Lying Liars, Crankies And Aunt Eloise: Storytellers Revisited

This week, we’re dedicating our entire show to the art of telling stories out loud and in front of audiences. In this encore episode from last Fall, we’ll hear five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest, Bil Lepp.

We’ll also learn how musicians Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle first met and began performing their harmonies, using something known as a “crankie” in their songs.

Finally, we’ll wrap up at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, where we’ll hear storyteller Michael Reno Harrell share a story about his dear Aunt Eloise.

In This Episode:

The Crankie Comes To NC: What It Is And Why People Freak Out When They See One

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Courtesy Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle
Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle combined their talents to form Anna and Elizabeth. While the duo no longer performs together, they often used crankies to enhance the storytelling in their performances.

Crankies, which originated in Europe, have been used for years to enhance the art of live storytelling. A crankie consists of long rolls of fabric that are rolled up on either side, decorated with scenes and images that tell a story. The operator of the crankie then turns the crank as they sing or tell their story. Think of it as a small, tiny theater.

Musicians Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle met during a show in Virginia and combined their talents to form Anna and Elizabeth. The duo decided to incorporate crankies in their performances to bring them to life. Though they are no longer performing together, Anna and Elizabeth’s three albums and countless live performances left a lasting imprint on the music scene in Appalachia.

This week, we’re listening back to a 2013 interview with Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle about their inspiration behind incorporating crankies into their music.

A Triangle Of Skunks
Bil Lepp has made a name for himself as one of the region’s most famous storytellers. Lepp is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars Contest and has been described as “a side-splittingly funny man” by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife.

One example of this side-splitting humor is a story Lepp tells about summer camp and a family of skunks. He performed the story “Skunks” during a Mountain Stage performance at the West Virginia Culture Center in 2019.

We’ll hear from Bil Lepp again in next week’s episode — reading his new children’s book The Princess and the Pickup Truck. We’re dedicating our entire show next week to children’s authors, including Lepp and Cynthia Rylant, who has written more than a hundred books, including two Caldecott-winning books about her experiences growing up in West Virginia. Tune in next week for that and more.

Sweet Tea And Red Wine

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Courtesy Joan Ellen/Michael Reno Harrell
Michael Reno Harrell performed his story "Sweet Tea and Red Wine" in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Michael Reno Harrell is a storyteller from Burke County, North Carolina. His mother’s family, including his aunt Eloise, spent most of their life in Buncombe County, just outside Asheville.

This week, we’ll listen to a performance of his story “Sweet Tea and Red wine” from the 2017 International Storytelling Center.


We’re working on another episode of Inside Appalachia about storytellers. Do you have a storyteller in your community who you love? Tell us about them. Write to us at or Tweet to us @InAppalachia.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Tyler Childers, as heard on Mountain Stage, Dinosaur Burps, Michael Reno Harrell and Anna and Elizabeth

Bill Lynch is our producer. Alex Runyon is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.