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Jonesborough will welcome storyteller Sam Payne

Sam Payne

In 1996, when he was still billed as a singer-songwriter, Sam Payne stumbled as if by accident into the world of storytelling.

He had a gig opening for the legendary storyteller Ed Stivender, whose name meant nothing to Payne at the time. 

“You rarely perceive the most foundational important things in your life while they’re happening,” Payne said. “It’s only years and years later that you kind of look back on those moments and realize, good heavens, that may have set the course for the rest of my life.”

Payne originally came to storytelling through the world of music, where he noticed that the stories he told between songs were getting longer and consuming more of his creative energy. “I felt like the stories were taking over in a compelling way,” Payne said. “Finally, someone in the storytelling community said, ‘You know that thing you’re doing on stage? There’s a whole world of it.'”

Now a full-time storyteller and still a musician, Payne has performed in Jonesborough several times—and will soon appear as the International Storytelling Center’s next performer in residence. His appearance is the latest offering in ISC’s Storytelling Live! program, a seasonal concert series that runs from May to October. 

During storytelling season, as locals know it, a new storytelling resident performs in Jonesborough each week. Concerts are every day at 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Payne’s residency is June 28–July 2, with tickets available in advance or by drop-in as long as supplies last. 

In Utah, where he lives with his family, Payne hosts a popular radio show and podcast called “The Apple Seed,” which has been broadcasting since 2013. “A lot of the storytellers who have become favorites in Jonesborough are the folks who are performing on the show,” he says. 

All of Payne’s upcoming performances will be live at the International Storytelling Center, but one show will be filmed for ISC’s online venue, which will stream the concert starting Thursday, June 30. Tickets for the virtual show are just $15 per household and can be watched more than once.

Payne is thrilled to return to Jonesborough after many years away. “As performers, I think we’re all stretching muscles we haven’t used in a little while,” he says, referring to the years of the pandemic. “Going back to Jonesborough feels pretty momentous. It feels like time to take a great big breath of fresh air.”

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 Jonesborough’s Herald & Tribune, Kingsport Times-News, Johnson City Press, Cumulus Media, News Channel 11, WJHL 11, ABC Tri-Cities, and Daytime Tri-Cities.

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