Next month, Hatteras village will welcome an assortment of renowned writers, storytellers, and musicians—including both local and non-local talent—as it plays host to the first-ever Hatteras Storytelling Festival.
The three-day event, which will be on Friday, May 3, through Sunday, May 5, came about when the editors of Our State magazine contacted the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and expressed interested in organizing a storytelling festival on Hatteras Island.
Not long after that, Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Visitors Bureau, contacted Hatteras resident Lynne Foster—the brains behind the beloved Day at the Docks celebration—and asked if she would be interested in getting a group of people together who could bring the festival to fruition.
“Silly me,” Foster joked, “I said yes.”
So, sometime early this winter, Foster organized a 10-person committee, and the group got to work, contacting performers, gathering sponsors, rounding up volunteers, and hashing out the details.
It has been a daunting undertaking, but Foster said she’s excited about the results. “It’s not going to be the traditional storytelling event that everyone’s familiar with,” she said. “We’re doing it Hatteras-style.”
But just because it’s being done “Hatteras-style”—and just because the event will feature local entertainers—doesn’t mean the program is Hatteras-centric.
The performances will be loosely bound by a kind of coastal, maritime thread, but there’s no requirement that the individual stories and performances pertain specifically to Hatteras village—or even Hatteras Island.
Ultimately, that means that there is something for just about everyone.
The festival headliners—Connie Regan-Blake, Clyde Edgerton, Bland Simpson, Tom Carlson, and Ben Cherry—are all accomplished performers, and each of them brings something special to the festival.
Connie Regan-Blake is a critically acclaimed and award-winning storyteller from Asheville, N.C. She has performed in 47 states, 16 countries, and regularly entertains audiences at the nation’s top storytelling festivals.
Clyde Edgerton is a popular and award-winning writer from Wilmington, N.C. He has written 10 novels and frequently contributes to national publications. He is also a creative writing professor in UNC-Wilmington’s MFA program.
Bland Simpson is another popular North Carolina author. An Elizabeth City native, Simpson has become an authority on the mysteries, geography and culture of Eastern North Carolina. He is also an accomplished pianist and has played with the Tony Award-winning string band, The Red Clay Ramblers, since 1987. He teaches English and creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Tom Carlson taught creative nonfiction and American literature for 32 years at the University of Memphis. Though he’s the only headliner who doesn’t hail form North Carolina, Carlson has a special connection to the island.
He spent more than five years immersing himself in the legend, lore, and local flavor of Hatteras village for his 2005 book, “Hatteras Blues: A Story from the Edge of America,” which tells the story of Ernal Foster, the Foster family, and the birth of the charter fishing industry.
Ben Cherry is a business owner and storyteller from Plymouth, N.C. On stage, Cherry transforms into the infamous Blackbeard. He has performed for audiences all over the country, and his thoroughly researched and meticulously staged performances are so spot-on, you’d swear you were sitting on the deck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Festival-goers will also experience entertainment from local performers, including musicians Clifford Swain, Banjo Island, Jessie Taylor, and Rory Kelleher, storytellers Dixie Browning, Carol Dillon, and Robbie Scarborough, and poet Nathan Snead.
The festivities will begin Friday morning, when two of the performers give private performances for the students at the two Cape Hatteras schools. Regan-Blake will perform for the students at the Cape Hatteras Secondary School, and Cherry will perform for the students at Cape Hatteras Elementary School.
Though those performances are not open to the public, they were important to Foster. “They’re part of the community service that we wanted to include [in the festival],” she said.
Friday evening is when the festival really kicks off.
At 4 p.m., Belinda Willis will host a wine tasting event at Lee Robinson General Store.
Then, at 7 p.m., at the Hatteras Village Civic Center, David Perry, the former editor of UNC Press, will introduce the first storytellers—Bland Simpson and Clyde Edgerton.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Ben Cherry (aka Blackbeard) will perform at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
The next performance—Tom Carlson and Clifford Swain—is scheduled for 2-3:30 p.m. at the Hatteras Village Civic Center. The final performance on Saturday will be Connie Regan-Blake and Banjo Island, scheduled for 7 p.m., also at the Hatteras Village Civic Center.
Rounding out the festival on Sunday afternoon will be a panel discussion on local lore moderated by local historian Danny Couch. The discussion will start at 2 p.m. and will feature John Morgan, Dixie Browning, Carol Dillon, and Robbie Scarborough.
Also at the discussion, local musicians Jessie Taylor and Rory Kelleher will perform original songs, and Nathan Snead, who earned an MFA in creative writing from East Carolina University, will read from a collection of poems he wrote about Hatteras.
Foster said that the schedule was intentionally arranged in a way that would give festival-goers an opportunity to explore Hatteras—to visit local shops, eat at local restaurants, and patronize local businesses. After all, “this is more than just a fun, entertaining festival,” Foster said. “It’s also a recovery effort—a way to encourage people to come back, and maybe, to visit for the first time.”
To help facilitate their exploration, Couch, who also owns Hatteras Island Tours, will be providing village-wide transportation to festival attendees on Friday and Saturday.
In addition, several local motels and hospitality businesses are participating in ticket packages that will allow out-of-town visitors to purchase tickets and secure accommodations in Hatteras village in one transaction—and often at a discounted rate.
Though a goal for the festival is to maximize shoulder-season traffic, Foster said she hopes that locals will take advantage of the festival as well, and said she would encourage anyone who would like to attend to purchase tickets now, as there are only a total of 350 tickets available, and there are no guarantees that any will be sold at the door.
Tickets are $75 per day for Friday and Saturday, or $100 for a weekend pass. The panel discussion on Sunday is free and open to the public. Tickets can only be purchased online, through brownpapertickets.com—or by clicking the link on the event website—and they will not be sold for individual performances.
Links to ticket sales and accommodation packages—as well as more information on the schedule of events and the performers—are available on the event’s website, www.hatterasyarns.org.