What could be better than stepping on a stage in front of an audience that already loves and knows storytelling and, in a very real sense, already loves you just because you’re there?

The times I have been fortunate enough to be featured at the International Storytelling Center’s National Festival I have never experienced such receptive, open, ready-to-have-a-good-time audiences.

But that’s not what I’m most excited about this year as the National Storytelling Festival approaches.

Okay, maybe it’s this: What could be better than emceeing at the National Festival? You get to introduce some of the funniest, most thought-provoking, entertaining story artists in the world. Some are old friends that you’ve admired for decades; some are new colleagues that you get to call and introduce yourself beforehand to make sure you hand the audience to them in the most thoughtful, caring way you can.

But that’s not what I’m most excited about this year as the National Storytelling Festival approaches.

No! This year, I am not performing or emceeing; I get to attend the National Storytelling Festival as a story listener. Yep, just a listener.

With no pressure to be on the stage, I just get to enjoy. I know I will laugh till my ribs hurt. I will fight back tears but finally give in. I will get scared at times by the story itself or for the people in it. I will learn about countries, cultures, events and people I knew nothing about and wonder why I never heard about them before. I will sing loudly and badly with any teller that invites us to join in. I will marvel at the broad range of storytelling styles and search for a pen and paper as story ideas pop into my head. I will visit with other story lovers and talk passionately about the art form we love and the tellers everyone else just has to see.

That’s why I (along with 10,000 other story lovers) will be going to Jonesborough TN in a few weeks for the October 7-9th National Storytelling Festival and why I’ll always be there whether I’m on stage or not. There’s only one thing better than receiving applause and that’s giving applause and appreciation to storytellers who make you happy to be alive and grateful to be part of the human race.

For Chicago area story lovers: The Evanston Public Library Storytelling Festival runs the same weekend October 7-9th. This year featuring Jim May, Megan Wells, Donna Washington, Sadarri Saskill and Scott Whitehair. Wonderful tellers! Great venues! And FREE!

Susan O’Halloran is a professional storyteller specializing in stories that build bridges between diverse groups.