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Finding the magic in the mundane

In this Arts and Culture feature, Guelph storyteller Brad Woods spins a tale or two about his craft and his creative collaborations with members of the Great Wooden Trio

American author and radio host Ira Glass once said, “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”

That is certainly true of Guelph storyteller Brad Woods.

“Knowing your story and telling your story helps you get through life,” said Woods. “Life can be hard but there are always good stories to tell.”

Woods works on the premise that everyone has a story worth sharing especially those who think their life story is unremarkable.

“It’s the magic of the mundane,” he said. “I love that slice of life, personal, true story and that is what I have had the most success with. I don’t mean financial success but feeling like I am really telling a story well and getting good reactions from it.”

He recalls some sage advice he received years ago just before a performance with his friend and creative collaborator Jeff Bersche from the Great Wooden Trio.

“I have a story about getting a flat tire in northwestern Ontario way in the middle of nowhere,” said Woods. “I was going to tell it one night and I said to Jeff Bersche, ‘I don’t know if I should tell this. Maybe these people haven’t been up there. We’re talking about God’s country. They don’t know what I am talking about'.”

Bersche reminded Woods of the metaphoric significance of a flat tire.

“They don’t have to have been there,” Bersche told him. “They don’t have to have even driven a car. They just had to have experienced something that has gone wrong. That’s what the story is about. It’s not really about the tire. That’s just the example you give and what you did about it.”

Woods told the story and it resonated so well that it has since been published in the Globe and Mail.

“It’s almost more about what people are hearing than what you’re saying,” said Woods. “There is always a bigger story in the story and there is always a smaller one as well.”

Woods’ personal story began in Oakville in June of 1969. He is the youngest of three brothers, one of whom plays percussion for the Great Wooden Trio.

“Art is just one of the most talented humans I know,” said Woods. “I think, wow, I have been creating with him my whole life.”

Woods, like many people, got his introduction to storytelling from his mother.

“She was a great reader,” he said. “My fondest childhood memories are of Beatrice Potter, A.A. Milne and the original Peter Pan books. She is in her mid 80s now and she’s still up on the latest novels and movies.”

She was influenced by her father.

“My grandfather was a great storyteller and a natural entertainer,” said Woods. “He was a funny guy and when he retired, he got into community theatre. So, I come from a long line of storytellers.”

Family looms large in Woods’ stories and their influence is reflected in the cover art for his latest CD A Rag and Bones Christmas Album to Enjoy Year Round.

“The cover has my grandfather, my two great uncles and my great grandfather, who I never knew,” said Woods. “It looks like they are at a Christmas party or New Year’s Eve party and they are leaning in and singing harmonies with each other. On the back is a grainy picture of my dad from the 70s listening to an LP with headphones on.”

Woods has been a storyteller for as long as he can remember but he also has a day job.

“I went to teacher’s college in London, England, and have been teaching for 22 years,” he said. “It is hard to make a living as a storyteller. I always say I have two careers, but one pays the bills. As far as time and energy, I put equal time into both.”

He teaches kids who, for a variety of reasons, can’t be in regular school.

“It’s called CTCC, Care Treatment Custody and Corrections,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to teach because you get to really know the kid and not just the subject you are supposed to be teaching.”

He and his wife Sylvia Woods have three children, two boys and a girl.

“We moved here just over 17 years ago,” he said. “I was reluctant to leave Toronto and then I got here and said, wow, I should have done this years ago. My wife Sylvia is an artist and she has a studio downtown, she shares with a couple people.”

Woods has engrained himself into the artistic community of Guelph as a solo storyteller and as one quarter of a numerically contradictive trio.

“I’m not musical but I have performed for many, many years with three of my closest friends as the Great Wooden Trio,” he said. “All four of us are the trio.”

The Great Wooden Trio includes singer Jeff Bersche, percussionist Art Woods, guitarist Kevin Morse and storyteller Brad Woods.

“We started doing Great Wooden Trio stuff close to 25 years ago but haven’t done anything for three or four years now,” said Woods. “Kevin and I still do a lot of stuff together and are doing a little tour through Muskoka this weekend.”

Woods has been invited by the Guelph Storytelling Guild to share some of his seasonal tales Wed, Dec 4 between 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Guelph Civic Museum as part of the Tales from the Hill series.

Some of the stories he’ll be telling are from his new CD.

“Most of the stories I tell are personal stories,” he said. “New ones I am telling are about my Dad when he was dying and about my two boys when they were really young and got asked to be in a Christmas pageant. I do tell some folk tales, but they are only the ones I can relate to. So, I feel like they are my stories.”

Time and experience have provided more material and given him a broader perspective on life.

“I hope I am getting better,” he said with a grin. “I can’t wait until I am a good storyteller.  There is something about time and experience. You can’t trade it for anything. You have to earn it. You have to go through it.”