Storytelling festival returns to Spring Grove after 16-year hiatus

The Storytelling Festival in Spring Grove was last held in 2006

Participants watch while Jim May of Spring Grove tells a story Nov. 23, 2013, during the sixth annual Tellebration Celebration hosted by the McHenry County Conservation District and the McHenry County Storytelling Guild. The Tellebration Celebration is an event where  storytellers and community members tell stories appropriate for all ages about nature, folklore and tall tales at the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake.

When the Illinois Storytelling Festival began in 1984, there was no internet. Neither were there podcasts or YouTube for storytelling.

Now back after a “16-year hiatus” and renamed the Spring Grove Storytelling Festival, there are new ways for people to tell their stories, said Elise Livingston, treasurer of the festival’s board.

But there is a difference between hearing a storyteller on a podcast or video versus live on stage, she said.

“It is the same reason we all craved getting together after (COVID-19),” Livingston said.

“When you are in person, there is that universal energy that is much more potent and beautiful that that we can’t have on a screen or recorded. The in-person thing, we hunger for it,” she said.

Jim May was one of the founders of the event back in 1984. He’d gone to his first storytelling festival in high school and caught a bug for the performance genre.

Their first event brought about 1,200 people to Spring Grove to hear storytellers. By the time it ended in 2006, those numbers could reach 2,500 attendees from 14 different states, May said.

He retired from the Illinois Storytelling Festival board in the mid-1990s, as did his second-in-command. The event eventually died out after those departures.

But in summer of 2020, following protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he was asked to participate in a Black Lives Matter and pride parade in Spring Grove. Parents involved with that rally remembered going to the storytelling festival and asked him to bring it back, May said.

Over virtual meetings since then, the board was reconstituted. People like Livingston, who offered institutional knowledge of what is needed to make it happen, were asked back.

Now, more than ever, is the time for storytelling to take the spotlight again, May said.

“Do you watch the news?” May asked. “People are not listening to each other anymore. Let’s do a nice calm gathering where we can listen to each other’s stories and enjoy each other’s company.”

The festival starts at noon Saturday at Spring Grove Park, 2102 Main St. in Spring Grove. Three tents will offer storytellers focused on children, families and general audiences.

One of the featured storytellers, Kevin Kling, is offering a master class from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Spring Grove Elementary School, 8105 Blivin St.

There is also a Holocaust Memorial on the site. In 2002, storyteller Lisa Derman, a Holocaust survivor herself, was telling her story when she suffered a heart attack and died.

Samuel Harris, president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, looks at the sculpture that was dedicated to Lisa Derman on Sunday, July 31, 2011, in Spring Grove. Derman passed during an Illinois Storytelling Festival while telling her story of the Holocaust.

“Stories of Remembrance” will be told at the park’s Holocaust Memorial during the day, May said.

After a dinner break at 6 p.m , the event starts back up from 7 to 9 p.m. with Ghost Stories Under An October Moon.

The first hour will be child-friendly ghost stories, May said. The second hour promises to be scary for adults, too.

Two trucks will sell food to festival-goers, who are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs.

Full site and amenity information, including how to purchase tickets, are available at