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An invitation to venture Beyond the Border...

Join me at a brilliant storytelling festival July 7-9 in the heart of the Welsh countryside. Castle included!

By Erica WagnerPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - June 2023

Why listen to a story? You know the answer right away. Because you want to know what happens next — because you want to be swept away — because you want to be taken out of yourself to other worlds, mythical and true. Stories connect us to our deepest selves; at heart, we all know that. It’s why you’re reading this here on Vocal, after all: Vocal is a home for storytelling.

But there’s something special, something remarkable, about a story you hear. A story you take into your heart and mind from the heart and mind of someone standing right there in front of you, conjuring wonders in the present moment. Don’t get me wrong — the stories you find in books, and in a place like Vocal, are wonderful! But human beings have been telling stories around the fire since — well, since we’ve been human, and the power of that kind of storytelling never fades.

Beyond the Border Festival: always on fire

I know this because for years I’ve been heading to Wales to soak up the delights offered by Beyond the Border, a remarkable storytelling festival now in its 30th year. Just the setting alone is stunning: the festival takes place at Dinefwr Estate, Carmarthenshire — a breath-taking landscape of castle and woodland that is magical in itself. And then, in these grounds, the tellers and their tales: performers from all over the world bringing gifts for adults and children alike.

A little note on terminology: in the United States, “storytelling” often (though not always!) means the telling of personal stories: think of the hugely successful storytelling program The Moth. The European storytelling tradition is usually (but not always!) more grounded in myth and folklore, and that’s what you’ll find at Beyond the Border. My friend Ben Haggarty, who runs the British storytelling powerhouse the Crick Crack Club, coined the term “fairy tales for grownups” for his art, and that’s as good a term as any.

The Festival site

Fairy tales and folk stories can be told to children, of course — and there’s plenty on offer at Beyond the Border for the younger set. But often mythical and traditional stories are concerned with our deepest and darkest wishes and fears — truly grownup fare. At Beyond the Border you can hear the last ever performance of The Devil’s Violin, an incredible trio made up of Daniel Morden (story), Oliver Wilson-Dickson (violin) and Sarah Moody (cello). Their compelling creations have the ring of the ancient and the sting the brand-new, an incredible combination. I know their work well, but I’m keen to catch them again, because the thing about storytelling is that it’s always new. You never step in the same river twice. Sally Pomme Clayton will be there, another artist I love: she’ll be bringing her late night solo show ‘The Mighty Goddess’ — global myths, as she has said, that follow the goddess from creator to crone. The brilliant French/Norwegian storyteller Abbi Patrix and I have a history: together we created a performance piece, Pas de Deux, which continues to tour around the world; this year he is bringing material gathered from his travels to China. There’s the fantastic TUUP — The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher — who will be bringing his show, ‘Children of the Sweet Water’, which also features music from two members of Transglobal Underground. Born in Guyana and raised in Acton, West London, his is a presence like no other.

TUUP in full flow...

But one of the things I love best about Beyond the Border is discovering artists whose work I don’t know — I met Abbi at Beyond the Border twenty years ago, after all. So, I’ve never heard the work of Alim Kamara, a British-Sierra Leonean rapper and storyteller, who’ll be blending folktales with rap — bringing into the mix hip hop MC Rufus Mufasa too. The music at BtB is always amazing; I can’t wait to catch The Successors Of The Mandingue, a seven piece percussion-based band who hail from across West Africa. And Beyond the Border is always committed to the traditions of the land in which it sits: I’ve been longing to hear Gwilym Bowen Rhys, voted ‘best solo artist’ at the inaugural Welsh folk awards in 2019, who mixes traditional Welsh folk song with his own original compositions.

This is just a fraction of what will be on offer this year — there’s rich programming for families and children too. Aside from these wonderful artists also telling stories specially geared to the young, you can hide away in Y Goedwig Lleisiau (The Voice Forest), an open space nestling with the majestic view of Dinefwr Castle and Castle Woods beyond: there you and your kids will find aerial artists gathering to perform. Citrus Arts will be running circus skills workshops and People Speak Up will be offering hands-on crafts.

An evening's tales await

If you’ve never been to a storytelling festival, all I can say is: roll up! Tickets are still available; there’s plenty of detail on the website here. You’ll discover that there’s nothing like being in an audience rapt with story, all of us gathered into one by the power of the tale and the generosity and gifts of the teller. Once upon a time, there was a festival in Wales … I’ll see you there soon!

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About the Creator

Erica Wagner

Lead Editorial Innovator, Vocal. Author, critic, friend, parent, cook. New book: Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge. Twitter: @EricaWgnr, Insta: @ericawgnr

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (15)

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  • Caroline Jane27 days ago

    Currently wondering how on earth I missed tbis story. I love a good festival! ❤️

  • It is so fun and exhilarating to get your story in front of an audience (both literally--physically and online). Life is about our stories and how we intertwine ourselves into the fabric of society and the world at large. I hope you had fun at the festival. Thanks for your article.

  • Awesome ✨ and ❤️🎉Congratulations on your Top Story🎉🎉

  • sleepy drafts3 months ago

    Wow! This sounds like an amazing event!!

  • Jay Kantor3 months ago

    Dear Ms. Erica ~ My wife was from Ireland and she'd fill my head with colloquial expressions and Wafting Bog-Hole Adventures while in her 'yute ~ Thank you for the lovely story and memories ~ What's wonderful to me is that often most of us can relate with our own 'Cherished' memories from the written words of our VM 'hood members. *Ooh ~ And they ALL came here on 'Holiday' - Whew - Jay Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Village~Community -

  • I would love to read more about Beyond the Borders and hope to see more photos. It sounds mysterious! My kind of fun!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Wonderful & magical!!! Would love to travel along. I could shrink in size to fit a purse or pocket. Since that might not be doable, I can travel vicariously through your additional stories from the Beyond the Borders!!!💕

  • Dana Crandell3 months ago

    Well, now I have a new bucket list item. It's obviously not going to happen this year. I grew up on campfire stories and have been to some festivals on the West Coast that included some great storytelling. Thanks for sharing this and congratulations on Top Story!

  • Great Article and Congratulations on your Top Story🎉🎉💖✨

  • Jazmin Fernandez3 months ago

    Awesome Festival. I'm looking forward to reading more!

  • J. S. Wade3 months ago

    This would be amazing as I am of Welsh descent. Can’t make it this year, maybe next. I hope you write some follow ups.

  • Donna Renee3 months ago

    Oh wowwwww, this sounds incredible!! Going to read more about it!

  • Em Starr3 months ago

    Oh wow! How gorgeous. Sounds like an amazing festival, and a truly special celebration of story/storytellers. Go Wales!!!

  • Extremely interesting observations but there are so many ways to tell and hear stories.

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