Near the shores of Cave Run Lake on Saturday night, hundreds of families will gather near a large fire to listen to ghost stories. The spine-tingling tales will be told by professional storytellers featured at the 16th Annual Cave Run Storytelling Festival, Friday and Saturday at the Twin Knobs Campground in Morehead.
"It's one of the nicest campgrounds you'll ever find," says Carolyn Franzini, coordinator of the festival and one of its founders.
Franzini was introduced to the world of professional story telling in 1987, when she attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., with her then 9-year-old daughter. Before then, she wasn't aware of the scope and quality of the storytelling circuit.
"I was just so amazed," Franzini says. "It was such a wonderful experience."
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"Stories to me were like Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Bears," she says. "I just didn't realize that people wrote stories like that. They're real professionals — they're expert writers and performers."
Franzini spread the word to other Morehead families about her experience, and each year, more and more Kentucky families traveled to the Jonesborough festival. After a while, the group began to talk about starting a festival in Morehead.
The event was just a daydream until the district ranger of the Daniel Boone National Forest called Franzini and said he'd heard that she wanted to have a storytelling festival.
That was more than 16 years ago, and the event now hosts thousands of attendees each year. More than 1,000 students from around the region attend the festival on Thursday night, which is open to advance-registered students only, and on Friday and Saturday, there are visitors from throughout the nation.
"We always see a lot of families from numerous states," Franzini says. "We're expecting a whole group from Michigan. People who are really into story telling go out of their way to attend."
Ghost stories aren't the only thing on the menu at the festival. The seven featured storytellers are a diverse group: musicians, mimes, traditional balladeers and more. Franzini says that festival organizers attempt to select storytellers not just with diverse methods but diverse cultural backgrounds as well.
Brazil native Antonio Rocha, of Maine, blends storytelling and mime.
"He's been to the festival several times before, and I know a lot of people are really looking forward to seeing his new stories," Franzini says.
Other storytellers, including Bill Lepp from Charleston, W.Va., provide enriching stories rooted in regional culture.
"He's one who can really stretch the truth in an interesting way," Franzini says.
Also in the lineup is Sheila Kay Adams, a seventh-generation balladeer from Madison County, N.C., who made a musical appearance in the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans and was the singing coach on the 2000 film Songcatcher.
"She has a lot of stories from the region and from her background, which a lot of people will really find endearing," Franzini says.
Part of the event's appeal is that it's evocative of simpler times, thanks to the pastoral setting, the family-friendly content of the stories, and the ancient appeal of gathering together to tell stories, she says.
"You're away from all electronic media," Franzini says. "The beautiful, natural setting and these stories just carry you away. It's really a precious thing."
She also says exposure to old-fashioned storytelling encourages people to value, or perhaps discover for the first time, the stories in their own lives.
"People come away (from the festival) having a new appreciation for their own stories, their grandmothers' stories, their neighbors' stories," Franzini says. "People have told me after this festival, 'I have written those down to preserve them,' and that's what I hope people do."