Sam Payne comes from a line of traveling musicians with a story to tell.
Guitar in hand, Payne will be the next performer in residence at the International Storytelling Center from June 28–July 2. He’s working in a tradition established by his dad, a door-to-door salesman who peddled his own folk music albums in the 1970s.
Payne’s father combined the mundane work of a traveling salesman with the creative life of a working artist. “It was a really mystical way to make a living,” said Payne, who is based in Utah. “He would just go out in the morning and knock on doors. If he sold a lot of record albums, there would be a lot of dinner. And if he didn’t, there’d be a little dinner.”
On the road today, Payne still talks to people who remember these unusual encounters where his father sang songs from his records in their living room.
Having rejected his father’s gift of a ukulele at the tender age of 8, Payne was well into adulthood before he became a musician himself. His younger brother showed up on his doorstep late at night. “He handed me a guitar and said, ‘You’re the only one of us who doesn’t know how to play, and frankly we’re tired of it,’” Payne recalls. He immediately got to work.
On the stage in Jonesborough, Payne’s folk and jazz-inflected songs will punctuate stories about his life and his family. He’ll also draw from his repertoire of stories about American space exploration, a subject that has captivated him since he was a kid. True stories of the Mir space station, the Mars rover, and the James Webb Telescope captured Payne’s imagination when he was a small boy looking up at the nighttime stars. He still remembers watching the launch of the Columbia space shuttle on a TV the school librarian wheeled into his classroom for the occasion.
Payne’s appearance in Jonesborough is possible because of the Storytelling Live! program, a seasonal concert series that brings a new storyteller to town every week through the end of October. Matinee concerts are every day, Tuesday through Saturday, at 2 p.m.
As part of its state-of-the-art online venue, which expands accessibility for audiences who can’t attend live performances in person, the International Storytelling Center will record and stream one of Payne’s concerts. That performance will be available online from Thursday, June 30, until the following Monday at midnight. Online tickets are $15 per household.
Like many storytellers, the pandemic forced Payne to get creative with videoconferencing and other tools. He has been amazed by his ability to connect with people during remote performances, but he’s more than excited to be back on a stage with a real audience.
“There’s nothing like getting in a room together,” he says. “The beautiful theater, Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall — it’s a perfect place to share stories. There’s nothing like it. I’m just thrilled beyond belief. Audiences are going to have some new experiences with my work, because there’s just so much new stuff.”
The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is bioPURE. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Niswonger Foundation, ETSU, East Tennessee Foundation, Humanities Tennessee, Hillhouse Creative, Carol & Bobby Frist, the Norris Family Fund, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, and the Frist Foundation. Media sponsors include the Herald & Tribune, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Cumulus Media, News Channel 11, WJHL 11, ABC Tri-Cities, and Daytime Tri-Cities.
The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full schedule, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call (800) 952-8392.