Nashville is world famous as the home of country music, with no shortage of honky-tonks and music museums. Country music is known for song lyrics that tell simple, touching stories, sometimes of the tear-in-your-beer variety and, at times, proudly celebratory. It should come as no surprise, then, that Nashville also has a grand tradition of storytelling without musical accompaniment in the form of spoken-word and storytelling performances.
Rebecca Berrios, director of community engagement at the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, put it this way:
"Nashville is well known as Music City, but it's also a place that the craft of storytelling calls home. We have a long legacy of creatives migrating here to make a living with their words – spoken, published and heard. Whether you are in the audience at one of our well-known performance stages, visiting a locally-owned bookstore, or have been invited onto someone's porch for a glass of sweet tea, you are guaranteed the treat of hearing a good story in Nashville."
Nashville has had a chapter of Tenx9, the loosely organized international storytelling start-up operation that regularly schedules public storytelling performances, since late summer 2013. The organization's name refers to its format that allows nine people up to 10 minutes to tell their tale. Tenx9 originated in Belfast in 2011. No surprise it was the Irish who conjured this thing into existence with some magic words. But there are Tenx9's in only four other cities around the world in addition to its home city, and Nashville is one of them.
Michael McRay, founder, organizer and co-host of Tenx9 Nashville, has helped spread high profile regularly scheduled public storytelling performances in Music City and has seen appreciation for them grow.
"In the last few years, live storytelling has sprung to life in Nashville," says McRay. "All over town, folks have started gathering to tell each other strange tales from their lives. In this age of technological connectedness and personal isolation, getting people into a room together to listen generously to each other is as beautiful as it is necessary."
If you enjoy spoken-word renderings of tall tales, confessionals, literature, poetry, rap, or any other type of storytelling, you've now got a whole 'nother reason to visit Music City:
In the newly developing 21st century expression of organized storytelling in Nashville, many point to Chuck Beard as the guy who fired it up around here in 2012. Beard first did Nashville the favor of establishing its first, all-local bookstore, East Side Story. And on top of that, he arranged frequent in-store live readings by local writers. Then he and a few collaborators created a bi-monthly live storytelling event that often contains a supportive musical element, all of which is recorded and edited into hour-long podcasts; hear them on SoundCloud. Of course, no story sounds as good as it does in person so try to plan your Nashville trip around an East Side Storytellin' performance.
Southern Word is an educationally oriented program that seeks to help Nashville youth develop their literary talents and spoken-word performance skills, and in the process build leadership and literacy skills. Luckily for area residents and visitors alike, occasional public performances at various venues are one way the organization does that, as well as through workshops, school residencies and other channels. Check the Southern Word website to see what's coming up.
Southern Word, 1704 Charlotte Ave., Suite 200, Nashville. 615-686-5456, www.southernword.org
Poetry in the Brew is an open-mic spoken-word event, held the second Saturday of each month at Portland Brew East. Each poet gets five minutes at the mic upstairs in the coffeehouse's loft. A rotating art show complements the poetry. Sip some java, soak in some poetry, see some art -- sublime!
Poetry in the Brew, Portland Brew East, 1921 Eastland Ave., Nashville. 615-732-2119, poetryinthebrew.wordpress.com
Tuesday nights at the Douglas Corner Café offer a live mic to any brave souls who dare to speak their written or memorized words aloud. Experiencing it is sometimes to witness emotions at their most raw, intellect at its most intense, or perception at its most pointed.
Douglas Corner Café, 2106 8th Ave. S, Nashville. 615-298-1688, douglascorner.com
Tenx9 hosts a monthly Monday night event, with the occasional special event at other times. Tenx9 participants "tell true stories of their life" in less than 10 minutes. There is often a little music thrown in the mix, too. Check the website for date, time and venue.
Tenx9, Douglas Corner Café, 2106 8th Ave. S, Nashville. 615-298-1688, tenx9nashville.com