The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival takes place Labor Day weekend at the end of each summer in Orem, Utah. The main festival and its smaller cousin, the Timpanogos Storytelling Midwinter Conference, draw a combined attendance of about 26,000 people each year, making it the largest storytelling festival in the western United States. The festival typically lasts two days and invites professional storytellers from throughout the United States. Some of the nation's best known storytellers unite with other tellers, both young and old, for two all-day celebrations of music, merriment, but mostly stories. In addition to daytime performances held at Mt. Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon on Friday and Saturday, there are typically public performances in the evenings, such as "Look Who's Talking, "Bedtime Stories," "My Favorite Stories" and "Laughin' Night." Before the main Festival begins, attendees may also attend storytelling workshops held on Thursday morning and afternoon at the Orem Public Library, given by four of the featured storytellers.
The bulk of the summer festival is held in the Mount Timpanogos Park, a 44-acre (180,000 m2) park designed in part to accommodate the needs of the festival. The park is approximately one mile up Provo Canyon, and sits at the foot of Mount Timpanogos. Laughing Night, the final event of the festival, is usually performed at the SCERA Shell, an outdoor amphitheater where the audience sits on a large, sloped lawn around a central stage.
The Idea-In 1989, Karen Ashton, President of the Friends of the Orem Public Library, was looking for projects to promote community involvement in the Library. Mrs. Ashton had been volunteering at the Library for years, presenting Storytime for preschoolers and helping with other Children's Library programs. When she saw an advertisement for a National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, she decided to attend and gather more ideas for stories and programs for the Orem Library.
She went to the National Festival expecting to find ladies telling stories to children in a library. Instead she found thousands of adults crowding into tents, listening to dynamic performers relating tales of history, culture, folk and family life, as well as magical stories of "what if . . .!" The entire town of Jonesborough (population 3,000) had mobilized to accommodate the 10,000+ people who annually attend the three-day festival.
Mrs. Ashton recognized in the storytelling festival the idea she was searching for. A festival brings people together and increases understanding by allowing them to communicate through stories. It fosters the simple, old community and family values--family members and neighbors talking with each other again, sharing family history and experiences. A storytelling festival is an active experience, not passive entertainment.
The Beginning-The Friends launched the first Timpanogos Storytelling Festival just eight months after Mrs. Ashton presented the idea. The Ashton family opened their home to the community, set up performance areas on their property, and persuaded neighbors to do the same. Livestock was moved, fields mowed, and tents raised. Three Eastern storytellers of national fame and local talent including James Arrington, Marvin Payne, and Gaye Beeson performed for two incredible days.
News of the Festival spread rapidly. By the second year the Friends had expanded the hours of the Festival, planned an additional evening performance at , borrowed another field for a fourth performance tent, and invited school groups to the Friday morning performances. Five of the best storytellers in the nation were on the program, and auditions had been held to determine the successful regional tellers. Acoustic musicians performed during the intermissions throughout the day, supplementing performances by storytellers on the fiddle, banjo, harmonica, and spoons.
Now-The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival has grown each year--in both audience size and prestige. Attendance at annual Festival events total 26,000 and the Festival is recognized throughout the national storytelling world as a standard setter. The Festival and its organizers have received national media attention and awards. Storytelling event organizers from around the nation attend the Timpanogos Festival for training. The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival has garnered this reputation not only because of the great talent featured, but also because of the scenic setting, the terrific audience, the extraordinary community support, and its excellence in organization.
In 1999, the National Storytelling Network honored Karen Ashton with the Leadership Award in recognition of her exemplary leadership and significant contributions to the community through storytelling. In the same year, the Utah Storytelling Guild (spawned by the Festival and now supporting the Festival) received the National Storytelling Network Service Award. Janet Low, Festival Coordinator, was awarded the Service Award in 2000 and Debi Richan, Festival Vice-President, received this national award in 2004.
The Festival draws individuals and groups from across the nation and Canada. The Utah Valley Visitors Center provides material on attractions and accommodations in Utah County to ticket-buyers living outside of Utah and Salt Lake Counties. Families spend vacations in Utah, planned around the Timpanogos Festival. The reputation of the area has spread--even the national storytellers bring their families to spend additional time enjoying the scenery and attractions of Utah County.
In 2005, the Festival opened at the new Mt. Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon. Designed by the City of Orem for the annual Festival, the park allows Festival growth to continue with more and larger performance tents.
The Timpanogos Festival is not a small event. It requires significant donations from businesses and foundations and thousands of volunteer hours from individuals and community groups such as the American Legion, Kiwanis, Golden Kiwanis, youth groups, student clubs, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the Utah Storytelling Guild.
Considering all the work involved with organizing an annual Festival, Karen Ashton commented, "If just one family leaves the Festival and begins to share stories with each other, it will be worth it."