At the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem, N.C. on Sept. 19, 200-odd people and a baby gathered together for a live performance experience with people who were going to tell them a story. These people were traveling around in an unreliable bus to tell these stories, free from screens, buttons, or any series of tubes between them and their audience. They forced us to get off the Internet for an evening and interact with other people. This was the Unchained Tour, a grassroots project promoting human connection, storytelling, and local bookstores. Raconteur and MC for the evening Peter Aguero entreated us to turn off our cell phones and to watch him instead of a screen filming him. I laughed in agreement and proceeded to take pictures through a screen all evening, For the Sake of the Blog. I hope this post redeems me for that choice.
The event opened with an enthralling song from Rachel Kate on guitar and Joel T. Hamilton on accordion. Kate’s voice was a throaty moan that belied the innocence of her gingham dress with red and green petticoats. After her performance she often remained onstage as a backup MC, and told some pretty good pirate jokes for International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Aguero came out to tell the first story of the night, about how violence ruins everything. Next was Dawn Fraser, using excellent body language to tell the story of how Match.com indirectly led her to begin storytelling. Raconteur Edgar Oliver made a particular impression on the audience for his striking voice. Despite being a native of Savannah, GA, he sounds like a mix between the Count from Sesame Street, Tim Curry, Vincent Price, and George Takei. His vowels came out slow and deeply fluttery as he made swanlike movements with his hands, and his voice was so amazing that people laughed before the punch line in his pirate joke, of which I will include only this excerpt: “the pirate has a steering wheel jutting from his sex.” Unchained Tour founder George Dawes Green came out to tell us to read and that the Internet is evil, and brought out a representative from Ed McKay’s bookstore to promote his personal reading pick, ‘Dune’. They even had a drawing of three volunteers from the audience up to tell stories, proof both that everyone has a story to tell, and that it is impossible for anyone to tell said story without hand movements.
Then Neil Gaiman, whose accomplishments are known to many, told us of the time when he first decided he would become a writer, after an incident with some raunchy jokes at the age of eight. His delivery was straight and subtle, but his face betrayed the shifts in emotion his story inspired. He said in a soft voice that this experience taught him at a young age that, “words have power.”
In fact, the common theme throughout the evening was that words are important. There is something in the magic sauce of storytelling events —people talk about anything from territorial disputes with competing ice cream vendors to their worst mistakes to dirty jokes in primary school— but what they really want to talk about is words. It is as if as a species we are still gleefully astounded that something as wonderful as language exists. Storytellers get up to the mike and revel in it, the sheer luxury of speaking words and having other people listen. They tell you about words and why they matter to them, and to everyone. It all becomes beautifully recursive. The words become the Word.
Amidst all these word revels, the night seemed anti-Internet in the sense that it was pro-get-your-face-out-of-your-smartphone-and-listen-to-a-story-dammit. But I like to think that the Internet, if used wisely, is a tool for this— a life richly lived. I hope the Internet can be used as a device for getting away from the Internet. I hope that in the year to come, the Greenleaf Review will use the Internet shrewdly, and constantly step beyond. I hope that my Internet words and pictures will make you, the reader, want to become a listener and a storyteller, on the Unchained Tour and in your life. And now, to quote Aguero’s cue for new raconteurs that have hit their time limit: “delicate flower, it’s time to find your ending.”