The Portland Storytellers Guild has the unique distinction of having four of its members featured at the National Storytelling festival. The most current one is Anne Rutherford, who has been a member since 2002. This October, she was a New Voice at the National Storytelling festival in Jonesborough, TN.
It’s been a long journey for Anne. In 1999, Anne had an idea for a storytelling program for adults. She wrote the stories, rented the hall, sold tickets, and enough people came that parking became a problem. Since then, Anne has produced and performed more than 30 solo shows. “You can’t control being invited to festivals. You have to piece together a schedule of performances that allows you to keep doing what you love,” opined Anne, “Still, it’s wonderful to be invited to tell at festivals around the country. It’s icing on the cake being at the National.”
Anne’s first half hour was opening for Folk singing legend, John McCutcheon, which guaranteed a packed tent. “I introduced myself to him by saying, ‘Opening for you has improved my status with some friends of mine,’” said Anne. She bravely decided to open with a song, “My Darling Clementine,” featured on the PSG 30th anniversary CD, and closed the set with her “Blood Suckin’ Heart” cautionary tale in song. In between, she regaled them with some of her best stories, including the title track from her Storytelling World winning CD, The Habit of Joy. The crowd loved every minute. After Anne, McCutcheon’s first words at the microphone were (something like), “Ah man, I was going to do a vampire song to open my set.” John invited her to join him on stage for the final bow in their hour show together.
An hour or so later in an even larger packed tent, Anne opened for (arguably) the most popular storyteller on the professional festival circuit, Donald Davis. Again, they loved her! Afterward, Donald told Anne that his mother used to tell one of the short folk stories she told during her short set. He, and the crowd, were tickled pink.
At one of the evening Olio’s, she followed renowned liar Bil Lepp with an award-winning lie of her own about a Heroic Chicken. The audience laughed loudly in places they usually only giggle. Bil and, more importantly, his wife, Paula, were impressed. However, Anne did not have time to spare because she was telling at the Ghost Stories concert in half an hour. After catching a golf cart with Sheila Arnold, if you’ve never heard her you are missing out, Anne slipped into the venue just in time to see Elizabeth Ellis finishing her spectral tale. Anne told two stories, which you can find on her Tales that Go Bump in the Night CD, which left the crowd hushed, which is a good thing at a ghost story concert. One group of knowledgeable story-listeners, teenage children of professional storytellers, had no idea who Anne was, but were adamant that, “She was the best one.” By the end of the first day, the town was buzzing about, “That terrific woman from Oregon.” The best was still to come.
The next morning, Anne was in the red and white “Tent on the Hill” for her solo hour. The sides of the circus-like tent had been opened and the chairs inside were full of folks wanting to hear, “This newcomer.” Some even brought their own chairs or stood outside to listen. Anne told four stories she wrote based on Northwest Legends, a new story about Clementine as a tween, and sang two songs in the personae of Clementine Ryder. For those of you who don’t know, Clementine is a woman Anne made up, who grew up in New Mexico and explored the west in the late 19th early 20th century. The crowd was riveted and in stitches. When the show was over they sprung to their feet for what was in Anne’s words, “My first standing ovation.”
On Sunday morning, Anne was lucky enough to tell at one of the Sacred Tellings where she was able to show a deeper but still humorous side of herself, introducing the audience to her “Uncle Chick” (a fictional non-relative of hers). Later in the afternoon, she finished her weekend by telling another of her award-winning lies. This one having to do with our local shell less gastropod, the banana slug. The entire crowd laughed heartily and the closing teller, Donald Davis, asked the sign-language interpreter before he began his story, “How do you sign slug?” She showed him. “Oh, you spell it,” he said disappointed, “I wanted to see it crawl.”
From her first set until Anne got on the plane to fly to New Mexico to tell at another festival Anne was greeted with praise from former strangers turned to fans. When she wasn’t available to hear a compliment, they told her husband to be sure to tell her, “She is wonderful.” He did. One group of women from Chattanooga, Tennessee followed her everywhere, greeting her after each set with, “We just can’t get enough of you.”
To the people in Tennessee, Anne was an overnight success… 20 years in the making. If you’d like to hear some of Anne’s career favorites, she’ll be celebrating 20 years in Storytelling on January 19th in the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne at 2:00; come by, congratulate Anne, and listen for yourself. Reflecting on her experience, Anne mused, “When I was celebrating ten years in storytelling, my late husband Ron said, ‘In ten years you’ll be an overnight success.’” I am sure Ron is smiling somewhere.