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“Hear Me Now” — Wyoming Storytellers Take Spotlight
By Ellen Sue Blakely
Images provided by Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation
For a full schedule of presenters during “Hear Me Now” Storytelling Circle, August 6-7, see www.wyomingfolkfestival.com. Other weekend events include the Gift of the Waters Pageant Days, Kiwanis Craft Fair and the Big Horn Basin Folk Festival, with music performances all day, demonstrators, workshops, food vendors, juried art show & sale and kid-friendly activities.
When we were kids and all the cousins gathered for the annual Fourth of July ice cream and watermelon feast, our great aunt Kate kept all of us in line by expounding on a “haint” she called “Rawhide and bloody bones.” For years, we assumed Aunt Kate had made up this scary haunt of a creature.
It turns out that Kate had borrowed and adapted “Rawhide” from an Irish tale — probably one she had heard as a child from her grandparents who had come from the Emerald Isle. Aunt Kate is long gone; but, to this day, her scary rendition still brings chills and laughter to the now-aging cousins.
That’s the power of story. If you have ever sat around a campfire and told (or listened to) ghost stories or tall tales, you know its spell. Those who study stories as an art form say telling stories is the oldest art form; and from it grew poetry — rhyming was a way of remembering a longer story.
Although there has not been an organized effort at preserving Wyoming’s stories in recent years, our people have always been inveterate storytellers. Mountain men told plenty of whoppers when they gathered at the fur-trading rendezvous. Music and storytelling were common in the Native American tipis, cowboy bunkhouses, farmhand shacks and homestead cabins. It still is. Given half a chance, today’s outfitters, hunters and fishermen will regale listeners with tales about the “ones that got away.”
This year, Wyoming is taking a step to share our long-standing storytelling tradition at “Hear Me Now,” the state’s first organized Storytelling Circle. (The concept of a “storytelling circle” harks back to those days of campfires and tipis.) The event is part of the Big Horn Basin Festival, August 6-7, 2016, in Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis. “Hear Me Now” is sponsored by Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation with a ThinkWyoming grant from the Wyoming Humanities Council. Additional support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Wyoming Arts Council.
“Hear Me Now” will be moderated by Spencer Bohren, nationally known musician and storyteller. Although Bohren now lives in New Orleans, Wyomingites still claim him as their own since he grew up in Casper, and his family still lives and plays music there. Bohren maintains strong ties with the state, presenting educational programs in the schools and public performances in Wyoming communities throughout the year.
Professional storytellers telling tales throughout the day are Michelle King, Basin; Catherine Ringler, Powell; Marilyn Braaten, Thermopolis, and Jennisen Lucas, Cody. The group recently formed the Big Horn Basin Storytelling Guild to promote the art of storytelling.
Echo Klaproth, Shoshoni, former Wyoming poet laureate, and Dick Hall, Thermopolis, cowboy poet, will bring poetry into the tent. Mike Hurwitz, who will be performing at the Big Horn Basin Folk Festival during the weekend, will drop by with his own brand of Western stories. Karl Milner, who specializes in mountain man skills, will add a story or two from the mountain man era. Annie Hatch, Wyoming Arts Council folk arts specialist, will give a bit of historical perspective on the art of Wyoming storytelling. Miss V, sometimes called “The Gypsy Cowbelle,” will talk about her adventures homesteading in Wyoming.
As a special feature, Spencer Bohren will perform his nationally acclaimed “Down the Dirt Road Blues,” 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m., Sunday, August 7, in the Storytelling Tent. Bohren uses historic music instruments as he tells how one song moved from its African roots to blues to rock and roll.
“Hear Me Now” is free and of interest to all ages. Visitors can “come sit a spell” and — if you are so inclined — you can even add your own tales — true or otherwise — during the open microphone opportunities.
After all, if you don’t tell your favorite story, who will?
Ellen Sue Blakey of Thermopolis is a textile artist, rug braider, author, musician and occasional storyteller. You can hear and see her story about rug braiding and Depression-era women on youtube. If you attend the Storytelling Circle, look her up, say the magic words “Uncle Charlie”; she may just tell you the story of Charlie, the sheriff’s hat, a blackberry pie, and how he came to Wyoming.