First Annual River Voices Storytelling Festival June 2-3

For immediate release April 25, 2006



Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

DES MOINES – The State Historical Society of Iowa announced today it will present Des Moines’ first annual storytelling festival, River Voices, June 2-3 at the State Historical Building and Terrace Hill.

The festival will begin Friday, June 2, with a Ghosting concert at 7 p.m., featuring spooky tales by local elementary principal and storyteller Eugene Fracek, whose stories reflect his Native American heritage.

Saturday, June 3, will feature workshops, a family concert, children’s activities, open mic session and olio performances. Nationally renowned storyteller Dr. Rex Ellis will lead several workshops and perform at a special Grand Concert fundraiser at 7 p.m., June 3 at Terrace Hill. Tickets for the Grand Concert are $50 and include a wine and cheese reception with Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.

“We’re delighted to bring this event to Des Moines in June,” said Anita Walker, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “Storytelling is an ancient art form used by human beings for thousands of years to pass down family history from one generation to the next. In today’s society, storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned form of entertainment, but it’s everywhere we look. It’s in libraries, schools, museums, churches, businesses, coffee houses and night clubs. Storytellers do not live on the fringes of today’s society. They’re smack dab in the middle of it.”

The roots of modern-day storytelling formed in Jonesborough, Tenn., when the National Storytelling Festival began in 1973 with a modest 60 people listening to mountain men and others spin yarns from the back of a hay wagon. Since then, the event has grown to include an estimated 10,500 people each year.

“Today, there are about 200 annual storytelling festivals that take place throughout the country,” Walker said. “People are really buying into storytelling as one of the most enjoyable blends of entertainment and education for themselves and their children.”

In fact, storytelling has gained interest among researchers who are studying it as a tool that can help children build higher self-esteem.

A story on The Wall Street Journal’s Web site,, reported on a two-year study conducted by Emory University’s Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life researchers who examined 40 Atlanta families.

After taping and categorizing their dinner conversations, the researchers quizzed the families’ preteen children on family history, such as how their parents met and where their grandparents grew up. The children and their parents also filled out questionnaires on the kids’ emotional health and behavior. Kids who knew their family history had higher self-esteem and fewer emotional problems, such as depression, and the children seemed to gain a sense of self in relation to other family members and to the past, building confidence, according to the report.

(NOTE: Please follow this link for entire story, “The Power of Myth: The Benefits Of Family Stories of Hard Times” by Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal Online:

Storytelling is also being studied as an effective communications tool in classrooms, boardrooms and operating rooms. Articles about storytelling and its benefits have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, The New England Journal of Medicine, US News & World Report, The Los Angeles Times, American Scientist and The Times.

In Des Moines, River Voices will feature Ellis, who also is a teacher, historian and vice president of the Historic Area at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He believes storytelling is an excellent way to teach sensitive cultural subjects in the home and community to break down artificial social barriers.

“I have seen bridges built with storytelling that invite listeners and tellers to unite in ways that are more potent than a town meeting and more healing than a therapy session,” Ellis says. “It’s pretty hard to hate someone whose story you know.”

River Voices also features regional storytellers.

Rita Paskowitz is a storyteller who has delighted audiences across the country. She works as an artist-in-residence in schools and communities and in the Nebraska Touring Program for the Nebraska Arts Council.

Darren Raleigh is a storyteller and emergency medical services helicopter pilot in the Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas region. He has made a living as a street harper and prefers the folklore and music of the Celtic nations, though he will tell any story that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Judith Simundson of Dubuque threads her folk tales with songs in the Old Norwegian style, called kveding. Her tales are told in English with Norwegian charm. She has toured throughout the Midwest and regularly returns to Norway. She is on the Roster of Artists in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri.

Individual workshops cost $15 per person. A festival package costs $50, and includes a choice of all workshops, the family concert and children’s activities. Prices vary for all activities. For more information or to register, contact Maureen Korte at or 515-281-4132, or visit The State Historical Building is at 600 E. Locust Street in the heart of Des Moines’ Historic East Village. Terrace Hill is at 2300 Grand Avenue in Des Moines.

The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state.



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