As long as humans have been able to communicate, there have been stories. Before our ancestors could read or write, telling stories and keeping an oral history were the only ways to keep a hold on the lessons of our past, so that we may continue to build on the knowledge gathered by those who came before us.
With more established cultures, storytelling has spread to every medium. These days, we’re more likely to read a story from a book or watch one on a screen than to sit with a stranger who actually tells a tale.
Flathead Valley residents will get the opportunity to sit and be entertained by one of the most popular storytellers out there when Grammy-award winner Bill Harley visits the stage at the Flathead High School auditorium on Oct. 30.
Harley has been entertaining families and kids with his stories for decades; he released his first album, “Monsters in the Bathroom,” in 1984. Since then, he’s toured the country, playing hundreds of shows a year.
He also writes children’s books, such as the Charlie Bumpers series, which follows fourth-grader Bumpers in his adventures, with a new release, “Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey,” just released this fall.
Using songs and stories, Harley shares with audiences what it was like growing up, going to school, and the other universal details of family life, all with his humorous perspective.
But his work isn’t just for children, Harley asserted in an interview with the Beacon last week.
“I feel like I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out how I can reach everyone, from kindergarteners to grandparents,” Harley said. “I always feel like I’ve done my job when the kid elbows the dad and the parent elbows him back.”
Harley is no stranger to performing in Montana. He remembers playing a benefit event about 20 years ago, and then working in a “little theater in Whitefish” for a summer about 15 years ago.
He first started coming out here at the behest of the Pea Green Boat, a children’s storytelling hour on Montana Public Radio. After appearing there, his popularity increased in the Big Sky state.
“I started getting all these phone calls of people who wanted my recordings in Montana,” Harley said.
His work still precedes him for the upcoming show, with his local fan base already requesting certain pieces.
“I have 35 recordings, so a lot of times I don’t do a lot of planning of the set,” Harley said. “It’s a combination of songs and stories, I tell a lot of stories about growing up.”
Growing up is weird and fascinating and scary and wonderful, and Harley said his shows are usually better received in Montana than other places, because people here really seem to connect with his message.
“Montana’s a very special place in my heart; it’s the place where I feel like people understand what I do,” he said. “I think you can entertain everybody.”
Part of connecting with the local audience will happen before the public Oct. 30 show, when Harley performs for more than 1,400 area elementary students during two morning assemblies sponsored by Northwest Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
Again, Harley said his show is for both the kids and the parents, so any adults who may be on the fence about going should relax: it will be fun for everyone, and audience participation will be kept at a minimum.
“Just come and have a good time,” Harley said. “I’ll probably ask them to do something not too embarrassing, maybe some kind of hand motion.”