W.Va. Storytellers to Duke It out at Annual Liars Contest Gathering Helps Maintain Tradition of Appalachia

Article excerpt

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- What does a gun-shy huntin' dog who chased a bullet smack into a movin' coal train have in common with a fishin' line that caught hold of a marijuana-laden airplane?

They're lies!

Huge, detailed, hilarious lies.

"It usually starts with a kernel of truth and just gets bigger and bigger from there," said Bil Lepp, reigning champion of West Virginia's annual Liars Contest.

The contest, set for today, draws standing-room-only crowds at Charleston's annual Vandalia Gathering, a celebration of the state's folk heritage through arts, music and the telling of the oral histories of Appalachia.

Years ago, before satellite television, there was the story, that awe-inspiring tale that seemed to grow bigger and more exciting every time it was retold.

"That was our entertainment a lot of times," said 85-year-old Bonnie Collins, who has judged the Liars Contest every year since it started in 1983.

"When I was a child, we didn't have radio or television, so my dad would tell us stories," Collins said. "You have to have a knack for telling a story -- some people can and some people can't . . . and you have to have a good imagination."

Much of the mountain folklore of Appalachia comes from tales of yesteryear that have been passed from grandparent to grandchild through the generations.

"It's very much part of our Appalachian culture, probably because our culture has been mostly rural," said Ken Sullivan, who founded the Liars Contest to preserve the storytelling tradition. …


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