By: Anastasia Penchi
Once upon a time in a land that is not far, far away, there were two La Crosse lawyers who decided their community should have a storytelling festival.
They wanted local families to hear great stories, and they wanted the public to be educated on the history of storytelling.
In 2003, Keith Belzer and Ted Skemp started the La Crosse Storytelling Festival. Three years later, the Bluff Country Tale Spinners, a local storytelling guild, took over. As Wisconsin’s Only Storytelling Festival, organizers continue to teach of us the magic of stories.
Don’t assume this festival is just for kids – although they will enjoy it immensely. We can all learn lessons as we listen to stories.
Here are five things to know about the Storytelling Festival, which is being held Sept. 8-9 in Myrick Park:
Stories teach us
Storytelling is older than writing. Think back to pictures drawn on cave walls. Historians believe those pictures helped the artist remember the story and tell it later with words, music and dance. Think about fairy tales, myths and fables you heard as a child. Remember the lessons you learned? Or the lessons they wanted you to learn? Stories give us new perspective, and we need that in a world that seems so black and white at times. Even today’s point-of-view video games tell stories. Ask any gamer the point of all that shooting, and it’s amazing the level of detail he or she can provide about the backstory. I’m still not sold on video games, but at least there’s a point.
Things that go bump in the night can be fun
Like to get scared? Come get your scare on and listen to “Tales of the Creepy and Scary” on the opening night of the festival. Stories that are good for all ages are offered at the beginning of the night, with progressively scarier stories later in the evening. When was the last time the kids had a good scare? And I’m not talking about the time the phone wasn’t charged before that long road trip.
Who doesn’t love Hans Meyer?
I never had a brother who ate bugs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy hearing songs about Hans’ brother eating them. I first heard this local talent more than 15 years ago when my oldest son was a toddler, and have enjoyed his music ever since. Need some toddler-friendly music for a car ride that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out? Let Hans sing “God Bless My Underwear,” or “See You Later Alligator,” and you will soon be laughing and joining in. Hans’ stories and songs are kicking off Day Two of the fest. This is a must for families with young children.
Our local storytellers have mad skills
This festival is put on by the Bluff Country Tale Spinners, a group founded in 1999 by Phyllis Blackstone and Sara Slayton, who have backgrounds in university-level teacher education and children’s literature. The group meets on the second Thursday of the month in La Crosse. Other tale spinners include former elementary school teacher, Terry Visger, who taught my oldest son and hundreds of other students at Spence Elementary School in La Crosse during her time as a teacher there. I know firsthand what a great and effective teacher she is, and couldn’t be a better ambassador for this festival.
Tall tales aren’t just for kindergartners
Do you want to feel like the Special Star in kindergarten again? If so, join the festival’s Luna Story Slam in the main tent on Saturday. Prepare a five-minute, mostly true story, put your name in the hat, and you may be selected to tell your story on the main stage. And remember, anything goes. You can tell the tale of the stuffed gorilla your youngest son won in the truck stop claw game down South.
If you would like to learn more about the Storytelling Festival or the Bluff Country Tale Spinners, visit the website at www.lacrossestoryfest.com.
Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (www.loislaneforhire.com).