Sam Payne comes from a line of traveling musicians who have a story to tell.
Guitar in hand, Payne will be the next performer in residence at the International Storytelling Center from June 28 to July 2. He works in a tradition established by his father, a door-to-door salesman who hawked 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 albums, there would be a lot of dinner. And if he didn’t, there would be a little dinner.
On the road today, Payne still speaks to people who remember those unusual encounters when his father sang songs from his records in their living room.
Having rejected his father’s gift of a ukulele at the age of 8, Payne was well into adulthood before becoming a musician himself. Her younger brother showed up on her doorstep late at night. “He handed me a guitar and said, ‘You’re the only one of us who can’t play, and frankly, we’re sick of it,'” Payne recalled. He immediately got to work.
On the Jonesborough stage, Payne’s folk and jazz songs will punctuate the stories of his life and family. He will also draw from his repertoire of stories about American space exploration, a subject he has been passionate about since he was a child. True stories of the Mir space station, the Mars rover and the James Webb telescope captured Payne’s imagination as a little boy gazing at nighttime stars. He still remembers watching the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia on a television set that the school librarian rolled around his classroom for the occasion.
Payne’s appearance at Jonesborough is possible thanks to Storytelling Live! program, a seasonal concert series that brings a new storyteller to town every week until the end of October. Morning concerts are daily, Tuesday to Saturday, at 2 p.m.
As part of its state-of-the-art online site, which expands accessibility for audiences who cannot attend performances in person, the International Storytelling Center will record and stream one of Payne’s concerts. This performance will be available online from Thursday June 30 to the following Monday at midnight. Online tickets are $15 per household.
Like many storytellers, the pandemic has forced Payne to get creative with video conferencing and other tools. He’s been amazed by his ability to connect with people during remote performances, but he’s beyond thrilled to be back on stage with a real audience.
“There’s nothing like being 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 quite like it. I’m just thrilled beyond belief. Audiences are going to have new experiences with my work, because there are so many new things.
The first sponsor of Storytelling Live! is bioPURE. Additional funding for the program comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, Tennessee Arts Commission, 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 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday. For more information on Storytelling Live!, including the full schedule, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call (800) 952-8392.