SALT LAKE CITY — One of the largest storytelling festivals in the world has moved locations this year to make room for its growing amount of attendees.
Last year, nearly 80,000 people attended the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival from all over the country, according to information from the festival, so this year it's moving from its regular spot up Provo Canyon to Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9.
"This allows us to address some of the growth issues we've been having, especially things like restrooms and parking," said Eliot Wilcox, executive director of the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute, in an interview with the Deseret News. "Secondly, the location itself is beautiful … so they'll have that opportunity to wander the gardens and enjoy it."
Founder Karen Ashton said the new location is a reason for someone who has never come before to make this year their first time.
"So many times people say, 'I plan to go do that someday,'" Ashton said. "This is the year you've been waiting for. … It will not only be a feast for the ears and the soul but also for the eyes in the middle of the garden."
The festival began in Ashton's backyard 28 years ago as a way to raise money for the Orem children's library.
"After the library was complete, we found we had one of the world's largest and most renowned storytelling festivals, and so we kept going forward with it," she said.
Their main goals are to keep the oral tradition of storytelling alive by sharing stories from all over the world and by inspiring those who attend to share their stories with their friends and family.
"It strengthens our community and our nation by exposing us to cultures that we don't live among or within and giving them the opportunity to express what is best about their culture," Ashton said, adding that the storytellers who visit are able to learn and understand the heritage of Utah. "That kind of interchange and appreciation is very difficult to get and very valuable."
Ashton's assistant, Karen Acerson, said she has brought her six children to the festival for many years so they could be exposed to diversity, coming from the more homogenous population of Utah.
"I love that (my children) can be transported to a different place in the world and hear those people's stories," Acerson said. "We hear so much that's going on in the world that's so negative, but if these people would just talk to each other and understand their stories, we would have a really different world."
Some examples of the diverse storytellers the festival has coming this year are Brenda Wong Aoki, who grew up in Utah and tells Asian-American stories, including about Japanese internment camps during World War II. Shonaleigh, a storyteller from England, is one of the last in the drut'syla Jewish storytelling tradition, which was almost completely wiped out by the Holocaust but was passed on to her through her grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor. There's also Carmen Deedy, a New York Times best-selling author who tells her story of immigrating to the United States from Cuba when she was 5 years old.
In addition, some old favorites will be returning such as Donald Davis and Bil Lepp. Also, Grammy-nominated Josh Goforth will be playing music from the Appalachian Mountains and talking about the history behind it.
A lot of people come to the festival without a real idea of what to expect. Ashton said she attended her first storytelling festival thinking she would hear "variations on 'Little Red Riding Hood.'"
"I was stunned because there were Greek myths and tales of the Yukon and stories of slavery and history pieces and personal stories," she said. "I sat for hours and hours, truly mesmerized."
Wilcox said many people confuse "storytelling" with storytime at the library, thinking the festival will involve someone sitting down with a picture book and turning the pages.
"That's not what this is," he said. "All the stories are packed with emotion; they're packed with humor; they're packed with epic things that impact all of us in our lives. … You're going to have a great experience and get hooked."
For those who aren't sure which storytellers they'll want to listen to, Thursday night's program "Look Who's Talking" is a sneak preview. Each storyteller will briefly present and give a sampler of what to expect to help attendees decide their schedule for the following days.
Friday and Saturday, in between the storytellers' 30-minute programs, there will be puppet shows for people to watch and potters that attendees can sit down with and throw their own pottery to take home with them. Friday night, there's an evening concert designed specifically for younger children called "Bedtime Stories," and the kids can even enjoy a free Krispy Kreme donut at the end.
In all, it will be a unique experience that is hard to find elsewhere.
"In order for you to understand, you would have to come," Ashton said. "Go see what this is like, because it won't be at all what you expected and it will be much better than anything you could've imagined."
If you go …
What: Timpanogos Storytelling Festival
When: Thursday, Sept. 7, 7-9 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 8, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Where: Thanksgiving Point, Ashton Gardens, 3900 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi
How much: $8-$135 (prices vary based on age, group and event)