It’s easy to recognize photographs of Ray Hicks, the gentle giant in overalls who told Jack tales. Everyone remembers how Kathryn Windham’s tiny frame could command a large stage. And today we have the dapper Donald Davis, the man in the bowtie, one of the most recognizable and beloved personalities in all of storydom.
Born and raised in western North Carolina, Davis came up on mountain lore, fairy tales and local legends. He soaked them up around the dinner table, on the porch and from the church pews on Sunday. Later, as an adult, he’d tell his own stories from the pulpit in his role as a minister. Now he tells them under tents in Jonesborough and at festivals and schools and other stages all around the world.
Just as Hicks was the informal archivist of Appalachia and Windham was the mouthpiece of Alabama, Davis has become the voice of a certain kind of story, encouraging listeners to go home and share slices of life with one another.
He holds the attention of vast audiences with deceptively simple stories of his childhood at the types of venues that sell out far in advance. But every year, for the week leading up to the National Storytelling Festival, he does something a little different as the teller in residence for the International Storytelling Center’s popular Storytelling Live! program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Davis’ residency, which stretches from Oct. 3 through 6, will feature daily matinee performances. Show times are 2 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday; and 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Thursday. All shows are in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of the International Storytelling Center.
Tickets are limited and reservations are highly recommended.
The small, but state-of-the-art, performance space is much more compact than the size of stage that Davis normally frequents, but settling into Jonesborough the week before the festival has become something of a ritual. He likes the chance to take in Tennessee’s oldest town just before it becomes crowded with happy festival-goers. And the town, in turn, is happy to have Davis on hand to christen the festival grounds before its seats start to fill.
Per tradition, Davis will also perform as a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival, which begins Friday, Oct. 7. He will share the tents with more than 25 tellers from around the world.
The performances for Davis’ residency will include seldom-heard tales alongside old favorites. In addition to his matinee concerts, he will offer a one-time-only evening performance at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5. The concert, “I Didn’t Know THAT Was Going to Happen,” will be held on the grounds of the National Storytelling Festival, which takes place the following weekend. It will include stories that Davis learned from his father throughout his boyhood, which was filled with benign misadventures.
Reservations for this special nighttime concert are highly recommended. Tickets are $15 and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets will also be sold at the door if still available.
Tickets for Davis’ matinee performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Ticket stubs will save audience members 10 percent on same-day dining at Bistro 105, The Cranberry Thistle, The Dining Room or Main Street Café.
The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Storytelling Live! is sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance and Phil Bachman Toyota Scion. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW4, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News and Citadel Broadcasting.
A detailed schedule of the 2011 Storytelling Live! season is available at storytellingcenter.net.
For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.