‘Storyfest in the Park’ returns with Andy Offutt Irwin and Minton Sparks

COOKEVILLE – “We can’t wait to be back under the tent!”

Those are the words of Cookeville museums manager Beth Thompson as she anticipates the return of Cookeville Leisure Services’ Storyfest in the Park – an annual springtime event that skipped the year 2020.

But that’s another story.

“We have often said that Storyfest is the best fun we have at work all year, so I guess it goes without saying that we’re excited,” Thompson said. “Staff and volunteers alike are looking forward to once again being able to offer our community this full day of world-class storytelling.”

The seventh annual event is set for May 1 at Dogwood Park with a full schedule of professional storytelling between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. under a big tent behind the Cookeville History Museum at 40 E. Broad St. Headliners are Andy Offutt Irwin of Covington, Ga., and Minton Sparks of Nashville. Admission is free.

“Of course, the weather is going to be beautiful with puffy clouds floating in a cornflower-blue sky,” Thompson said of her hopes for the day. “The tent will be full – reasonably and safely – of a rapt audience laughing as they enjoy our visiting and local storytellers, with the sound of children running and playing in Dogwood Park in the background. Everyone will be happy and glad they came as applause bursts from the crowd.”

Irwin is no stranger to Storyfest – he was here in 2019. The storyteller, theatre director, singer-songwriter and Shakespearean actor is described as “equal parts mischievous schoolboy and the Marx Brothers, peppered with a touch of the Southern balladeer.” He has performed at the National Storytelling Festival, International Storytelling Center, Library of Congress, Walt Disney World and a host of other theatres, colleges and festivals all over the United States.

Sparks, a newcomer to Storyfest, is poet, performance artist, novelist, teacher and essayist who holds degrees from the University of the South and Vanderbilt University. Her appearances range from the prestigious Jonesborough National Storytelling Festival to the Grand Ole Opry to the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center in New York City. Her accompanying guitarist, John Jackson, is no stranger to the world of poetry and music, having performed with Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams and Shelby Lynne.

Peggy Fragopoulos of Cookeville and Charlie McCoin of Nashville are also part of the lineup.

Fragopoulos, a familiar face at Storyfest since its inception, will open the festival at 10 a.m. She is a retired teacher and writer with a new book to share: “Words Create Stories and Stories Create Memories.”

McCoin, another Storyfest veteran and crowd favorite, is a humorist and speaker who brings his unique tales to the stage with wit and southern charm. He has performed at festivals, churches, comedy clubs and theaters around the country.

“Our storytellers have the true gift of holding their listeners’ spellbound-attention as they guide us through laughter and tears until the conclusion of their tales,” Thompson said.

Storyfest also includes an amateur storytelling competition for locals who vie for cash prizes – $300 for first place, $200 for second and $100 for third – and bragging rights with their 10-minute tales. This contest is limited to eight participants. To register, call Thompson at 528-8570 by April 23.

The Storyfest schedule is as follows: 

  • 10 a.m. – Peggy Fragopoulos
  • 11 a.m. – Charlie McCoin
  • 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Minton Sparks
  • 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. – Andy Offutt Irwin
  • 1:30 p.m. – Amateur Storytelling Competition

“Storytelling is a wonderful artform that has been around since the dawn of time; the very oldest and most common way that history has been repeated was through the telling of stories,” Thompson said. “Of course, storytelling has evolved beyond the cave walls and even the log cabin, but it remains an integral part of our human history and, more importantly these days, our entertainment.” 

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