Local entertainment, lessons in Appalachian heritage and even a racing dog were the highlights of last Saturday’s event dubbed the “Our Story” festival.
The “Our Story” festival took place at the Harlan Center last weekend and proclaimed one major objective — to showcase Appalachian heritage and talents. The idea for the festival came from members of the Harlan County High School Community Problem Solving Team, who later joined with Harlan Tourism to make the idea a reality.
“We are trying to further the knowledge about where we came from and why things are the way they are around here. Nowadays, people often don’t know their own heritage. We wanted to come up with a way to help change that,” said Community Problem Solving Team member Breanna Epperson.
The festival kicked off at 9 a.m. with a 5K run in the city of Harlan. Among those running was Joshua Lee, 16, who decided to bring his dog along for the adventure.
“She began following me when I trained for track, and now she participates in every race I do. She loves being a part of them as much as I love her being there with me,” said Lee, who finished first in the 13-20 year old division.
Despite being 28 degrees that morning, every participant managed to persevere and finish the race.
Inside, the civic center was overflowing with various forms of local talent. Bands, solo artists and even storytellers kept the crowd alive with their performances. This provided young performers with a chance to showcase their talents.
“When we were first first offered an hour slot in the festival we were very excited to take it. We’re glad we did because we really needed a way to get a big performance under our belts and this was the the perfect opportunity,” said Emma Day, 17, who performed numerous songs alongside Emma Pinkley, 16, at the festival.
Other performances throughout the day consisted of Brooklyn Collins, Tucker Lewis, Chad Hoskins, Logan Burris, Shyla Blevins, Of The Spheres and Mandela — all Harlan natives.
Entertainment wasn’t the only commodity this event had to offer, however. Going along with the ongoing theme of spreading Appalachian heritage, a table displayed the artistic creations of the Portrait Story Project, which is a project dedicated to connecting Appalachian faces with their stories. They attach personal stories they receive to the inside of a crate then transcribe the person behind the story’s photo on the outside.
“It’s so common to look at a picture and wonder what that person’s story is or to read a story and wonder what that person looks like, so we found a way to connect the faces and experiences of different Appalachian people. The project gives people the best of both world,” said Ashley Bledsoe, founder of the Portrait Story Project.
Harlan County natives set up tables to showcase their crafts, including handmade jewelry and soaps, handcrafted flutes and canes and scroll saw art. There was even a table occupied by local author, Judith Hensley, who displayed many of her novels.
On each side of the room sat huge chalk boards encouraging attendees to share their own stories and what it is they love about the area. This way everyone could find a way to bring their own personal stories to the festival.
Several businesses across the county pitched in to help sponsor the festival.
“We’re hoping this will become an annual event that will grow throughout the years. Each year we would like old and new residents to bring their own piece of history to the festival,” said Community Problem Solving Team member Natalie Middleton.
Kassee Robinson is the student editor of Bear Tracks, the online newspaper at Harlan County High School