Anyone who thinks storytelling is just a way to make little kids fall asleep at night needs to clock some face time at this year's St. Louis Storytelling Festival, a four-day affair (April 30-May 3) that reaffirms the medium's potential impact on young and old alike, as well as its vitality as a form of entertainment that's far from yawn-inducing.
If anything, storytelling has begun to achieve a new-millennium hipness; in New York City, for instance, urban storytelling group the Moth is all the rage, hosting curated open-mic "story slam" nights featuring such lights as Suzanne Vega, Griffin and Dominick Dunne and Jim Carroll, and serving as the basis of a new program on the Trio cable channel.
St. Louis' festival, now in its 24th year, is the world's largest free storytelling happening, with more than 60 speakers slated to do their thing at local churches, libraries, rec centers and historic venues. (The best Web site from which to obtain all event, time and location information is www.umsl.edu/~conted/storyfes/.) Organized annually by the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the National Park Service at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the festival includes African-American tellers, Native American tellers, Jewish tellers, tellers who also work at the St. Louis Zoo, tellers who play the hammered dulcimer and tellers who do sign language -- all telling folk tales, tall tales, ghost stories, personal stories, fiction, nonfiction and everything in between.
Although weekday activities focus heavily on kid-tailored workshops and performances -- more than 15,000 schoolchildren are already signed up to attend, according to festival co-director Becky Walstrom -- highlights for grown-ups include "Later Tales," three Thursday-night storytelling events for adults taking place at Borders Books & Music in Brentwood, Corner Coffee in Ferguson and the Soulard Coffee Garden. (Note that "adult storytelling does not mean off-color," says Walstrom. "We tell the performers to do what they like but to still keep it clean.") Two storytelling workshops for adults (reservations strongly suggested; call 314-516-5948) are also being offered, so that come the 25th annual Storytelling Festival, you could be the one doing the telling. -- Rose Martelli
Bloodhag's literary death metal
Nothing shatters the silence of a city library quite like the noise of a hardcore band in full throttle. That's what makes Bloodhag unique -- in part. Many things make the Seattle-based aggro ensemble special. First and foremost, every single song they write and perform is about a famous science-fiction author. Their ditties include "William Gibson," "Harlan Ellison," "Philip K. Dick" and "Michael Moorcock" (you're not likely to actually understand the lyrics, though -- the lead singer is one of those death-metal growlers). Also, the band members dress identically, like IBM employees circa 1960, in short-sleeved white dress shirts, ties and glasses with thick black frames. Finally, as we mentioned, they tour the country performing at public libraries, gathering fans and noise complaints in equal measure. Between songs they've been known to hurl complimentary copies of sci-fi books into the audience, too. Come in with your hearing; leave deaf, but with a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. Visit www.bloodhag.com for more on their bizarre world, and catch them in performance at St. Louis Public Library, Schlafly Branch (4 p.m., 4537 West Pine Boulevard, 314-367-4120, free), and later that night at the Hi-Pointe (1001 McCausland Avenue, 314-781-4716). -- Byron Kerman
Shiksas Get in for Free
The resurrection of Allan Sherman
Tickets to the New Jewish Theatre's revue of comedic songs by Allan Sherman, Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!, are selling like hamantaschen at a Purim carnival. For those who don't know, Sherman was a comedian whose wave crested when, he once claimed, he overheard President John F. Kennedy singing the humorist's novelty song "Sarah Jackman" (a Hebrew-fied parody of "Frère Jacque"). Sherman also turned "Hava Nagila" into "Harvey and Sheila" and "Down by the Riverside" into "Don't Buy the Liverwurst." He transformed the lyrics to South Pacific's "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" into: "We got herring sweet and sour/We got pickles old and young/We got corned beef and salami and a lot of tasty tongue/We got Philadelphia cream cheese in a little wooden box/What ain't we got?/We ain't got lox!" His Jewish humor resulted in some great album titles, too, including Chocolate Covered Matzohs, My Son the Folk Singer and My Name Is Allan (a parody of a Barbra Streisand album title). 1963's "Hello Muddah," perhaps Sherman's most enduring ditty, is the story of a summer-camp experience involving alligators, bears and poison ivy, told in rhyming couplets. Head to the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, at various times through May 25 (314-442-3175, $16-$20). -- Byron Kerman
Stuff Your Face, Feed Your Soul
River Styx literary magazine officially became a local institution a while ago, and the annual Art and Literary Feast is its hallmark event. This year, $45 gets you dinner and a prose-and-poetry reading featuring David Carkeet (The Greatest Slump of All Time) and Catie Rosemurgy (My Favorite Apocalypse), along with the pleasure of rubbing shoulders and breaking bread with a broad sampling of St. Louis' arts community. True, standing between an artist and a table full of food is not a wise move, but once the dust has settled, the conversation is sure to be as rich as the dinner. Lydia Ruffin will be providing the dinner music, and River Styx has arranged a silent auction of donated art for those who would like to leave with a tasteful (pardon the pun) souvenir. Festivities commence at 6:30 p.m. at Duff's (329 North Euclid Avenue; call 314-533-4541 for info). Expect bons mots, bons vivants and bons temps. -- Paul Friswold