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American Talkers

Building upon presentations at recent Festivals, the 1979 American Talkers program brought to the Festival the excitement of a carnival midway, a market, and an auction house. Members of three occupations that employ stylized language and vocal artistry were on hand to sell their products in a pleasing cacophony of musical sounds. Street criers hollered, auctioneers chanted, and carnival pitchmen ballyhooed. A tobacco auction was demonstrated, and audiences could not only listen to some of the finest antique auctioneers demonstrate their skill, but could experience the joy of participating in a real country auction. Carnival pitchmen were identified as among the last oral poets to hold the attention of modern American audiences. Their spiels, handed down from one generation to another, combined rhythm, alliteration, repetition and hyperbole - that is, outrageous exaggeration. The pitch built to a fevered point where the talker "turns the tip" and tries to transform the magic of his talk to ticket sales. Street vendors too were selling their wares at the Festival. Living presentations were complemented by two films: one about callers on the Maine Avenue fish wharf, Mermaids, Frog Legs and Fillets, and one on a livestock auctioneering contest, How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck.
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