Story time! — 33rd annual Sierra Storytelling Festival returns to Nevada City |

Story time! — 33rd annual Sierra Storytelling Festival returns to Nevada City

Submitted to Prospector
Steve Sanfield had a vision of bringing together the best of the nation’s tellers, who in the 1980s were having a resurgence of popularity, to the hilltop of North Columbia, and created a festival for the tellers: his peers.
Submitted photo to Prospector


WHAT: 33rd annual Sierra Storytelling Festival

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 20-22

WHERE: North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, 17894 Tyler Foote Rd., Nevada City

INFO: Visit for more information

Tickets are on sale now for the 33rd annual Sierra Storytelling Festival, held at the historic North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center on the San Juan Ridge. The festival happens in the outdoor amphitheater and in the one room schoolhouse Friday through Sunday, July 20-22, according to a release.

Storytellers are writers, actors, playwrights, travelers, jugglers, and what social scientist Brene Brown would call “wholehearted people.”

Storytellers guide us through the world, help us make sense of the images we swipe at, the advertisements we absorb, the news that we hear. Our brains developed with storytelling and our synapse and cortical structure was shaped by it.

The ones that are chosen to be featured at the nationally known Sierra Storytelling Festival are award-winning, multilingual artists, whom you may have heard on NPR, or as a voice in a film, or seen in a filmed theatre production. Which is to say succinctly, the cream of the crop.

This year the featured tellers are Charlotte Blake Alston, Charlie Chin, Vicki Juditz, Larry Littlebird, Clare Muireann Murphy, Izzi Tooinsky and Tom Wade as a special guest.

Why the North Columbia Schoolhouse?

In the 1970s, poet Gary Snyder moved to the San Juan Ridge near a one-room schoolhouse. Architects, writers, thinkers and back-to-the landers started to come to the area near Nevada City then too. One was an author and storyteller Steve Sanfield, a powerful, bearded titan who created storytelling events after the schoolhouse transformed into a small and poignant cultural center.

Sanfield’s vision of bringing together the best of the nation’s tellers, who at that moment in the 1980s were having a resurgence of popularity and visibility, to the hilltop of North Columbia, created a favorite festival for the tellers: his peers. It became very successful, bringing people to the Nevada County region from San Francisco and all of Northern California, and became known as the “queen of Storytelling Festivals” due to the quaint setting, the literate audience and the attention to detail that Sanfield demanded.

What happens at the festival?

If you have ever been to the outdoor stage in Ashland, Ore., for their theater festival, the Sierra Storytelling Festival is similar. Great drama and comedy happens on the outdoor stage, under the cedars and pines.

People are moved to tears and leave with belly aches from laughing so hard, and faith in humanity is restored after enjoying the art that we humans can achieve. Children mostly play on the lawn, and one event is dedicated to them on Sunday morning.

Good wine is shared, delicious food is tasted, and old friends visit the San Juan Ridge.

When does it happen?

The Storytelling Festival occurs on the third weekend in July, this year falling on Friday through Sunday, July 20-22.

The most popular events at the three-day festival are from 7:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, when each teller tells a tale.

The Friday afternoon workshop will be led by Clare Muireann Murphy.

The Children’s Concert and Tales from the heart on Sunday are the sweetest events over the weekend. Saturday is filled with hour long sessions of each of the featured tellers as well as a Story Slam and a local teller showcase.

Patrons can purchase an all event ticket or get tickets for individual events of the festival at a discount via the website at

One can also request a brochure by calling or emailing the North Columbia Schoolhouse at 530-265-2826 or

Source: North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center.

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