Stories Under the Stars

Master storyteller Connie Regan-Blake hosts a rare day at a Barnardsville B&B

By Hayley Benton, Asheville Citizen Times

The art of storytelling has been alive for thousands of years, shaped and perfected over time and passed down through generations of humans throughout the Earth. The tradition holds special sway for many in Western North Carolina.

“I like to think of it as almost being a part of our DNA – that we humans are drawn to tell stories and listen to stories,” said Asheville’s Connie Regan-Blake, a professional storyteller for more than four decades.

“No matter what our own culture or background, we can really say that it’s in our lineage – that it’s a part of being human. We have done it for thousands of years.”

Regan-Blake, who has traveled around the world to share her won take on the timeless craft, will share her skills in her own backyard – globally speaking – on Sunday at a bed and breakfast in Barnardsville, including both an afternoon workshop and an evening performance, with a potluck in between.

Those interested in the ancient art of the tale can attend the performance with or without attending the workshop – and if space remains, they can even spend the night at the venue, the Hawk and Ivy Bed and Breakfast in Barnardsville.

“In summer we’ve begun to do nothing but performances and presentations,” said Eve Davis, who owns Hawk and Ivy with her husband, James. “We’ve created an incredible event space in the barn with lights all around and scenic views of gorgeous meadows and gardens. We always want the potluck to be part of it, and Connie loves that, too – the sense of community.”

The audience for the B&B’s events is not limited to folks from around the north Buncombe town, she said.

“It attracts everyone – from Yancey and Hendersonville – professional people, artists, holistic workers,” Davis said. “It’s across the board – doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. …The setting sets a different town, and people just feel that it’s just a lovely thing.”

“I don’t really do too many performances around here,” Regan-Blake said. “Most of my work is touring and traveling to other places. I love doing all that, but I also love doing events that are open to the community, and Hawk and Ivy is this beautiful setting.”

Regan-Blake counts adventures in some 33 countries “so far” she said, including a trip to Uganda to work with bead for Life, an organization that provides work and steady income for Ugandan women, who learn to craft beautiful beads out of tightly rolled paper.

“I’ve had some pretty extraordinary experiences,” she said. “I did a tandem jump off of a cliff in New Zealand with a parachute and sailed around in the sky for 15 minutes – I tell a story about that. I also climbed a mountain in China, and I tell a story about that.

“Some (stories) are my personal experiences, and some happened to other people. I tell a couple of funny stories about my husband and his adventures, and I love ghost stories.”

Her storytelling is different from other forms of narrative performance, Regan-Blake said. During a play, “the expectation is the exact words,” she said. “With my storytelling, it’s very different. There’s a real-life aspect and energy in the telling that connected to the listeners.

“(The stories) are really evolving, and one of the ways they evolve is telling them to listening ears. It’s not something I can work on in total isolation. I work out loud by telling stories.”