by Anastasia PenchiLa Crosse Storytelling Festival

Once upon a time in a land that was 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 about 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 it over. As Wisconsin’s Only Storytelling Festival, attendants continue to learn about the magic of stories.

Don’t assume this festival is just for kids – although they will enjoy it immensely. As a parent and human, it’s fun to be reminded of the power of lessons we can learn as we listen to others tell stories. There are “adult” stories, too, as the evening cabaret requires proof attendants are at least 18. Come better develop the skills of listening and learning while having fun.

Here are five things to know about the Storytelling Festival, which is held Sept. 9-10 in Myrick Park, before you go:

1) Stories teach us.

Storytelling is older than writing. Think back to pictures drawn on cave walls. Historians believe those pictures helped the artist to 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 at least? Stories can give us new perspective and we need more of that in this 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.

2) Things that go bump in the night can be fun.

Like to get scared? I’m not talking about running into a creepy clown at midnight in Green Bay scared – I’m talking spooky stories around the campfire scared. While there may not be a campfire, come get your scare on and listen to “Tales of the Creepy and Scary” on the opening night of the festival under a tent in Myrick Park. “Safe scares,” which are good for all ages are offered at the beginning of the night, with progressively scarier stories after the intermission. When was the last time the kids had a good scare? And I’m not talking about the time the iPad wasn’t charged before that long road trip.

3) 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.

4) Local storytelling group has some heavyweight talent.  

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, as she was the one who encouraged him to pursue creative math thinking. He now applies those skills as an Information Technology Management major in college. Thanks, Mrs. Visger.

5) Show and tell isn’t just for kindergartners.

Do you want to be the Special Star in kindergarten again? Join the festival’s Show and Tell. Bring an interesting object — or an ordinary object with an extraordinary story — and tell a story about it. Your yarns must be 5 minutes or less. They say this is a popular event, and I say, “Of course it is.”  Your son can be the center of attention while he shows everyone the stuffed gorilla he won out of the truck stop claw game while he was waiting for you to come out of the bathroom during vacation. Never mind she is wearing lipstick, a size DD bikini top and he named her “Peaches.”

If you would like to learn more about the Storytelling Festival or the Bluff Country Tale Spinners, visit the Web page at

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi

Freelance writer

Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (