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Reverend to bring ministry to storytelling

Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones will perform in Jonesborough May 22-25.


As a musician, the Rev. Robert Jones has performed at the highest levels, opening for acts like Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, and Taj Mahal.

But it wasn’t until he told a story in Jonesborough, Tennessee that he felt he’d found his true calling as a performer.

“From the beginning, I was always a storyteller. I just didn’t identify as one,” Jones says. “The first time I came home from Jonesborough, I told my wife, ‘Before, I was a musician who told stories. Now I want to be a storyteller who plays music.’”

It was a seamless transition, given that Jones’s act had always been a deft blend of song and story. “I love the idea of telling stories through songs, so my songs are stories,” he explains. “Sometimes a song will inspire a story, and sometimes a story will inspire a song.” It can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

As a Detroit-based minister, Jones naturally uses stories in his work on Sundays. “Jesus himself used parables,” he points out, “so basically you’re talking about the greatest storyteller.” Another important influence was Jones’s grandmother, who “had a way of painting the picture.” Jones considers himself lucky to have inherited her talent.

As a featured performer in the International Storytelling Center’s Storytelling Live! series, Jones will perform matinee concerts on Wednesday through Saturday, each beginning at 2 p.m. An exclusive nighttime show, “Lead Belly: An American Legend” is slated for the evening of Thursday, May 23. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s sort of a tribute I do for a great old folk musician,” Jones says. “The older I get and the fatter I get and the grayer I get, the more I start to look like him. So I figure I better learn some of his songs.”

Jones’s full residency is May 22-25, with all ticket sales first come, first served. Reservations are recommended, but not required. Tickets for all matinee shows are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. Tickets for the evening concert are $15. Heavily discounted season passes are still available while supplies last.

Exclusive discounts are available to ticketholders for the evening concert and matinee shows. Ticket stubs will earn a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, the Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. Additionally, Boone Street Market is offering 10 percent off prepared meals and 5 percent off any other purchase.

The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation, and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune, and Cumulus Media.

Storytelling Live! is a seasonal program that runs from April to October. 

The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full 2019 line-up, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit or call (800) 952-8392.