“Tell me a story.”
How many times has one heard a child ask their parents or grandparents that question?
The reply can be either a scary, funny or learning experience — sometimes all at once.
It is the purpose of the Ocoee Story Fest to celebrate that tradition which has been passed down from generation to generation.
Friday evening marked the 19th annual event, an accomplishment members of the Cleveland Storytelling Guild feel very good about.
“We are the longest-running storytelling festival in the state other than the national festival in Jonesborough that is held every October,” said Guild member Judy Baker. “Anything that runs that long has durability and must be good.”
She says the event has lasted because of its appeal to families.
“It appeals to the child in all of us. It appeals to how almost every story can connect with the listener in some way,” Baker said.
Baker said the Guild has been proud to be able to share that gift with the community for almost two decades.
“The community has been very supportive,” she said.
Each year, the Guild has made efforts to bring the very best of those who have the gift of crafting words to the area.
This year’s event featured a return visit from international storyteller Lyn Ford.
Ford, a fourth-generation storyteller, brings her unique brand of “Affriachian” stories for both young and old.
The term was given her by the first African-American poet laureate of Kentucky and is now recognized as a legitimate word.
For the past few years, the Guild has partnered with the Allied Arts Council of the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce.
“That has allowed us to take our artists into the schools,” Baker said.
Ford has been in six schools throughout the week telling stories attuned to the specific age groups.
“We are so appreciative of their support because to get a storyteller of the caliber we try to get, it costs money,” Baker said.
She also noted many of the storytellers do the festivals, but do not “have the job of visiting the schools.”
“It takes a lot of talent and it takes a lot of work,” she said. “Our storyteller this year has been crafting stories for many years.”
Baker said the Guild knew Ford was “top shelf” after hearing her at the national event.
“We got to know her on a more personal level at the smaller festivals where you could meet and greet and also from the recommendations of other storytellers we have had,” Baker said. “We always ask who might fit with our kind of audience and go into the schools.”
She said when Ford was here in 2011, “she was so delightful and connected with the kids and our audience that before she left we knew we were going to have her back.”
Baker said some storytellers are so in demand they have to be booked years in advance.
“[Ford] is so professional. She has a background in education. She knows what children need as far as sensory and cognitive development,” she said. “She knows how important stories are for that development.”
Baker said children now watch TV so much their imagination is prohibited.
“When a storyteller tells a story, they are let loose to use their own visualizations,” Baker said.
She said the festival has always been family-friendly.
The audience Friday was a varied mixed of generations who all laughed at Ford’s tales of her family proved that a great story is as warm for a family to gather around on a cold February night as a roaring fireplace.