We all have a story in this region and the tradition of telling those stories as well as listening to them is an integral part of remembering who we are. If you want to hear someone spin a yarn in true Appalachian fashion, my new friend David Joe Miller is your guy. I was introduced to David through Jimmie Neal Smith so obviously David had some great billing to. All I can say is he did and he will if you are ever lucky enough to hear him in person. David is from here and he has dedicated a large part of his life to preserving our Appalachian oral tradition. For goodness sakes, put the electronics down for one second and take time to meet and awesome storyteller! I give you David Joe Miller.
BRIAN: First of all, thanks for taking time to talk with me so folks can know more about you. Let’s start at the beginning, what was it like growing up for you in Jonesborough?
DAVID: Thank YOU, Brian, for asking. I was actually born in Johnson City but feel like I was raised in Jonesborough since, as a child, I spent so much time there, growing up. Since all my Aunts, Uncles and cousins lived there, we spent a great deal of time there. My Uncle Fred Chase owned a barber shop. My Aunt Ola Rush owned a restaurant and my cousin, B.R. Foster owned the ESSO station downtown. My Mother shopped at Nayno’s on Main Street. Jonesborough was my Mayberry during my childhood. It just felt “right,” being there. Everyone knew everyone and people would stop, on the street, to visit and catch up with family happenings and news.
My Grandmother was the only one of her siblings to move to Johnson City and she did so to open a boarding house on Lamont St. across from the “Old Soldiers Home,” now known as the V.A. Center. My Mother was born in Johnson City, thus it also became my birthplace however, we were in Jonesborough about 50% of my “growing up” years so I affectionately call Jonesborough my “home town.”
In my adult life, I lived on Main Street in Jonesborough for ten years, in the old Five and Dime Store building right across from the courthouse. During this time I worked for the National Storytelling Association and began my own, professional storytelling career.
BRIAN: This region and the people here are truly unique compared to anywhere I have ever been. For folks who do not know much about you, you have spoken to fortune 500 companies and even people like Al Gore and other famous names. You could go live anywhere you want. What is it about this area keeps you here and makes you love it so much?
DAVID: East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, where we live now in Asheville, host some of the most beautiful parts of the country. The Blue Ridge Mountains have always embraced me like a warm hug when I would return home from my travels. It’s safe. It’s beautiful and its people ARE unique. I like unique. I enjoy the diversity of Asheville, the arts and culture. I love listening to stories of “the people,” the folktales of everyday life and times of the people who live here and were born here in this region. While Jonesborough and Asheville are significantly different, they both share traditions of Appalachia. They both are mountain towns where creativity and folklore survive and flourish.
BRIAN: When we talk about this region, family is one of the biggest topics that will come up. How important is family to you and does family life ever provide material for your stories?
DAVID: Certainly, family does contribute to my personal stories and the folktales I choose to tell. Not only blood family, but extended family as well. Those characters, family or friends, who make an impression, whose personalities are so large and powerful that they need to be shared in story. Family experience helps me to tell stories and stories help me to have family experiences.
BRIAN: On a similar topic, faith and religion often come up when talking to folks from this region. You are from here so you have undoubtedly been around people of faith your whole life. How does that weigh into your story telling and even your daily life?
DAVID: Stories have universal meaning. All religions and faiths are represented in stories from all cultures. The underlying theme is one of charity, love, compassion and fairness. Stories bring us together, together as one people. One people from many cultures. Stories show that we are not that different from each other, no matter ones faith or religious following.
BRIAN: You are a very active inspirational storyteller and working on effective communication in school and corporate settings is near and dear to your heart. Where can folks find out more and where they can see you?
DAVID: Since my wife and I moved up to Asheville from Atlanta a few years ago, I’ve been working on producing spoken word shows in the Asheville, NC. and Jonesborough, TN. regions. I still travel a bit and consult with businesses and Fortune 500 corporations on the power of storytelling in presentations and communications. I also appear in both public and private shows, festivals and yes, I still appear in schools and libraries when I have the opportunity.
Our next, monthly Open Mic will be at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough on Friday Sept 29th at 7pm. Sign up to participate at 6:30 and we are usually finished by 9pm. It’s an opportunity for anyone to climb on stage and tell a story or recite their poetry and it’s FREE!
I’ll also be appearing with the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild at the International Storytelling Theater on November 21st at 7pm.