After 3 Years….It’s HERE! Our New CD!

Three years ago Peg Reza, my wonderful friend and multi-talented gal, said, “We should do a CD together of stories and songs from the Gold Rush!”  At first I thought, “Oh, no. Too ‘specialized.'” But I saw her face, filled with anticipation, so I said, “Sure! Great idea!”

I’d been doing Gold Rush programs for schools and field trip groups for about 20 years, but this was a whole new gig. And so we both dove in, researching, rewriting, rehearsing. All the while we had to keep up with other projects and responsibilities. But things started falling into place, including a last minute assist from the amazing graphics designer Gail Segerstrom. And then on September 4th, right in the middle of the Strawberry Music Festival, the boxes showed up!

One giant hurdle was getting our funding. We worked with, and more than 60 friends and family stepped forward to help us along. Combined with our own investments, we’re making it all work.

So now it is DONE. “STRIKING UP GOLD MOUNTAIN: STORIES & SONGS OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH.” And we hope you’ll love it. Comments and reviews are very favorable, like the one that came today from one of my cousins! Bert Walker of Loleta and Eureka, CA, says, “I enjoyed the stories and songs. Well done! Some of the characters are more heroic than I remember them to be. Wonderful thing about fiction.”

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Fun “Newbies” for Preschool Teachers with Claudia Tonge…

Claudia teaches us “Horse & Buggy”

And here she sings “Mousie Brown”

BZ_1982_StoryPic_StoryTailors_TuolCoWay back when I  met a wonderful storyteller, who had been a preschool teacher: Claudia Tonge. We loved working together as “The Story Tailors” for nearly a decade.

Claudia is still out there telling tales! She is a wealth of stories, songs and experience with little people. Here she shares a couple of her favorite preschool songs.

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Sierra Story Winds Retreat is blowing stronger…..

SierraWindsBlockPrintINVERTED&Clean1With less than 5 months to go until our big Sierra Nevada Regional Storytellers’ Retreat, the Mother Lode Storytelling Guild is very excited to let you all know how this project is blowing, growing and going!

We have two wonderful nationally known tellers who will be with us. MaryGay Ducey is our keynote teller. She will bring us inspiration on Saturday morning, October 18th, when all of the retreat attendees gather to hear her wise words on the power of storytelling. That same night Gay will offer a rich evening storytelling concert on Saturday, October 18th, that is open to the public ($12 tickets for the public; ticket included with retreat registration). On Sunday morning, October 19th, retreat attendees will have a chance to sit in on a group coaching session, with MaryGay as our guide. We will learn carefully crafted techniques to improve our storytelling and expand the power of our reach as tellers. MaryGay Ducey is a veteran Children’s Librarian and the Guardian Angel of the California Storytelling Movement. She has been a vital performer on storytelling stages across the nation since the mid-1970’s, bringing innovation and thoughtful support to many tellers. She is a co-founder of the Bay Area Storytelling Festival that just celebrated its 28th year. Our Guild is honored to have her join us! That morning Retreat attendees will also enjoy a brunch together at the Historic Murphys Hotel.

Then we will also enjoy stories, coaching and guidance from nationally award winning teller, Steven Henegar, who also serves as the National Storytelling Network Board Director for the Pacific Region. Steven has been a strong leader on the national storytelling stage for more than 20 years. He is an experienced, well-trained actor, who found his way to storytelling. Once he got to The Art of Storytelling, he opened us up to a laid-back, familiar charm of stories with a Southern bent, told on the front porch on a lazy summer day with a glass of lemonade…or bourbon.

We hope that you’ll join us for Sierra Story Winds: Sierra Nevada Regional Storytellers’ Retreat, October 17th to 19th, 2014, in Historic Murphys, CA. Be sure to visit our retreat webpages to help you plan for journey. Or feel free to give me a personal call at 209.532.7697. . .

bz smith, president of the mother lode storytelling guild

MaryGay Ducey telling a tale

MaryGay Ducey Telling Tales

Steven Henegar Swapping Stories

Steven Henegar Swapping Stories

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A Letter to the City of San Francisco…

Dear City Mice of San Francisco:

    My family and I are your Country Mice Cousins from Tuolumne County. You bathe in our water as it flows from our mountains. I hear you’re worried that we won’t take good care of our land. But we promise we will.

    Three generations of Strawberry Music Festival, that’s us! Me, the hub who died in 1991, the hub whom I love deeply now (largely because he is a Strawberry Guy), the kids and now the grandkids, one of whom is in college. Strawberry has been our home away from home since the first festival. Our entire year is planned around these words: “We’ll do that AFTER Strawberry.”

    We Strawberrians are a vast community, a rich extended family that shares this love of “The Strawberry Way!” You’ll never meet a gentler, more conscious-living group of people gathered, working together, playing together in peace with full attention and intention to care for this place that we all love: Camp Mather. Here is that Ultimate Promise: A WHOLE BUNCH OF FOLKS will continue to act in good faith to care for Camp Mather. We are a mindful, environmentally sensitive group, exercising careful self-regulation of water, resource and forest management because we have a deep collective conscience that demands stewardship of this piece of land and of each other, all 6,000+ of us!

    Our Strawberry Team takes every decision into thoughtful account. They are the most conscientious and well-planned people imaginable, and they expect the same of all their Festival Attendees. In addition, the Strawberry folks have made huge improvements to Camp Mather over the years, always addressing every major concern with dignity and a willingness to “make things work, and make them work better!” And that will happen again, if you just give us all a chance!

    Our own natal family lives in Tuolumne County. We understand the threat and consequences of the Rim Fire more than most. We felt the devastation all over our south county. We live with the stories every single day, and we are very conscientious about what needs to be done. We are ready and willing to be your first line of getting life back to normal for that area.

    My family also works for the Festival in very fun jobs that are part of the Festival’s community glue: My husband is the first face that folks see when they arrive. He invites them to have fun and to be strong, positive contributors to our Vagabond Village. I am the Strawberry Storyteller, a job I’ve done since Festival #1. I’m asked to hold the lore, the traditions, the memories of our time at Mather. My kids and grandkids have worked on the Kids’ Crew, on the Ice Crew, at the Drink Booth and more. Our family history is intertwined with the history of Strawberry in more ways that I can count. And we are just ONE of many families, who could all tell you similar tales.

All of us who attend this event are really just one big, happy octopus, a “family” with strong tentacles. We’ve loved and laughed, cried and mourned together for 32 years at Mather. Our children and now their children have grown up in the shade of Camp Mather’s pines and cedars. We’ve watched the quaking aspen at Birch Lake. And during those last hours of every Fall Festival, we hold each image, storing up Mather’s beauty over the months between until we see each other again. Deep love and friendships have been discovered and nurtured. People falling in love, wrapped in the embrace of the most open and accepting people that you’ll ever meet.

Chucks in our Camp

Chucks in our Camp

Everyone takes care of everyone at Strawberry with love and respect, kindness and humor. Our memories and stories are in the dirt, dusty dreams drifting on mountain breezes. We bring it home in our sleeping bags, on our feet, under our fingernails. We don’t celebrate just one festival at a time, but the cumulative effect of all the festivals. Nothing could be sweeter.

    But it isn’t all about rainbow dragonflies and leggy tadpoles (although they are pretty darn important, let me tell you). The Strawberry Music Festival is Tuolumne County’s largest tourism event of the year. The Festival sustains the economic health of a large segment of our county. The Hwy 120 Corridor depends on the life of Strawberry and Yosemite. The aftermath of The Rim Fire/Yosemite Fire has had disastrous economic effects that came on the heels of a long economic downturn. We were just starting to look up again, and then came the fire. For weeks we sat in vigil, waiting to hear where the fire had stopped, people checking in with each other from all over the nation: “Is Camp Mather OK? What about Evergreen?”

    Camp Mather and the Evergreen Lodge are huge assets, but another year of little or no income for these two vital businesses (plus all of their “downstream” contractors, vendors, suppliers) may take things beyond recovery.

    Have you taken time to uncover the Strawberry Diaspora? Oh, what you would learn! Many of the first Burning Man devotees were Strawberry Kids, weaned on communal living with a keen awareness of making a small footprint and liking dirt. Many of the musicians at your own Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival got their start at Strawberry Music Festival.  The Telluride Festival and the Kate Wolf Festival both based their family outreach programs on the Strawberry Kids program (Kate performed for many of our early festivals. We cried together when she died). And on any night, some world-class musician will say, “I’ve been trying to get to Strawberry for years! And I finally made it!”

     Come be with us. Dance in the meadow under the moon. Watch the stars shoot across the dark sky. Roam from camp to camp and listen to the gentle songs of love for each other. Stand beneath a streetlamp and listen to a group of younguns carry on Old Time Music traditions. Wake with Yoga by the Lake as drums roll out a rhythm for the day. Sing with us, add your voice to our chorus. Stand and laugh silently to the antics of a Blue Jay and a squirrel squabbling with each other. Watch kids splash in the mud after the water truck rolls by. Go meet our Festival characters, and collect a hug from The Turtle Man, Cactus Bob or the Coffee Fairies. Soak in the wonder of little neon-glow children twirling and dancing in the night~little sprites of pure joy! And join the Sunday communion, an affirmation of human goodness, at the Birch Lake Revival.

    We are real in a way that most people never experience. We are Strawberry, a very big Family of Choice, traveling the miles to celebrate this little blue marble called Earth and the serenity of our forest home!

    We beg you to reconsider your decision. We beg you to open a genuine dialogue with those of us who have lived and loved at Camp Mather. You worry that our activities will harm the area, but in truth, we are a source of healing–a large group of people, committed to protecting and preserving this land and the strong cultural traditions of our community.

    Imagine: Since 1983, our first year at Mather: Nearly 60 Festivals, and each one with its own magic.


B.Z. Smith, One of Strawberry’s Village StorytellerMy daughter Wren on the Kids' Crew 1995




Posted in Arts Advocacy, Arts and Culture Festivals, Environmental Storytelling, History & Storytelling, Life Skills 101, Sierra Nevada | 7 Comments

Sierra Story Winds are Blowing This Way…

SierraWindsBlockPrintI_BlackBkgrnd.Clean1Our local storytelling guild is very excited!

We received the National Storytelling Network’s 2014 Pacific Regional Spotlight Award! With help from Parkhurst Brothers, Inc. Publishers, we are coordinating the very first regional storytelling retreat for the Sierra Nevada NSN region…Sierra Story Winds!


Right now the best place to look for information is at

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Kim Weitcamp to California AND Sonora…

KimWeitcampColorPosterKim Weitcamp is a major WOW in the storytelling world. I first heard her tell stories at the 2012 Sierra Storytelling Festival. Her name was new to me; I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I got a heavy dose of amazing telling! Kim Weitcamp’s personal stories cut straight to the heart by way of the funny bone. Kim’s timing is impeccable, and her honey-coated voice will sink right into you. Along with her stories, Kim has a smooth as silk singing voice, sharing original songs that compliment each tale. At the end of the festival, I marched right up to her, and said, “I am in love with you. And I am now your biggest fan in California. I sure hope you will visit my town some day.”

And here she comes to Sonora, CA! Kim will perform for the 12th Annual “For Adult Ears Only” Storytelling Concert at Stage 3 Theatre on Monday, March 10th, 2014. The show starts at 7pm, and tickets include a nice dessert. Plus, wine is available by the glass.  AND the evening will include opportunities to win two very nice gift baskets.  The event is sponsored by Delta Kappa Gamma-Iota Epsilon and The Mother Lode Storytelling Guild.  Both groups sponsor worthwhile family literacy projects in our Sierra Foothill communities. (In fact, MLSG will host a regional storytelling retreat in October 2014: “Sierra Story Winds.” Watch for more information and SAVE THE DATE!)


Come out and enjoy a great evening of unique entertainment while supporting some great community service work.  AND BTW (by the way), you can expect something wonderful!

If you’d like a preview of Kim’s telling, as well as some other amazing storytellers, travel over to the Mariposa Storytelling Festival  (hosted by the Mariposa County Arts Council)on March 7th & 8th, or up to the John Muir Theatre in Yosemite on Sunday, March 9th. Kim is on the West Coast to be one of the featured tellers for this great regional storytelling event.  I’ll be there, getting an early taste of Kim, and having a chance to hear a host of other fantastic tellers from all over the U.S.

And here’s another BTW: Kim will also perform at Sonora Elementary School while she is in town. Sponsored by the school’s dynamic “Support Sonora School” parents’ group with arrangements secured by storyteller Cynthia Restivo.
Posted in Arts Advocacy, Arts and Culture Festivals, Arts Education, Mother Lode Storytelling Guild, Musical Art, Performances & Concerts, Sierra Nevada, Storytelling | Comments Off on Kim Weitcamp to California AND Sonora…

Yosemite’s 150th Anniversary Party…At the Sonora Opera Hall

2ndSat-MuirMy hometown, Sonora, is quite a-buzz with upcoming events for this Saturday night in our historic Gold Rush town.  We live in the shadow of Yosemite National Park. I can drive away from my home, and be in Yosemite Valley in 90 minutes, and what a gorgeous drive it is. Yesterday I met a fellow, who told me that he has a view of Half Dome from his property!  Our lives are influenced by this natural beauty each day.

So, it’s a perfect fit for us to host a huge party to celebrate our connection to this historic (and PRE-HISTORIC) place! If you’re looking for a fun get-away or even a “stay-cation” this weekend (post holiday recovery plan?), there’s no better place to be than Sonora for our January Sonora 2nd Saturday ART NIGHT where we’ll celebrate Yosemite!

We’re lucky to have the City of Sonora and the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance helping to host a big chunk of this party at our historic Sonora Opera Hall. That is where we’ll host FREE SCREENINGS of the new Ken Burns’ documentary, “Yosemite: A Gathering of Spirit.” “Movie Times” are 5pm, 6pm and 7pm with Open Seating at each viewing. There will also be an inspiring display of both historic and contemporary art of the famous national park with works by Jo Mora, Della Taylor Hoss and Patrick Karnahan. The film is about 35 minutes long, so visitors have time to check out everything else that is going on all over the historic downtown during our monthly 2nd Saturday ART NIGHT!


With Lee Stetson, an exceptional story actor who has traveled the world with his “John Muir, Live!”programs, will be at The Opera Hall. Practically a neighbor, Lee lives in Mariposa County to our south, another Yosemite Gateway community. He’ll perform at 8pm in the Sonora Opera Hall. Opening for Lee at 7:45pm will be The Black Irish Band, one of NorCal’s most popular Celtic bands.

Tickets are $8 in advance, and available at Mountain Bookshop in the Sonora Junction Plaza and at the Downtown Sonora Umpqua Bank, or $10 at the door any time that night, beginning at 5pm.

Posted in Arts Advocacy, Arts and Culture Festivals, Environmental Storytelling, History & Storytelling, Performance Level, Performances & Concerts, Sierra Nevada, Storytelling, Storytelling Tips, Visual Art | Tagged | Comments Off on Yosemite’s 150th Anniversary Party…At the Sonora Opera Hall

Yosemite’s 150th Anniversary Celebration in Downtown Sonora!



















Hive-Arts.Org is very excited to be part of a dynamic production team for this incredible night of arts & entertainment!

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El Dia de los Muertos


In recent years I’ve developed a huge affection for the Mexican holiday, “El Dia de los Muertos.” In mainstream American culture we have such a strange unnatural view of death and its finality. Yet, in Mexican culture death becomes a vital celebration to remember and to reunite with our beloveds once again.
This year my grandson, Jacob, has been asked to build a “Day of the Dead” altar for someone in his sphere who has passed. He decided to make that altar in honor of my parents: Great Grandma Betty and Great Grandpa George. So, we’ve been gathering little treasures that will represent them: A toy airplane for Grandpa George, the pilot, a thimble for Grandma Betty for her sewing skills and a pin of a Rockette for her “dramatic flair” and love of The Dance.
Jake wants to put one of his great grandma’s many poems on the outside of the altar. We’ve chosen “The Naughty Little Weed,” a poem that she recited over her entire life:
A naughty little weed, one day, poked up his tiny head.
“Tomorrow I will pull you up, old naughty weed,” I said.
But I put off the doing until next I passed that way.
The ugly thing had set abroad and laughed at my dismay.
A naughty little thought, one day, popped right into my mind.
“Tomorrow I will put you out, old naught thought, you’ll find.”
But once again I put it off, then like the little weed.
The hateful thing had set a pace and grew into a deed.
So, boys and girls, mind what I say, and learn it with your Psalms.
don’t put off until tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes.
Today pull up the little weeds and hateful thoughts of do,
Or they will take the reigns themselves and someday master you!
This project will help my grandson know his GREATS in a new way. They were amazingly loving and generous, but had tough standards and expectations for their kids…and grandkids. This boy will do well to know them better. And he will help all of us remember them, celebrate them with joy-filled love. Muchos gracias, Jake.MomDad_WeddingDayGhosts_Small
Here’s my own altar for El Dia de los Muertos, dedicated to my own beloved hub, father of my daughters, who died in 1991…BZ_ElDia_Rick
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Telling Tales on the Mother Lode…

imagesLiving in this rugged part of California provides daily reminders of how tough life had to have been 150 years ago or more.

In Summer and Fall we have fierce wildfires, as we saw this year with The Rim Fire. In Winter and Spring we’re inundated with heavy rains and snows, rising creeks and icy roads.  But then we’re also protected by those modern-day comforts of heating and air-conditioning, the Road Department to get us moving again, great support from firefighting teams and the luxury of just holing up indoors during inclement weather.  But what about our Rough-and-Ready fore-bearers? Their story exemplifies the Wild West, its romance, its misery and all too often, its cruelty.

And as a storyteller, I am often called upon to tell the tale of California and its historic Gold Rush.  And of course, I do my best to tell the tales well. But I have to be as honest as I can about both the glory and the underbelly of those days.

They were wild and woolly, ’tis true! Fortunes made and lost and made again in a fortnight. Folks coming to California to escape untold bondage of slavery, starvation and subjugation. The path to the gold fields was also the path to freedom for many slaves, some who secretly came to California, or some who came with their masters to mine for freedom. (A wonderful book, Mining for Freedom by Sylvia Roberts, tells their tale). Thousands of Chinese workers fled famine and immense poverty, while also trying to help their families at home. Women ran away from abuse and overbearing control by disguising themselves, changing their identity and disappearing into the wild lands of the Sierra Nevada. Other women traveled with their husbands and children to build new lives in the Free Land, and some of them were widowed along the way but still made the harsh journey. And then let us not ever forget what was done to California’s first people by first the Spaniards and later the argonauts. In 1700, before the onslaught of the Spanish, there were over 300,000 California Natives. By 1900 that number had dwindled to 6,000. What happened to their lineage? Their languages? Their cultures? Their contribution?

So, I tell the tales, but I try to do so with a sense of balance. And joining me for these “Going Up Gold Mountain” programs is musician Peg Reza, who has a vast knowledge of California’s early music. [BTW…THIS PROGRAM IS MOST DEFINITELY RATED “PG-9 & Up–Mayhem, Murder, Madams and a glimpse of California Genocide] Together we weave a program with stories of how the gold got here, Yokut and MeWuk tales, the Legend of Joaquin Murieta, the story of Marie Pantaloons and her life in Amador County, and the tale of “Rider Chan and the Night River” (special thanks to Paul Yee for permission to share his version of this tale). We’ve performed this program for museums, school assemblies and school field trips. We’d love to do some House Concerts that feature this show. Plus, we’re hoping to do a new recording of this program for those days when we just can’t connect for a live show ;-).

If you’d like to know more about our “Going Up Gold Mountain” program or other offerings, just hop over to the Contact Page! Hope to hear from you…


Posted in Arts Education, History & Storytelling, House Concerts, Performance Level, Performances & Concerts, School assemblies, Storytelling, Storytelling Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Telling Tales on the Mother Lode…