Sunday, March 09, 2014

Azalea Storytelling Festival 2014 (Part 2)

Second Session: Saturday afternoon

For lunch we took the shuttle to Bellevue, the antebellum home of Ben Hill, the Confederate and US Senator. We enjoyed homemade soup (I had potato, Sheila taco) and cornbread with homemade cookies for dessert, while we talked with out tablemates who included two of my Facebook friends, featured storyteller Michael Reno Harrell and our Atlanta storyteller friend Janice Butt as well as Janice’s friend whose name escapes me, and a nice couple from Carrollton.

The second session started with Megan Hicks who told some stories in her mother’s voice. Her mother talked of the terror of Western-Union telegrams during World War Two when they often brought news of war deaths. And of the train trip with her new groom and the lonely ride back after seeing him off. She met another seventeen-year-old bride to share her ride and her troubles. “This is what is called the ‘long haul’, she said, ‘and we’re in it.”


Michael Reno Harrell took the stage again to talk about his new friends, the rich New York couple who, visiting the Blue Ridge, fell in love with the mountains... “so they bought one.” When Michael spied the label “Armani” on his new friend suit coat on the back of a chair he thought, “That’s a hundred dollar suit, I bet!” Michael described a big snow as “axle deep to a ferris wheel.” But in the end, his new friends convinced him “It ain’t about where you’re from. It’s who you are.” He finished up with his song about the rules for “living here in the South.”

Bill Harley, a former resident of Rhode Island shares the common resentment of the citizens there over the frequent comparison of unusual things to the size of the diminutive state. Here’s a link to the lyrics of Bill’s song on the topic:

Did you see that bride’s diamond? It’s the size of the state of Rode Island!

Then he talked of being lost out West, but nearly dying in Rhode Island. Out west they’ve reintroduced wolves to the ecosystem and wonderfully strange things happened: deer moved to the hills, so trees came back to the valleys, and then the grass, which filtered and slowed the water which revived the streams and rivers. Who knew wolves would improve the rivers?

Then just for fun his classic Harley song: Down in the Backpack to the tune of Under the Boardwalk.

Barbara McBride-Smith grabbed our attention with this opening: “The first time my sister Pat got cancer she figured she could whup it. The second time she got mad.”  Pat was profoundly deaf. Barbara sprinkled American Sign Launguage accompaniment into the touching story of Pat’s valient fight against cancer. “Why can’t we find a cure for cancer without torturing people?” 

Pat seemed to have extra sensitive tactile, visual, olfactory, and gustatory abilities in spite of her auditory deficit. As she explained her final wishes to Barbara she instructed that she wanted doors and windows opened when she died so that the aroma of roses or panzies could fill the house. Barbara made sure that wish was granted. And now, Barbara stubbornly asserts, she can actually smell the panzies that Pat’s spirit is “pushing up”.

Next :  Third Session - Saturday night.

Azalea Storytelling Festival 2014 (PART 1)

If you are in comfortable driving distance of LaGrange Georgia tomorrow (Sunday, March 9, 2014), even though it’s time-change morning, come over to the Callaway Theater on the LaGrange College campus for the FREE storytelling finale of the annual Azalea Storytelling Festival --- 9:30 a.m. till noon with a short break in the middle.

The tellers this year are a very balanced group of entirely unbalanced personalities: the irrepressible Bill Harley (my kids grew up on Bill Harley tapes!), the dead-pan Tennessee bad-boy Michael Reno Harrell, the unhinged and earnest Megan Hicks, and that Texas Tornado Barbara McBride-Smith.

Six hours of tales and tunes. We have had us a day!

Emcee Carol Cain brought on Barbara first. She opened with her version of the tale of the poor seamtress who lost a leather thimble and later a husband in the river, and her interaction with the magic fish who came to her rescue. In the end she had the original thimble, plus silver and gold ones, and ... a George Clooney replacement for the old husband!

“If a woman lies,” says Barb, “It’s for a good and honest reason and benefits all around.”

Her Mama saved stuff. Why? “The Depression.” says Barbara. So the Mcbride-Smiths are still re-using Christmas wrapping paper from the sixties. “Lord love a duck! I’m becoming my mother.”

Megan Hicks told her fractured fairy tales. The fisherman who hated fish made a bargain with the devil, but his kindness to a fish got him some help when Satan came for the payment. 


“My son was born,” declares Megan, “and I was thrown into a blender.” And her Christmas cards became Groundhog Day cards... a tradition she has kept since. So when she retells “The Fisherman and His Wife” there’s a very practical groundhog in place of the usual purveyor of magic.

Michael Reno Harrell opens each set with a low-key “Hey.” Reaching down to plug up his guitar, Michael asserts, “I’m to the point when I bend over to tie my shoes I look around to see if there’s anything else I ought to do while I’m down there.”

When he went ot the Saturday movies, he emerged after four hours of Westerns “as blind as a cave fish.” He loved to stop by the Greyhound station on the way home to buy a nickle “Good Time” candy bar from the machine there. His love for the candy bar led him, as a ten-year-old, to take entirely the wrong idea from a scrawled “For a Good Time...” bit of graffiti. Later the Greyhound took him away from his Mama and to his first bout of homesickness. And then to Chicago where he discovered new music. From all that he composed a song that began, “There used to be a Greyhound station…”.


Michael’s song brought a song he’d never sung in public to Bill Harley’s mind. One line of it: “It’s the same road takes me from you that brings me back again.”

Bill followed that with the story of his love, as a kid, for Robert W. Service’s poems. Especially “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. That’s a love I had as a ten-year-old myself. He told the story of the poem and recited a little. Then he recited his own “Dirty Joe” ballad with similar rhyme scheme. This is one we Harley fans have heard before, but never tire of. 


Bill finished up with another of my favorites, his autobiographical story and song “My Father Played The Phonograph.”

Well that is just a taste of justr the first of three sessions today.

More later.