Remembering Doc McConnell
When Doc McConnell died on August 16, 2008, part of the beating heart of storytelling grew still. Only a week before, he had taken the stage at the National Storytelling Conference to the cheers and applause of a standing ovation. Though he had been ill, as soon as he began to spin the first tale, all weariness and sickness fell away.
And then he was gone. The stories that had rolled off his tongue in an unbroken stream, the Old Medicine Show he had performed for over thirty years, all died with him. Others will tell the stories, but none will be Doc.
I first met Doc when I attended my first National Storytelling Festival. I had been newly elected to the Advisory Committee of NAPPS (the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, which morphed into the National Storytelling Association). But I had never attended the organization’s premier event, the annual festival.
Featured storytellers were met at the airport in Johnson City, Tennessee. Everyone else made her own way. But neither I nor the inexperienced teller I had met at the airport knew the rules. So when we saw a sign that read, “Storytellers”, we aimed for it.
Doc didn’t have the heart to tell us we were on our own. So he and a friend loaded us into his car and drove us the festival grounds in Jonesborough. They knew storytelling innocents when they saw them and spun stories for their open-mouthed audience during the entire drive from Johnson City.
Doc was dumbstruck when he learned I was on the board but had never been to a festival, but he recovered quickly. And neither he nor his comrade made the slightest hint they were making an extra round trip, just to accommodate two newbies.
No one has ever made me feel more welcome than he did that day. Some of his signature stories, such as the “Snake-Bit Hoe Handle”, still stick with me. But nothing sticks with me more than the memory of the southern gentleman who was so kind to this newly minted storyteller.
A video can’t capture the warmth and humour of Doc McConnell, but this telling of Mr. Fox and the Bumblebee at least gives some of his down-home style.
Two of his friends and fans, Joseph Bruchac and John Kirk, wrote a song in honour of Doc. They perform it in this video.