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Happily ever after – never again

Dan BurkhartDiane Ferlatte begins the grand finale of "Tales From the Heart" on the last day of the 18th annual, and final, Sierra Storytelling Festival Sunday.
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This weekend marked the end of an era for storytelling, as the last Sierra Storytelling Festival – begun 18 years ago at North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center – had its final performances.

It was bittersweet for many, including festival founder and artistic director Steve Sanfield.

“The audience brought so much love and affection to the festival that the storytellers were literally forced to reach to new heights, and they did,” said a visibly moved Sanfield on Sunday. “It’s been remarkable all weekend.”



On Saturday, Sanfield was recognized with a trophy and tribute by fellow tellers and the cultural center’s board of directors.

The festival founder was just as touched by Mischa Murawski Brown, 9, a Yuba River Charter School student who unexpectedly presented Sanfield with a finger-knit ball of yarn on Saturday.




“He (Sanfield) did this festival for 18 years,” Murawski-Brown said when asked why he presented Sanfield with the gift.

Attending the festival for the first time, Murawski-Brown said he often tells stories he likes to friends. He especially enjoyed the ghost story told by Diane Ferlatte on Saturday and Izzi Tooinsky’s Sunday performance.

While this year’s 12 featured tellers were all from California, Tooinsky had the longest trip to the Schoolhouse. He moved 18 months ago from San Juan Ridge to Australia.

Featured on the festival stage at least three other years, Tooinsky said, “You never know when you’ll need a good story. A story intoxicates the people who are listening as well as the storyteller.”

Folk singer troubadour Utah Phillips, a featured festival teller in 1995, didn’t want to miss being in the audience on the festival’s last day.

“As long as these folks are sitting here listening to these stories, they can’t get in trouble,” Phillips jested about the attentive audience.

Turning serious, Phillips added, “People need to learn to tell stories to each other again instead of getting their stories from TV or books. We need to talk to each other, especially the youngsters and the elders, to bridge the gulf that has been created between us.”

About 1,000 storytelling fans turned out both Friday and Saturday nights, and about 900 during the day both Saturday and Sunday, said Azriel Getz, the Schoolhouse executive director. Half of the fans were from out of the county, the majority from throughout California.

Getz has many good memories of the nationally recognized annual event she practically grew up with; her mother was the Schoolhouse director in the festival’s beginning years.

“The response this year was overwhelming and makes you realize this festival means a lot to people,” said Getz, who estimated that weekend attendance was up 200 to 300 fans over last year. “The board is open to the possibility of the festival returning sometime.”

Either way is OK with Tooinsky.

“I feel there’s a lot of richness in life,” he said. “When you reach the end of a road, another road with just as much richness will unfold.”


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