The 36th National Storytelling Festival will be held this weekend (October 3-5, 2008) in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I’ve been attending this festival since I was a little girl and have continued to do throughout adulthood- give or take a few years.
Throughout this time, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing another local face at the festival – storyteller Doc McConnell. Doc was always there – doing what Doc did: sharing his warmth, humor and creating huge grins across the faces of all who crossed his path. Shucks, you couldn’t be around Doc without smiling. As Smartypants once said: “He’s good at chasing away grumpies.”
He also made the festival feel like “home” – and that was the thing about Doc. Over the years, I’ve encountered him or his work in the most unlikely places… places where I least expected to find him. To all those places, Doc brought a familiar face, memories and a piece of “home.” He wasn’t just a local guy who told great stories – he was a part of my childhood, my community and a fantastic reminder of where I came from and how much I loved that place.
Doc McConnell passed away in August of this year.
His absence at the festival is going to be profound and enormous, not something just visibly noticed but felt by many people – as noted in this article by Joe Tennis at the Herald Courier.
Tennis spoke with Jimmy Neil Smith, the festival’s founder, about Doc’s contributions to the festival and what a great loss this has been for the storytelling community:
In recent years, you could find McConnell greeting folks on the sidewalk near the Chester Inn, showing off what McConnell once called “all kinds of little tricks and little old skits.”
This year, Smith still wants to set up McConnell’s cart in remembrance of the late Rogersville, Tenn. resident.
Of course, Smith said the festival-goers “are going to be looking for him. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to be shocked that Doc is not with us any longer.”
I recommend you go read the entire thing – and I, for one, am pleased by Smith’s idea of setting up Doc’s cart. While this cannot fill the huge space he left, at least something will be sitting in the empty spot where “home” used to be.
Photo by Fresh Air Photographics