“When we’re willing to be in the present moment with others and share our stories, we’re connecting,” says award-winning, Asheville-based storyteller Connie Regan-Blake. “There’s something innate in us that wants to tell and wants to listen, as if it’s in our DNA. It’s part of who we are as humans.”
Regan-Blake is a regular performer at the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., and has been doing this work around the country and the world for almost 48 years. On Sunday, March 10, she’ll celebrate the release of her newest album, Leap and Laugh! Tales of Adventure, with a show at Isis Music Hall.
The tracks on the CD come from the recording of a live show Regan-Blake gave at Black Mountain Center for the Arts in 2017. The stories are a mix of traditional folk tales and personal stories, and they’re suitable for all ages. “There’s a good bit of humor,” she says, “and all of the stories involve some sort of adventure or journey.”
A traditional offering, “The Well of True Water,” tells of an ailing mother who believes a sip from a particular water source will heal her. Each of her three daughters sets out separately on a difficult journey to bring home the magical water. The story chronicles the consequences of the daughters’ choices.
Becoming a raconteur wasn’t exactly on Regan-Blake’s radar as a young girl growing up in Alabama. She enjoyed math, and when her family moved to Florida, she imaged she’d work for NASA. In college, her interests turned to political science. “Some say that’s akin to storytelling,” she says with a laugh. After college, she saved up money from waitressing and spent about 14 months exploring Europe before she ran out of funds and headed back to the States.
Around that time, Regan-Blake’s cousin, Barbara Freeman, was working at the Chattanooga Public Library, where a job opened for a storyteller. Regan-Blake took that job in 1971. After a few weeks, she got hooked on stories and never looked back.
Regan-Blake’s love for travel and for stories converged when she and Freeman hit the road, performing at folk music festivals. Aside from the well-known Jonesborough event, there wasn’t much going on in the way of storytelling festivals at this time, she explains. But the folk music scene welcomed them in, putting them up on main stages across America and Canada. The duo lived out of a Nissan truck with a camper top. Sometimes a teacher was in the audience who hired the cousins to perform at a school. Regan-Blake and Freeman enjoyed the work for several years but eventually decided to pursue solo careers.
One personal story on Leap and Laugh!, “11,233 Miles in a Kayak,” comes from the storyteller’s own adventures. “Maps hold such a sense of adventure for me,” she says. “When Google Maps came along, I was thrilled.” One night at her home in Asheville, she was thinking about a friend who lived near Sydney, Australia, and a workshop she would be teaching near that same area. She wanted to see how far her friend lived from the workshop location. Instead of configuring the friend’s address, Google Maps gave Regan-Blake directions from her Asheville home to the workshop in Australia. The story takes us through crazy directions, which at one point, necessitate the aforementioned watercraft.
Regan-Blake’s early years consisted of telling traditional folktales. “This lineage goes back hundreds of years,” she says. “Old stories that have been on people’s tongues and in people’s ears for all time and passed down orally.” Later, she began incorporating her own true-life adventure stories into her repertoire, as well as those of family and friends.
In fact, the cover of Leap and Laugh! portrays Regan-Blake’s feet flying over Queenstown, New Zealand. (“My cover designer changed my shoes and socks to the striped version you see now,” she says.) Regan-Blake traveled to New Zealand to perform at a festival and, during some downtime, took a parachuting leap off a cliff somewhere among The Remarkables mountain range.
Of her experience performing, she muses, “It’s magical for me every time. It’s as if I’m breathing together with the audience. Each person is taking in words and creating their own imagery, but we are in communion with this listening and telling together.”
She adds, “It’s an extraordinary experience that makes us feel more human.”
WHO: Connie Regan-Blake
WHERE: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Sunday, March 10, 7:30 p.m. $15 advance/$18 day of show