Flatwater tales in Oak Ridge

Tom KingFarragut, Feature

It’s Flatwater Time in Oak Ridge on the weekend of June 2-3. The three Rotary clubs of Oak Ridge have come together as partners to present back-to-back festivals:  The second annual Flatwater Festival on Saturday, June 2, and the first-ever Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival on Sunday, June 3 at the Oak Ridge Playhouse.

Emily Jernigan, a Past President of the Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club, is the Executive Director of both festivals and is leading a team of about 140 volunteers. She says 99 percent of them are Rotarians from her club and the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge and the Oak Ridge Sunset Rotary Club.


Last year’s first Flatwater Festival on Melton Hill Lake drew a crowd of 1,000, Jernigan says.  “That festival was from 5 to 10 p.m. and this year it will be longer hours and we’re expecting bigger crowds,” she added.

The Storytelling Festival is new and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding this event. It has attracted three well-known storytellers and a Rotary World Peace Scholar who now is the President of the world famous Jonesborough Storytellers Festival that will be Oct. 5-7.  His name is Kiran Singh Sirah.  He also serves as Executive Director of the International Storytelling Center, a nonprofit organization in Jonesborough aimed at advancing the performance, preservation and professional practice of storytelling.

First, the Flatwater Festival at Melton Hill Lake. It will run from noon to 9 p.m. and will feature a sailing regatta for 20 eight-person boats at the Oak Ridge Marina, as well as a fun race in which teams will construct their own sailing crafts from cardboard and hope to keep them afloat.  There will be corn hole games, live music from at least three bands, bounce houses for the kids, and food and drink vendors. The admission to the Festival is $5 for adults, $2 for kids under 12 and $20 maximum for a family.  Also, patrons can pay $5 for unlimited use of the bounce houses.

Proceeds from the Flatwater Festival will help purchase four new benches for the waterfront, Jernigan said.  The benches will be paid for with $2,000 from the festival and $2,000 from a matching grant from Rotary District 6780.

Next is the first storytelling festival in the Oak Ridge area at the Oak Ridge Playhouse.  Bil Lepp, Tim Lowery and Minton Sparks will perform for this inaugural festival. They have achieved national and international recognition and appear regularly at festivals, including the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough.

Flatwater Tales kicks off on Friday, June 1, with a three-hour interactive writing workshop, “Create Your Own Story,” with Minton Sparks. The goal is to help participants discover their own stories from their family history and experiences, structure their stories, and share them with others. The workshop is being held in a serene woodland setting at the auditorium in the UT Arboretum in Oak Ridge.

On Sunday, June 3 the Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival presents the art and magic of live storytelling with two performances at the Oak Ridge Playhouse, 2 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. with different stories at each session. It is an Oak Ridge 75h Birthday event, Jernigan says. Although the stories would be rated PG, since each show is a 3-hour performance with two intermissions, it is not suitable for children under 10.

Here’s a bit about the three storytellers:

  • Bil Lepp, an acclaimed teller from Charleston, WVa, and 5-time winner of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest, takes listeners on a winding, incredulous path before tying up all the loose ends in a neat, fantastical package. He says that while all the details may not be accurate, the feelings are always honest.
  • Tim Lowry, from Summerville, SC, casts his spellbinding net to audiences of all ages, sometimes in a seersucker suit or Revolutionary War costume. He brings us stories ranging from folk tales to Southern culture, history, and personal narratives. He will tickle your funny bone along the way we are told.
  • Minton Sparks, from Nashville, dives deep into her family history in Arkansas and West Tennessee to captivate her audience with poetry, music, and dance that reveal the often-hidden truths all families have. She is accompanied by noted guitarist John Jackson.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Flatwater Tale’s inaugural Community Partner, the Blossom Center for Childhood Excellence, a nonprofit 501(c)3. Its mission is to partner with parents to provide excellent child-centered programs that are affordable and accessible seven days a week.

“The Festivals’ goals are to help bring our community together, introduce people to Oak Ridge, support local economic activity, and raise funds for the clubs’ community projects,” said Jernigan. “We expect to grow Flatwater Tales to include local and regional lore, music, and history, and to help share the Oak Ridge story – past, present, and future – with a wider audience. We want to expand our storytelling training to include helping children find their voices using this age-old art form.”

Tickets for the Flatwater Tales are now on sale at the Ferrell Shop in Oak Ridge and on the Festival’s Facebook page and website, www.flatwatertales.com.  Tickets are $25 each for either the two Sunday performances or $40 for both sessions. The Friday writing workshop is limited to 30 participants and the fee is $75.  For more information on Flatwater Tales visit the website or email flatwatertales@gmail.com

For those who want to spend the Flatwater Festival weekend in Oak Ridge, rooms are reserved at a group rate at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel of Oak Ridge. Visit the hotel’s web page or call the hotel directly at 865-481-2468 and refer to the group code FTS.

Tall tales await!

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