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A Living History of the Blues: Songs and Stories in Jonesborough

Contributed • May 20, 2019 at 12:00 AM

As a world-class musician, opening for B.B. King was a career highlight for the Rev. Robert Jones. Ask the Detroit native, who has been called a living encyclopedia of blues history, to name some of his other treasured accomplishments, and he’ll rank singing with his wife Bernice among his greatest honors and joys.

He is, Jones jokes, “the Captain to her Tennille.”

Equally conversant with a joke, a song or a story, Jones first came to the attention of the discerning storytelling fans when he performed at the National Storytelling Festival one decade ago. It launched a second career for an entertainer who had already been wildly successful on the stage as a singer and instrumentalist.

In addition to the blues, Jones specializes in gospel, rock, country and folk music. His interest in stories emerged from his fascination for how the songs were crafted and shared, and he began sharing some of the stories behind the music as part of his performance on stage.

“Along with the songs, which are interesting in and of themselves, the people who produce the music have a great back story,” Jones says. “The more I dig, the more I enjoy the personalities and the stories that surround the people who created the music.”

As the upcoming teller in residence at the International Storytelling Center, Jones will perform a series of matinee shows for the organization’s acclaimed Storytelling Live! series. Concerts are scheduled May 22-25, Wednesday to Saturday, at 2 p.m. each day.

Jones will also offer one evening concert May 23, at 7:30 p.m. “Lead Belly: An American Legend” includes the songs and stories of a troubled musician whose life encompassed many ups and downs.

“Lord knows this man had a lot of foibles,” Jones says. “There are things about him I don't admire at all. But he’s so multifaceted. He had an indomitable spirit, and he reshaped American folk music.”

Tickets for all concerts are available on a first-come first-served basis. Reservations are highly recommended, with walk-in seating available only for concerts that aren’t sold out.

For Jones, the town that launched his storytelling career holds a special place in his heart — and is an inspiration in its own right.

“It's always great to be back in Jonesborough,” Jones says. “It’s a special place. Being in Jonesborough inspires you to come up with stories that you didn’t necessarily bring with you.”

Tickets for all matinee shows are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. Tickets for the evening concert are $15. Discounted season passes are still available while supplies last.

Exclusive discounts are available to ticket holders for the evening concert and matinee shows. Ticket stubs will earn a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, the Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. Additionally, Boone Street Market is offering 10% off prepared meals and 5% off any other purchase.

The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

Storytelling Live! is a seasonal program that runs from April to October.

The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full 2019 lineup, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call 800-952-8392.

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