The Dauphin Island Heritage and Arts Council has set the date for its inaugural Coastal Alabama Storytelling Festival as Saturday, April 2, 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. The event will feature local and statewide storytellers, vintage music and demonstrations of boat building, net weaving, net casting, oystering, shrimping and crabbing, according to a recent news release.
Admission is $15 per person with children 10 and younger admitted free. Tickets can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com or in person at the Dauphin Island Welcome Center or the Dauphin Island Art Gallery.
Kathryn Carver, president of the Heritage and Arts Council, said the festival springs from the success of the council’s “Stirring the Sand” series in which local residents tell tales of life on Dauphin Island before the opening of the first bridge to the mainland in 1955.A large tent east of the Dauphin Island Art Gallery (918 Bienville Blvd.) will house the main storytelling stage, and smaller tents will be scattered in adjacent lots on Lemoyne Drive, where area crafters will share their expertise and the culture of coastal life handed down for several generations.
Deborah Boykin, director of community arts and folklorist with the Alabama State Council on the Arts, will act as interviewer for the local storytellers from Dauphin Island and south Mobile County, who will give accounts of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s on a barrier island with no bridge access. They’ll also share stories about the rigors of making a living from the waters of Mobile Bay, the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, Carver said.
Among those local and area personalities who will be telling stories of coastal life in bygone days will be Henry T. “Junior” Wright, John Gaspard and Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier, who was born and raised on the island and will relate some of his family’s tales of life there.
Wayne Dean will appear in his role as “Chief Slac” and tell stories of the first Mardi Gras and Joe Cain’s revival of the festival in Mobile after the Civil War, while the city was still occupied by the Union Army. Other area storytellers will be added to the log as more accept the invitation to participate.
“The festival will also include professional storyteller Dolores Hydock of Birmingham performing excerpts from diaries kept by a young Alabama woman during the Civil War,” Carver said.
Those stories will be accompanied by contributions from nationally known music historian Bobby Horton, noted for his musical work with Ken Burns’ PBS “Civil War” series. Horton will add Civil War camp songs and other period and original tunes to further illustrate Alabama’s Civil War life. Members of the Port City Songwriters will perform other musical entertainment for the festival.
Heritage Kitchen, which will be set up in Green Park diagonally across Lemoyne Drive from Heritage Row, will feature traditional fare prepared by local restaurants. It will be open from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. on April 2.
The demonstrations in Heritage Row will be for display and education only; nothing in that area will be for sale and no outside vendors will be included, Carver said.
The Dauphin Island Heritage and Arts Council Gallery will be open during the festival. The gallery houses art by many Dauphin Island and Mobile County artists and sculptors, as well as island memorabilia and artifacts.
In other contributions and community service, the council members hold Last Friday Art Night on the final Friday of each month so visitors can relax and enjoy local talent, fellowship and refreshments together. In addition, council members have organized — and teach students in — an after-school art club at Dauphin Island Elementary School.
The upcoming storytelling festival “promises to be a day well spent on Dauphin Island,” Carver said.
The Coastal Alabama Storytelling Festival is made possible through grants and sponsorships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Mobile County, the town of Dauphin Island, Port City Songwriters, Port City Rentals and other sources.
For additional information, email DauphinIslandArts@gmail.com.
Jo Anne McKnight is a freelance writer living in Mobile County. You can read of other area activities on her community blog, joannemcknight.com.