The Ojai Storytelling Festival


We all have stories to tell. Stories about our childhoods, how we met our spouses, our travels – the subjects are endless and, often, endlessly fascinating. But the sign of a great storyteller is the ability to take a small story and make it universal, so that it touches a large and diverse audience.

Brian Bemel has been in the business of showcasing great storytellers for 18 years at the Ojai Storytelling Festival. Last year the OWF awarded $2,700 to the Ojai Storytelling Festival to help bring professional tellers to the Festival. The grant partially covered the costs for Ireland’s Clare Murphy, one of the world’s best tellers, to come to Ojai. (You can see her here at the 2016 National Storytelling Festival – this performance will confirm why she’s considered one of the best!)

While working as an elementary teacher in the Ventura County School District, Brian became interested in the educational benefits of storytelling for young people and started putting on assemblies of storytellers which became increasingly popular. Eventually he was asked to set up programs county wide and then joined the board of the National Storytellers Festival – all this led him to contemplate starting an Ojai Storytelling Festival and the rest, as they say, is history!

Good storytelling is an ancient craft and the true craftspeople who tell them use not just words but music, physicality, and intuition to tell their stories. The stories are not memorized and are often chosen once a teller has observed an audience and judged their mood. Children can learn a great deal from good tellers: how to communicate in a clear and interesting way, how to relate to other cultures, how to listen and empathize… and they are encouraged to tell their own stories.

Brian shared the following quote with me from Rex Ellis that eloquently summarizes what happens when a tale is well told:

I truly believe that the power of storytelling is the one best hope we have to improve the communities we live in and the people we love. I have seen people with different backgrounds talk to each other for the first time. I have seen fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters who seldom speak to each other laughing, reminiscing, and reconnecting because of storytelling. I have seen inner-city kids, who have decided to leave their guns at home, express the stories they so desperately need to tell with pencils and paper instead. I have seen bridges built with storytelling that invite listeners and tellers to unite in ways that are more potent than a town meeting and more healing than a therapy session. It is pretty hard to hate someone whose story you know.
— Rex Ellis, board member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

If you are interested in finding out more about the Storytelling Festival, visit their website at and learn about the 2019 Festival (Oct 24, 2019 – Oct 27, 2019).