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Three-day story festival in downtown Cape Girardeau begins today
When Jimmy Wallen told a story, he did it carefully, putting out a time and describing the place, giving names and faces to the people and "then just whoppin' you over the head with the punch line of the story," said his grandson, Jim Wallen.
The younger Wallen, who introduces himself with "I'm Jim 'Two Crows' Wallen," learned those stories and the art of storytelling by listening to his grandfather.
"Because I was the oldest son of the oldest son, I got to know my grandfather," Wallen said.
Wallen, who lives in Independence, Mo., is one of five regional storytellers joined by four national storytellers coming to Cape Girardeau for the first Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival to be held today, Saturday and Sunday in three tents downtown.
Wallen has 19 stories he tells. He focuses on history, he said, but it's not reciting dates and events.
"I'm telling what actually happened. So it's not the dry college lecture you get," Wallen said.
In one story, he tells of John Brown, the abolitionist, the day before he was hanged. In another that he tells in first person, he is 95-year-old Noah looking back on the flood God sent.
"I looked at the river and said I should have brought the ark," he said Thursday night at the kick off banquet for the festival.
The recent rains have not stopped festival planners. The three tents were set up early in the week in an attempt to slightly protect the ground from more precipitation.
"Apparently, it's rain or shine," said Joel Rhodes, a co-producer of the festival and a Southeast Missouri State University history professor.
The tents are up, but some last-minute things like temporary fencing had to be put on hold until rain and lightning subsided Thursday. Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau and festival co-producer, said they would simply start earlier today to finish things by the first storytelling session slated for 9 a.m.
The CVB has already sold 281 advance tickets, most to out-of-state story enthusiasts. A group of 600 to 700 students will be attending the festival today. Though more rain is expected throughout the day, Saturday and Sunday's forecasts are brighter with highs expected in the 60s and mostly sunny skies.
"If this weather will move on out, I know more than a few people that are planning on purchasing locally," Martin said.
Their goal is 500 to 600 people the first year. Martin said it will probably grow from there each year. "What better way to promote a storytelling festival than word-of-mouth?"
The National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, the model for Cape Girardeau's attempt, has grown to attract more than 10,000 people and has an economic impact of nearly $4 million, Martin said. It fills seven tents of 1,000 people. Cape Girardeau's festival has three tents that will hold 350 people each with overflow seating at the River Campus tent to fit 700.
The 2009 Cape Girardeau Storytelling festival is already in the works with four storytellers signed up. Martin said it has a "strong possibility of becoming a signature event through the years."
For the first year, Martin said, he just hopes it inspires people to start telling their own stories. He hopes that after the festival, families will feel the need to share with each other the tales of their lineage.
"All of the sudden the history -- the heritage, the who this family is, what shapes them, what made them the family they are -- suddenly unfolds with three generations sitting around the table laughing with each other. That, to me, is storytelling," he said.
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