Stories Unite Us: ‘Homegrown Tales’ returns to Eureka Springs

Stories Unite Us: ‘Homegrown Tales’ returns to Eureka Springs
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com

If you know Zeek Taylor as an artist, you’ve already experienced him as a storyteller. Often — almost always — his paintings have a quirky little narrative:

FAQ ‘Homegrown Tales’ WHEN — 6 p.m. July 7 WHERE — Brews, 2 Pine St. in Eureka Springs COST — Free INFO — Email Zeek Taylor at zeek.taylor@cox.net BONUS — Guest musician for the July show will be singer/songwriter Kurt Hunter. The live show will be recorded by Kfresh Productions and will air online July 9.

“Even though her friends warned her not to date clowns, aerialist Earlina Pitts could not resist the charisma of Duncan Barnhart” says the tiny tale associated with a painting of a chimp in a bright costume, swinging on an old-fashioned rope-and-board swing with a smaller chimp in her arms, all surrounded by circus-themed details.

“I think I’ve always been a storyteller at heart, but never one brave enough to tell a tale in a public setting,” Taylor admits. “That changed after I was asked to be a special guest on the ‘Tin Roof Series’ of the ‘Tales From the South’ radio show. Besides an interview conducted by the emcee and a Q&A segment from a live audience, I was asked to read a true short story on air. It went well. The story was heard by 130 million listeners around the world!

“Previous to that experience, I had been writing true short stories and sharing them on Facebook. While that was fulfilling, I found there was something rewarding about reading stories aloud to an audience, and hearing their applause. It felt like the stories were brought to life.”

Along the way, Taylor met Sandra Spotts, also a “Tales From the South” veteran, and together they mourned the loss of the National Public Radio show and brainstormed a smaller local replacement.

Sandra Spotts and Zeek Taylor, both veteran storytellers themselves, created “Homegrown Tales,” a storytelling evening in Eureka Springs, in 2019. They hosted seven monthly shows before the pandemic put everything on hold. The event returns July 7 at Brews. (Courtesy Photo)

“We both missed the opportunity to share true stories written by Southerners who lived them,” Taylor says. “We wanted to keep the tradition of verbal storytelling alive, and we thought Eureka Springs would be the perfect place to continue that art. Brews, a popular local coffee shop and beer bar, provided us with the perfect setting to perform in front of a live audience.”

“Homegrown Tales” was born in September 2019, and Spotts and Taylor produced seven monthly shows before the pandemic closed down almost all live entertainment. They squeezed in the March 2020 show, then “put everything on hold.”

“John Rankine, co-owner of Brews, called me and asked if we were ready and willing to resume the show,” Taylor explains of the upcoming production. “Most pandemic imposed restrictions had been lifted, and many folks had been vaccinated. We both thought it was safe to start again. ‘Homegrown Tales’ will be the first live performance event held at Brews post-pandemic shutdown!”

Sandra Spotts

Spotts, wrote in high school and minored in English in college but didn’t come to storytelling until she was about 60. She says the stories a community tells itself “matter so much.”

“We are at risk of losing our collective and personal histories if we do not take the time to listen and to tell,” says Spotts, who is now a full-time artist living in Eureka Springs. “The more layers of history we collect, the more texture our lives have and the more understanding we gain. We can look at data for a community’s information, but the humor, the poignancy, the individual experiences are what make the human experience worthwhile. That reflects back the uniqueness of when and where we live. The stories add color fields between the black and white lines.”

Joining Taylor and Spotts for the return to Brews will be Al Larson, who says he will read his “very short story, ‘Bareback Riding,’ … the story of his employment as an actor in the Great Passion Play nearly 50 years ago,” and Eureka Springs’ favorite daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon.

Eureka’s favorite daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon, pictured here with Taylor, will be one of the storytellers when “Homegrown Tales” returns to Brews on July 7. Dragonwagon founded Dairy Hollow House, a bed and breakfast in Eureka Springs that drew international attention and visitors in the 1980s and ’90s. She is also a much-published author, teaches “Fearless Writing” and is known for her cookbooks and her influence on Ozarks cuisine. (Courtesy Photo/John Rankine)

“I don’t know that I do identify myself as a storyteller, as such,” says Dragonwagon, who was co-founder of Dairy Hollow House, an inn and restaurant that helped put 1980s Eureka Springs on the map. “But I have always told stories, even as a little girl. I have also loved listening to them read or performed by others, and of course, reading them.

“Life is big and chaotic and often appears senseless and random,” she muses from her home in Fayetteville. “We all come into the book of life somewhere midway through, and we all leave before knowing how it comes out. Narrative is a bowl giving shape and meaning to existence. And what a generous bowl it is.

“I believe our desire or compulsion to hear or tell or read or watch stories is part of the universe figuring itself out.

“And,” she adds, “I believe that stories about a community expand and deepen our understanding of it — it being that corner of the universe in which we find ourselves — and ourselves, and the part we play in it.”

Dragonwagon says she will tell “something lightweight, funny, cheering, welcoming, as kind of a post (knock on wood) pandemic celebration. So I’m working in that line … have two or three ideas. We’ll see which ones make it!”

Al Larson says he will read his “very short story, ‘Bareback Riding,’ … the story of his employment as an actor in the Great Passion Play nearly 50 years ago,” when “Homegrown Tales” returns to Eureka Springs. (Courtesy Photo)

“My story is actually a humorous account of coping with two parents with dementia at the same time,” says Spotts. “Sort of the universe telling me, ‘This is going to be tough, so you’d better stop and take in the absurdity of it all.’”

“When it comes to the type of stories we would like to be told, we have few restrictions,” says Taylor. “Sandra and I together look over submissions, and we tend to favor stories that have a down-home feel and give a glimpse into the life of the storyteller. We occasionally do have a themed show, especially during holidays, but most of the time we are just looking for good storytellers and well-written material.

“Listeners and readers tell me that my tales bring back memories from their past, and often they then tell me their stories,” he concludes. “Regardless of age, gender and location, it seems we all have, in a way, lived the same stories. That commonality can bring us closer together and can create a greater understanding of each other.”

Crescent Dragonwagon (Photo by Sweetie Berry)
Categories: Family Friendly