Storyfest’s popularity earned George West the title of Storytelling Capital of Texas by the state Senate in 2005.
The tradition will continue on Nov. 2 as 18 previously featured storytellers will return to George West with stories to entertain, inspire and keep the art alive.
Stories range from tall tales to history, folktales to cowboy poetry, and some compete in the Texas State Liars’ Contest.
“It’s bringing back the quality performers who have helped Storyfest earn the reputation for a quality festival, because that’s the truth,” executive director Mary Margaret Campbell said when asked what’s made Storyfest’s first 25 years a success.
This year’s storytellers
Unlike previous years, this year’s storytellers have all been featured in previous Storyfests. Gayle Ross and Elizabeth Ellis participated in the first Storyfest, and John Campbell participated in all 25 of them.
“We’re having a whole festival of featured tellers,” Campbell said. “Usually, we have three featured tellers and seven or eight tellers, but the majority of these 18 people who are storytellers were featured tellers before.”
Other participants this year include Mark Babino, MaryAnn Blue, Decee Cornish, Eldrena Douma, James Ford, Donna Ingham, Andy Offutt Irwin, Mary Grace Ketner, Bil Lepp, Tom McDermott, Biscuits O’Bryan, Sheila Starks Phillips, Consuelo Samarippa, Larry Thompson and Tim Tingle.
Storyfest typically includes some returning storytellers and some new faces as well. But three years ago, a new event, Dobie Dichos, was added in celebration of local author, folklorist and educator, J. Frank Dobie.
This event brings Texas authors to the historic Oakville jail the night before Storyfest to read some of Dobie’s works around campfires, with chili con carne, pan de campo and cerveza fria.
George West Storyfest Living History Chair Melissa Nance said he was instrumental in preserving the folklore of Texas and the Southwest in the early 20th century.
“He is probably the most famous person to come from Live Oak County and has inspired many writers,” Campbell said. “Last year, it was listed in the New York Times as one of the most interesting things to do in Texas that particular weekend.”
This year’s authors at Dobie Dichos will be Rick Casey, Joe Nick Patoski, Jan Jarboe Russell, Lonn Taylor, DeCee Cornish, Sheila Phillips, Gayle Ross and Tim Tingle.
Storytellers aren’t the only ones to return this year; this includes musicians, living history groups and some of the festival’s other attractions as well.
Back in 1989, Rob Schneider, former president of the George West Chamber of Commerce, was trying to figure out a way to put George West on the map and stimulate the local economy.
“Even in 1989, he could see what was happening with computers and cyberspace and that kind of thing, and he was afraid the tradition of storytelling was being lost with the new generation,” Campbell said.
According to Campbell, Schneider recalled listening to stories told at the local coffee shop with his grandfather and wanted to incorporate preserving that tradition into George West’s new festival.
The George West Chamber of Commerce formed a committee and decided all the food vendors and gaming would be reserved for local and area nonprofit groups. Campbell said many have participated every year, such as the First United Methodist Church youth group and Lions Club. She also said the Brush Country Cattlewomen are always the first ones to return their application to participate.
The crowd of more than 8,000 people Storyfest now draws in collectively raises about $25,000 by the participating nonprofit groups at their same location on the courthouse square.
Storyfest also brings its storytellers to the local schools to tell stories and share the art of storytelling the day before the festival at no charge to the schools.
Storyfest became independent of the chamber of commerce in 1995 in order to receive 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The two still work together and many of the volunteers come from the George West Chamber of Commerce.
“If it weren’t for the community this event wouldn’t happen,” Campbell said.
She said she’s the only paid part-time employee; the rest of the efforts are done by volunteers.
“We have people connected from the beginning and added new people over the years, but people in this community are passionate about Storyfest. I think that’s the key,” Campbell said.