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World-class musician, storyteller to perform

David Holt will bring a collection of stories to Tennessee’s oldest town.


David Holt has always been a collector.

As an accomplished musician, he collects instruments. As a storyteller, he collects all kinds of tales. But maybe most of all, he has collected people.

Beginning when he was a young man up through the present day, Holt has been an informal archivist of the mountain music genre. His journey started in the early 1970s, when he moved to North Carolina to be closer to the source of the songs he wanted to play.

Touring the mountainside, he sought out musicians who played everything from the banjo to the paper bag. As he picked up techniques and songs, the stories followed naturally. “As I was collecting music, I began to hear about stories that were connected with the songs,” Holt says. “I began to collect these stories and tell them in concert along with the songs. I thought it was a very powerful combination.”

Holt started incorporating these stories into his own performances early on, first with folk tales and then with the unique personal stories of the characters he met along the way. He remembers one standout from Fred Cockerham, a banjo player in Mount Airy. “He was very droll, but never really excited about anything,” Holt says. “When he asked his wife to marry him, he said, ‘Would you like to be buried with my people?’ That was his proposal! I thought, yeah, I’ve got to tell the audience that. That’s just fascinating.”

As the International Storytelling Center’s next Teller in Residence, Holt will share stories and songs he has amassed over decades. Matinee concerts will run for five days, Tuesday to Saturday, August 20-24. Shows begin at 2 p.m.

Holt sees a big part of his task as a performer as recreating the natural environment in which he originally heard a story. A performance is a kind of conversation, he feels. “To me that’s really interesting, to make a program feel like you’re talking on somebody’s front porch,” he says. “I want it to be subtle and woven into this tapestry of music and story.”

Teller-in-Residence program tickets can be purchased via the International Storytelling Center in advance (which is recommended), but walk-in seating remains available while supplies last. Tickets for all afternoon matinees are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. Discounted season passes are still available for a very limited time.

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! will run its regular programming through the end of October before hosting a few seasonal performances through the remainder of the year.

The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. to 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.