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Award-winning storyteller, musician coming to St. Charles Literature Festival

Storytelling will be in the spotlight next week in St. Charles during “Get Connected: The 2013 Elementary Literature Festival.”

As part of the festival, several prominent authors will be visiting St. Charles elementary schools. In addition, Grammy Award winner Bill Harley is among the storytellers that will perform April 18 as part of The Storytellers Olio, which will also feature three other well-known storytellers – Linda Gorham, Sue Black and Marcia Gutierrez.

Harley will perform at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles.

The Storytellers Olio is being presented by the St. Charles Public Library and Onesti Entertainment Corporation in cooperation with the St. Charles School District’s community-wide St. Charles Literature Festival.

The program, which is free, will also feature pipe organ music performed by Deborah Ayotte.
Reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Harley about the upcoming show.

Eric Schelkopf: I know you’ve done a number of appearances over the years. Does it mean even more to you being part of a literature festival?
Bill Harley:
A lot of my work is me out by myself, so coming to a place where there are other people doing similar work is fun.

ES: How do you try to keep stories interesting, especially to kids?
The story really needs to be relevant to their lives. An investment is required on the part of the storyteller. They have to be passionate about the story.

They are telling the story as much for themselves as they are for the audience. Part of my life’s work is to try to see things through a kid’s eye.

ES: Why do you still like doing this?
There’s nothing like a good show in front of an audience. There’s a lot of aspects of it that you get tired of, like traveling in airplanes or sleeping in hotel rooms, and things like that.

I think if you are always trying to develop new material, and if you are trying to connect with your audience and giving them the respect they deserve, it’s rejuvenating.

ES: You’ve been called “the Mark Twain of contemporary children’s music.” Do you think that’s fitting?
I don’t give myself titles. I think that humor is very much a part of my work.
I try to look at childhood not through rose-colored glasses. I try to present it as honestly as I can.
Those are two things I know that Mark Twain did. Now, it’s not my job to judge whether I’m doing it as well as he did, and I’m pretty sure I’m not. But it’s something to work toward.

ES: Do you think his work can provide life lessons even today?
I think his observations of the human condition are completely right. The other thing about Mark Twain is that he was a very good storyteller. He probably made as much money performing as he did selling books.

As a matter of fact, I came across one of his essays on how to tell a ghost story.

ES: And of course, you are a two-time Grammy Award winner. Was that a surprise?
It’s always a surprise. Especially because the recordings that won are on my label, which is a little independent label. It’s great.

ES: When your kids were growing up, did you try things out on them?
Yeah, they were a pretty good audience. And actually, both of them are songwriters now. They have pretty good eyes and ears now too for material.

ES: It seems like there are a lot of performers out there now catering to kids.
When I started doing music and stories for kids, there were not a lot of people doing it on the national scene.

There are a lot more people doing it now.

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