Sheila Kay Adams, left, and Gene Tagaban Photo by: Adams: festival.si.edu; Tagaban: storytellingraven.com
Malorie Eisenbrei of the Columbus Arts Council checks a Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival poster in the CAC display case on Fifth Street South Thursday. The festival is Friday and Saturday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
Storytellers Gene Tagaban, left, and Sheila Kay Adams will give story performances at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. The Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival will also include some school performances, a youth performance and a free workshop with Adams on Saturday at 1 p.m. Visit columbus-arts.org.
Photo by: Tagaban: storytellingraven.com; Adams: sheilakayadams.com
From left, Sandra Measels, Beverly Norris, John Davis, Marleen Hansen and Eric Chase
September 22, 2018 10:04:45 PM
It was our own fault we were left standing outside the hallowed circle, on the fringes of the faithful packed in to hear Sheila Kay Adams at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The huge, spire-topped white tent seating 1,700 people was full. At least a couple of hundred of us -- the tardy -- were on our feet outside of it, straining to hear the acclaimed storyteller, this crafter of stories. Other tellers were simultaneously presenting in four other tents erected throughout the small picturesque town. Adams is perennially a major draw in this mecca where fans flock in numbers topping 10,000 every autumn for three days.
Adams will be soon be in the Golden Triangle. She is one of two internationally-known professional storytellers featured in the Columbus Arts Council's seventh annual Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28-29. Gene Tagaban of Seattle, Washington, is also a featured teller.
"Storytelling is just such a wonderful experience. It can be some of the best entertainment you'll ever get," said Beverly Norris, CAC program manager and festival organizer. "Every storyteller is different. With our tellers this year, audiences will learn about their respective cultures -- Gene's Alaskan indigenous heritage and Sheila Kay's folklore and culture of the Appalachian Mountains. But always, there's great entertainment value, sometimes side-splitting laughter and sometimes very heartwarming, poignant stories that touch your heart."
"Sheila Kay Adams is one grand storyteller; she can weave a story and have you spellbound," said John Davis of Columbus, who heard Adams at the arts council's first Possum Town Tales event in 2012. "One of the great things is she is seriously funny. All her stories are relatable and sound like something you would tell or hear around the kitchen table."
Adams' folksy spoken art form draws from her roots in Madison County, North Carolina. The seventh-generation balladeer, storyteller and claw-hammer banjo player has been honored many times over for her devotion to the culture of the Appalachian region. She's a recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Heritage Award as well as the North Carolina Folklore Society's Brown-Hudson Award, among others.
She's been invited to participate in multiple Smithsonian Folklife Festivals, from the Bicentennial festival in 1976 to the event's 50th anniversary festival in 2017, where she delivered the keynote address at the Citizenship Ceremony to some of America's newest and youngest citizens.
Adams has recorded a dozen albums, authored two books and been in films. She appears in -- and served as technical advisor and singing coach -- in "Songcatcher" (2000) and also is briefly in "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992).
Her life, she said, has been blessed in many ways, including with intense joy and intense pain.
"Oddly enough, it was during the times of intense pain of tragic losses that provided me the most opportunity to grow in my heart and soul," she has written. "It isn't often we get to rise from the ashes with more strength and stronger wings to fly even higher ... "
Like Davis, Marleen Hansen of Columbus is a fan. She will never forget one particular story she heard Adams once tell.
"It was about this angel on a zipline in this little town in North Carolina. If she ever gets it on tape, or written, I've got to have a copy of it!" Hansen declared.
Tellers, she continued, often share stories from their own experiences, as well as stories handed down for generations.
"Sheila Kay just has a way of telling them ... " said Hansen.
Gene Tagaban is of the Takdeintaan clan, the Raven, Freshwater Sockeye clan from Hoonah, Alaska. He is of Cherokee, Tlingit and Filipino heritage. He grew up listening to stories of Raven from his grandmother.
"I heard of how Raven freed the stars, moon and sun into the nighttime sky and opened the Box of Daylight. ... I heard the story about the time Raven was looking out to sea and saw an island of fire throwing flames into the sky. Hawk helped Raven get that fire." Raven shared the fire with humans, the tale goes. Tagaban shares those and other stories through performance, movement and music.
He has been a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, the Singapore International Storytelling Festival and numerous others. Through his site, he expressed how honored he was to perform with the Dalai Lama at the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle in 2008 and the Nature Conservancy's 50th anniversary with Jane Goodall.
His acting credits include portrayal of Dan Firecloud in Syfy Channel's "Z Nation."
Tagaban travels throughout the country performing as well as presenting and facilitating workshops.
"In the words of my grandmother, 'You are the light of the world, share your light and light the fire in the hearts of the people. You will see spirits shine," he said on his site.
Adams and Tagaban will both be featured Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., in downtown Columbus. Each storytelling performance will be different.
A two-night advance ticket is $25 for arts council members; $30 for nonmembers. Nightly tickets are $15 in advance for members, $20 for nonmembers ($17 and $22 at the door). Tickets for youth 18 and under are $10.
Purchase tickets at columbus-arts.org, or by calling 662-328-2787 (closed Mondays). Seating is limited.
Saturday features two free events, one for youth ages 6-16, the other for adults and older youth.
At 10 a.m., Gene Tagaban and Mother Goose will present a storytelling session at the arts center for kids and teens.
At 1 p.m., Sheila Kay Adams will conduct a storytelling workshop. All are invited to sign up.
For first-timers, hearing professional tellers create their spells is often revelatory. Eric Chase of Columbus Air Force Base and his wife, Jo-Ana, attended their first Possum Town Tales Festival last fall.
"Without question, our single greatest regret is that we only bought tickets for one night instead of both!" Chase said. "The performers were truly talented ... Bil Lepp was particularly outstanding. His witty and relatable stories made me think of the type of writing I would sometimes see in 'Seinfeld' episodes. Between the three (tellers) there were several vignettes and displays of talent that all ages could enjoy."
It's a response Norris has witnessed time and again since the local festival began.
"I haven't met a person yet who didn't leave a storytelling event without something special that is long remembered," she said.
IF YOU GO:
WHO: Columbus Arts Council
WHAT: Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival
WHERE: Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., Columbus
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28-29, 7 p.m. (plus day events Saturday)
TICKETS: Some events free. See 'Performances, tickets' in story, or visit columbus-arts.org or call 662-328-2787 (closed Mondays).
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.