Storytellers Festival attendance breaks 3,000 in event's second year

Monday, April 6, 2009
Kim Weitkamp tells a tale of catfish noodling Sunday at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival. (Fred Lynch)

Sunday's severe thunderstorm warning caused Chuck Martin a lot of anxiety, but the headliners for Cape Girardeau's second Storytellers Festival merely incorporated the weather into their flights of fancy.

Nearly 200 people arrived for Sunday's final session. Martin, festival co-producer and Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, said 3,050 tickets were sold; 2,550 to schoolchildren and 500 weekend passes. He said the goal is to bring at least 1,500 or more to town for the event. Martin said the event didn't break even this year, but he didn't expect it to.

"It takes time to build a signature event," Martin said. "This event has enormous potential, and I'm more convinced than ever about that."

The city does a good job of bringing visitors from a 75-mile radius, Martin said. The Storytellers Festival brought people from nine states, as far away as Michigan, Wisconsin and Mississippi.

What's most important is that they are going back to their communities and saying 'We had a wonderful time in this little river community. You have to go and see it,'" he said.

Bobby Norfolk spins a tale Sunday at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival. (Fred Lynch)

Richard Webb of Cape Girardeau attended all three days of the Storytellers Festival because he loves the arts.

He was delighted to discover that storyteller Barbara McBride-Smith, a national award winner, is a native of his hometown, Waco, Texas.

McBride-Smith told some Texas-sized tales to her audiences during the three-day festival. Her final story involved being 7 years old, trying to understand the story of Lot's wife -- Mrs. Lot -- and arguing with God about it. As she talked about her argument, thunder rumbled outside the River Campus tent.

"I don't know if I'm going to get away with it," she said, glancing upward. The crowd of people attending laughed in appreciation.

Dr. Joel Rhodes was master of ceremonies for the final performance of this year's national headliners, which included McBride-Smith, Andy Offutt Irwin, Bil Lepp and Bobby Norfolk.

Joyce Slater weaves a tale of a big bird Sunday at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival. (Fred Lynch)

Irwin switched his story at the last minute to dovetail with McBride-Smith's Biblical fable. Lepp often called on the Troop 4 Boy Scouts selling beverages at the concession stand to confirm facts in his boyhood Scouting tale. Norfolk asked the Scouts to explain what buffalo chips really were.

Nikki Price, 13, and her sister Trinity Price, 10, of Maryland arrived with their cousin Jasmine Nelson, 6, visiting from Kentucky and their grandmother, Lynne Ketchens of Grand Chain, Ill. Ketchens worried the stories might be too cerebral for the children, but they giggled and guffawed at the comic elements of Norfolk's Lewis and Clark tale.

"The stories were fascinating," Ketchens said later. "I really see the art of it."

Next year, she said she'll make plans for her grandchildren to arrive earlier so they can attend the Friday session, which is geared more toward school-aged children.

But her grandchildren said they liked the show, as did Jordan Huff, 9, of Cape Girardeau, who arrived with her aunt, Ellen Meyer of Perryville, Mo.

"It's really cool," Huff said. "I can see the stories in my mind."

Rhodes took time between the stories to thank event sponsor Shivelbine's for the sound production -- which Irwin said "was perfect" -- thank volunteers such as Jessica Saxton and lead the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for retired dentist Dan Cotner, who was in the audience with his family.

Martin is already planning at least one change for next year -- a family package price.

"If you have a family of five, it's not cheap," he said.


<B>Were you there?

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