Long before there was TV, radio, or newspapers, people relied on raconteurs to entertain them with clever, witty, fantastical, scary, or dramatic yarns. Even in this age of overwhelming media, storytelling lives on — witness the popularity of programs such as NPR’s The Moth, for example.
Ojai has been doing its part to keep oral traditions thriving since 1999, when the nonprofit organization Performances to Grow On (PTGO) held the town’s first Storytelling Festival. The event is still going strong, offering three days of programing that includes workshops, musical and theater performances, student outreach, and, of course, storytelling.
This year’s lineup is a who’s who of the spoken word. On the slate are pros, including Grammy winner Bill Harley, whom Entertainment Weekly deemed “the Mark Twain of contemporary children’s music”; Ireland’s Niall de Búrca, who has performed around the world; and award-winning First Nations of Maryland storyteller Dovie Thomason; as well as amateurs, such as Bill Ratner, Christine Blackburn, and Matteson Perry, three Moth winners from Los Angeles.
Perhaps one of the best things about the festival is the fire that’s ignited in those who attend. “After listening to the professional storytellers,” said PTGO President and Artistic Director Brian Bemel, “memories are rekindled in the audience, and people begin to tell their own stories.”
The Ojai Storytelling Festival takes place Thursday-Sunday, September 7-10, at the Libbey Bowl (210 S. Signal St., Ojai) and Ojai Art Center (113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai). See ojaistoryfest.org.