The Times West Virginian

September 13, 2012

Pricketts Fort to host storytelling festival

By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Learning World War II from a textbook is one thing, but local storyteller and emcee Rich Knoblich really learned it from a more personal perspective: his father-in-law.

“I don’t know what possessed him, but he wrote about being a gunner in a plane during World War II, and he wrote down his entire experience from that part in his life,” Knoblich said. “It’s just amazing. To sit there and have your own father-in-law share his story, it’s just a great treasure for us.”

In an upcoming event, Knoblich is hoping children and the general public will be able to get a taste of what that is like. On Friday, Sept. 28, the Pricketts Fort outdoor amphitheater will be hosting its first Storytelling Festival, which will be open to the public. More than 600 school-age children will be attending the morning session between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., where eight storytellers will share their stories along with folk tales and even some spooky tales.

And not just the typical ghost stories with blood and gore. Storytellers present the tales in a different manner.

“Those typical stories are the ones you might see in a Hollywood shock film where they’re going for some gut reactions,” Knoblich said. “Storytellers, when they are telling their stories, they’re going toward the gentler spirits. Something is unsettled and needs to be put at rest.”

There is more to it than the entertainment value as well, said Greg Bray, executive director at Pricketts Fort.

“The reason for storytelling is not just for entertainment, but it’s also to teach kids how to tell stories, traditions behind Appalachian stories, and why they were told,” Bray said.

Featured in this year’s festival will be a number of popular storytellers from around the local area.

• Author of “Raising the Spirits: An Appalachian Sampler of Stories to be Told,” Jo Dadisman is a professor emeritus of English at West Virginia University. She will be performing with June Riffle as “Mountain Echoes.”

• Riffle has a master’s degree from WVU in reading, a bachelor’s degree in English from Fairmont State University, and has also obtained a folklore degree from FSU.

• Jason Burns, who was the driving force behind the West Virginia Special Heritage Project, is heavily involved in researching, performing and preserving spooky tales from around the Mountain State.

• Katie Ross, adjunct professor at Allegany College in Maryland, is an award-winning storyteller who has been recognized in Maryland and Ohio. During the upcoming performance, she will be assisted by her husband Otto and his musical instruments.

• Specializing in ghost stories and tall tales, Suzanne Holstein focuses on Appalachian tales and adds a personal touch by telling of folk tales handed down from generation to generation.

• With a Ph.D. in storytelling, Kevin Cordi was a “storyteller-in-residence” at Ohio State for one academic year.

Rounding out the storytellers are Rae Ann Zukett and Judy Tarowsky. While at the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston, Zukett proved her abilities by taking charge of hosting and organizing the West Virginia Storytelling Guild Performance area outside.

“She’s managed to get several storytellers,” Knoblich said. “I thought, ‘By golly, it’s about time she got awarded with one of the big festivals.’”

Involved with one of the local historical projects in Glen Dale at the Cockaybe Farm residence, Tarowsky shares just as much passion for history as her husband Tom does. At first, she specialized in historical storytelling but later branched out into other genres.

“I trumped my fingers and said, ‘OK, I need to get Judy involved because she is quite active in this,’” Knoblich said. “She’s kind of like my right arm. Anytime I need help, she’s there.”

In the beginning of the day, Knoblich hopes to have an “olio,” in which storytellers rotate every five minutes or so with another short story. This is a way to introduce the audience to new stories and styles, something he hopes will work out well, considering it’s rarely done.

Having these individuals present for the festival will only enhance the interest, an interest he is hoping will carry over into the audience and inspire them to look into their family history.

“I am hoping for a continuation of great storytelling that West Virginia has. By introducing these kids to different Appalachian tales, it will encourage them to go out and find their own family history.”

And in that venue, Knoblich thinks he found the perfect, most suitable location.

“This is just a great amphitheater, and it’s going to work beautifully,” he said.

Email Nicole Lemal at