tackle to help with a quick morning get-away. It turned out to be a hasty take-off when Tom jumped out of bed at 6:30 and began hooking up in the dark in a very light rain. I reluctantly joined him, and by 7:00 we were on our way. Driving all day in steady rain. Our route home took us past the entry to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. So we stopped to walk the dogs, take a quick look around the visitor's center, and promise ourselves we would be back for a more extended visit someday. We were home by 4:00.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown