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Skunks, Sweet Tea And Red Wine: Appalachian Storytellers On This Week's Inside Appalachia

Bil Lepp
Brian Blauser
/
Mountain Stage
Storyteller Bil Lepp performing on Mountain Stage.

One of the biggest storytelling festivals in the world is right here in Appalachia. Each October, storytellers and audiences of all ages gather at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. This year, because of the pandemic, the festival is going virtual. It takes place the first weekend in October. We thought it was a fitting time to listen back to an episode of Inside Appalachia — which is all about the art of live storytelling. We’ll hear five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest, Bil Lepp. We’ll also learn how musicians Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle first met and how they incorporated the use of “crankies” into their songs. And storyteller Michael Reno Harrell shares a story about his mother’s extended family.

What is a Crankie?

When traditional Appalachian musician Anna Roberts-Gevalt first showed ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle a crankie, Elizabeth was speechless.

“I really freaked out,” LaPrelle told Laura Candler in 2013.

anna and elizabeth.jpg
Courtesy Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle
Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle combined their talents to form Anna and Elizabeth. While the duo no longer performs together, they often used crankies to enhance the storytelling in their performances.

Crankies, which originated in Europe, have been used for years to enhance the art of live storytelling. A crankie consists of long rolls of fabric that are rolled up on either side, decorated with scenes and images that tell a story. The operator of the crankie then turns the crank as they sing or tell their story. Think of it as a small, tiny theater.

Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle met during a show in Virginia and combined their talents to form Anna and Elizabeth. The duo decided to incorporate crankies in their performances to help bring them to life. And though they are no longer performing together, their three albums and countless performances left a lasting imprint on the Appalachian music scene.

In this week’s episode, we listen back to a 2013 interview where Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle describe how they met and their inspiration behind incorporating crankies into their performances.

 

Triangle of Skunks

Bil Lepp has made a name for himself as one of the region’s most famous storytellers. Lepp is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars Contest. He has also been described as “a side-splittingly funny man” by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife.

One example is a hilarious story Lepp tells about summer camp and a family of skunks. He performed the story “Skunks” during a Mountain Stage performance at the West Virginia Culture Center. Listen to this week’s Inside Appalachia to hear it.

Sweet Tea and Red Wine

a - SbtS - Michael Reno Harrell.jpg
Courtesy Joan Ellen/Michael Reno Harrell
Michael Reno Harrell performed his story "Sweet Tea and Red Wine" in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Michael Reno Harrell is a storyteller from Burke County, North Carolina. His mother’s family, including his aunt Eloise, spent most of their life in Buncombe County, just outside Asheville. Harrell, like so many others, hasn’t had the chance to see anyone in his extended family during the past year. So, when we asked Harrell which story of his he’d like to share, he chose one called “Sweet Tea and Red Wine,” about his mom, and her sister-in-law, his aunt Eloise. We’ll listen to a performance of the story from the 2017 International Storytelling Center.

This year’s International Storytelling Festival will take place on Oct. 1-2. Due to the pandemic, the event will be virtual. Learn more about the festival here.

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Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Tyler Childers, as heard on Mountain Stage, Dinosaur Burps, Michael Reno Harrell and Anna and Elizabeth.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also send us an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.

Mason Adams grew up near the Virginia/West Virginia border in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He’s covered mountain communities and the issues affecting them since 2001. His work has appeared in Southerly, Daily Yonder, 100 Days in Appalachia, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and elsewhere. He lives with his family and a small herd of goats in Floyd County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MasonAtoms.
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Jade Artherhults is the associate producer for Inside Appalachia and is based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jartherhults@wvpublic.org or @JArtherhults on Twitter.
Kelley Libby is a Virginia-based public radio editor and producer. She currently edits for Inside Appalachia and its Folkways Reporting Project at WVPB. You can reach here at kelleylibby@gmail.com