Three of the country’s most popular storytellers — Bil Lepp, Andy Offutt Irwin and Kim Weitkamp — will present their annual Christmas concert, “The Ugly Sweater Tour,” for a limited run in downtown Jonesborough.
Hosted by the International Storytelling Center as an encore to the Storytelling Live! season, this short run of special performances will be the last chance for locals to take in a storytelling concert in 2013.
“The Ugly Sweater Tour” is the latest iteration of a seasonal tradition started by Lepp, Irwin and Weitkamp several years ago. Conceived of as an old-fashioned variety show, it was an instant success.
“We didn’t originally intend for it to become a tradition,” says Weitkamp. “Our supporters kind of made that happen. After the first tour, we got a lot of emails and messages asking if we were coming back. We thought, ‘Why not?’”
While each year features brand-new material, the format has largely stayed the same — a holiday showcase filled with stories and music, with the tellers performing both together and individually.
“We are all three very, very different tellers,” Weitkamp says. “I like the blend that we bring to the stage. It is a lot of fun for us and the audience.”
In Jonesborough, there will be five opportunities to see “The Ugly Sweater Tour,” including two matinee shows (at 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday, Dec. 7) and three evening performances (at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 5 through Saturday, Dec. 7).
This year, audience members are encouraged to show up wearing their ugliest holiday sweaters. Prizes will be awarded to the worst dressed.
The concerts will feature original and traditional music by Weitkamp and Irwin, who are both accomplished musicians.
“We always have a little music in the show,” Weitkamp says. “Andy and I love playing and singing, and we usually put a traditional Christmas tune in the show. I start playing Christmas music the beginning of November. I’m like the department stores in that I try to pull Christmas in as early as I can and I ride it out until the family is telling me to please take the Christmas decorations down in February.
“We do not allow Bil to play or sing,” she adds. “We don’t even let him clap. People pay good money for their tickets.”
The trio recognizes that the holidays provide a special opportunity for families to share stories.
“My mother was born in 1923,” says Irwin. “When she was a little girl, Santa Claus knocked over the Christmas tree. It was too close to morning to clean up, so Santa left the room a mess, including tracking ashes into the room from the fireplace.
“To this day, in our home, Santa leaves boot prints in the ashes, and he tracks soot into the room. My son, Liam, who is 12, is now learning the source of that story, and it connects him with his grandmother and great-grandfather, neither of whom he ever knew. Now he knows who they are through this story. We retell it every year, and we laugh and laugh.”
Performances of “The Ugly Sweater Tour” will be held in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of downtown Jonesborough. Tickts are $20 and include admission to a post-performance reception, where the tellers will be on hand for socializing and light refreshments.
Tickets are on sale now and advance purchase is highly recommended. Due to the show’s popularity, tickets tend to sell out in advance.
For more information, or to reserve a seat, call (800) 952-8392, ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.
The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Storytelling Live! is sponsored in part by Eastman Credit Union. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.