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With New York City’s The Moth storytelling nights burrowing unexpectedly deep into the national consciousness via podcasts and public radio—and a spinoff show at Oz Arts Nashville this month—it’s no surprise that Music City’s own literary performance community has grown considerably over the past few years.
The scene was jumpstarted in 2012, when Chuck Beard, a Bowling Green transplant and owner of East Side Story bookstore, launched his own version of a local storytelling platform. A William Faulkner aficionado who possesses a flair for the Southern literary tradition, Beard says that East Side Story produced a synergy of cross-platform creativity. Once his shop was up and running, Beard started East Side Storytellin’ as a bimonthly live outreach of the East Nashville literary hub.
“It’s the universal cause-and-effect where authors didn’t have a lot of places to promote their work. At the same time, musicians have the opportunity to play in a lot of places, but they don’t have the opportunity to be heard,” says Beard. “The template allows authors to have a bigger voice and musicians to be appreciated.”
East Side Storytellin’ celebrated its 80th show last month with acclaimed Americana violinist (and Beard’s Sewanee School of Letters classmate) Amanda Shires.
Besides beefing up the link between local musicians and authors, Beard’s success has inspired others in the community to try their hand at live storytelling. The typical performance is ten minutes long and revolves around a single theme, with an emphasis on autobiographical veracity. Female-centric series “That Time of the Month” featured Nashville Scene Vodka Yonic columnists, while the Tennessean’s February upstart Nashville Storytellers focuses on first-person Music City love stories. The Tenx9 live storytelling collective, meanwhile, began in Belfast and was introduced locally by Lipscomb University adjunct professor Michael McRay—and his need for human connection in an age of blinking smartphones and Twitter feeds.
“Most of my favorite performances involve vulnerability,” McRay says of the monthly event at Douglas Corner Cafe. “We are a place for the nervous and the unsure, for people who have never told stories before and want to try.”
Tenx9’s anything-is-possible rhetoric harmonizes with that of NYC’s The Moth: The story slam’s most popular performers mix humor and pathos, usually building to a full-circle-moment crescendo. While its natural habitat is Lower East Side coffee shops and Brooklyn hipster havens, The Moth will be front and center at Oz’s Speak Easy series on May 6, when it premieres Nashville’s first-ever mainstage performance of five storytellers. (Downtown New York raconteur and NPR fixture Mike Daisey has created a new work specifically for the series.)