It’s Story Time for Ojai

11th Annual Storytelling Festival Kicks Off Thursday

Willy Clafin
Brian Bemel

Long before the television and the Internet became de rigueur modes of entertainment, folks sought enjoyment and escape in the art of storytelling. Throughout history, raconteurs traveled from town to town, captivating listeners with their engaging tales. This weekend, Ojai will play host to a two-day celebration of the storyteller. “One of the things that makes our festival unique is the innovative programming, and this year is no exception,” said Brian Bemel, artistic director of Performances to Grow On, the nonprofit organization behind the festival, which takes place at the Libbey Bowl on Thursday, April 29, through Sunday, May 2. For tickets and info, visit Below you’ll find three reasons to check out the festival.

1. The Music: For centuries, music has played a large role in art of storytelling. Therefore, the Ojai Fest has slated two nights of musical entertainment. On Friday, April 30, Ojai resident Alan Thornhill will take the stage at the Libbey Bowl. Thornhill is an award-winning guitarist and songwriter who incorporates a range of musical influences—from the Everly Brothers to Sam Cooke to Chet Atkins to the Beatles. Bring a picnic, and settle in for some inspiring tunes.

The following evening, Saturday, May 1, Ugandan-born singer Samite will perform. When he was a small boy, his grandpa taught him to play the African flute. At 12 years old, he was introduced to Western flutes and has since become one of East Africa’s most acclaimed flautists. Samite is now a multi-instrumentalist—he plays the kalimba (finger-piano), marimba (wooden xylophone), litungu (seven-stringed Kenyan instrument), and various flutes—and sings both original and traditional songs in his native language.

2. The Workshops: Each year the festival has several workshops to help attendees tap into their inner storyteller. This year’s offerings include “Traveling the Story Road: Useful Tools and Skills for Exploring a Story’s Path.” Led by Angela Lloyd, attendees will “explore the role of the Narrator, and a variety of ways to bring the story’s imagined world to life.” Be sure to bring the text of a folktale, fairy tale, or personal story of your choice as a point of reference for the activities, as well as pens and paper. Other workshops offered include “Spontaneous Acts of Funk: A Recipe for Serious Delight,” led by David Gonzalez, and “From You to Universal: Transforming Personal Experience into Powerful Story,” led by Nancy Donoval.

3. The Storytelling: Some of the nation’s best-known storytellers are attending this year’s fest, including Ed Stivender, called the “Robin Williams of storytelling”; Motoko, who weaves ancient lore, original stories, movement, and traditional music into her tales; and Hobey Ford, known for his animal puppet “foamies” who help bring his tales to life. And for adults only, check out “Naughty Tales in the Tent,” featuring Nancy Donoval (“My Pastey Collection”); David Gonzalez (“Why She Moans”); and Willy Claflin (“Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll”).


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