The first-ever Hatteras Storytelling Festival was, by all accounts, a smash hit, and it’s a sure bet that the festival will become an annual event on the island.
The festival, which began on Friday, May 3, and ran through Sunday, May 5, was sponsored by Our State magazine and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and was organized by a group of island volunteers, led by Lynne Foster of Hatteras village.
Though the weather was cool and windy with occasional showers on each day of the festival, the 185 or so folks who came to the island for the event were warm, dry, and very enthusiastic inside the Hatteras Village Civic Center.
The performances by renowned writers, storytellers, and musicians were loosely bound by a kind of coastal, maritime thread, but there was no requirement that the individual stories and performances pertain specifically to Hatteras village—or even Hatteras Island.
Ultimately, that meant that there was 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 brought 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 from 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 pirate Blackbeard.
Each of the headliners was enthusiastically received by the audience, who came from all parts of North Carolina and several other states.
Most of the attendees were either first-time visitors to Hatteras or folks who had a connection to the island but had not visited for a long time, Foster said.
Festival-goers also were treated to locals, including musicians Clifford Swain, Banjo Island, Jessie Taylor, and Rory Kelleher, and storytellers Dixie Browning, Carol Dillon, James Charlet, and poet Nathan Snead.
Though tickets for the event were $75 per day or $100 for the weekend, the local storytellers appeared at a session, moderated by Hatteras Island historian Danny Couch, on Sunday afternoon that was free and open to the public.
Also two of the performers gave private performances for the students at the two Cape Hatteras schools. Regan-Blake performed at the Cape Hatteras Secondary School, and Cherry performed for the students at Cape Hatteras Elementary School.
In addition to providing fun and entertaining events, the festival was tailored to bring visitors to the island during the “shoulder” season that can sometimes be slow for business.
The schedule was arranged to give participants plenty of time to visit local attractions, shop at stores, and dine in restaurants.
The goal of the organizers was not only to bring in business for a weekend but to introduce new folks to Hatteras Island in the hope that they will return not only for the next storytelling festival but for other vacations during the year.
Foster said there will be a second annual storytelling contest in early May of 2014. So stay tuned for the details.
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