In its second time around, the Unchained Tour of Georgia became The Unchained Tour, as a stop in Jacksonville, Fla. officially made the band of traveling storytellers—“raconteurs” in the Unchained parlance—into an interstate phenomenon. The tour, an off-shoot of author/ringleader George Dawes Green’s storytelling series The Moth, first set sail in 2010 as a way to spread the gospel of live, face-to-face storytelling and to support the independent bookstores that provide a real-world forum for communities to gather over stories.
Having just wrapped up the tour this weekend with a two-night stand at Atlanta’s Manuel’s Tavern, producer Samita Wolfe reported that the raconteurs played to sold-out crowds at every stop, from St. Simons Island to Woodbine, Jacksonville, Thomasville, Zebulon, Athens, Canton, Savannah and Atlanta. In each location, the tour teamed up with a local bookstore to sell titles on site.
To get the second show on the road, Green and company raised just over $10,000, in the space of a month, through online DIY fundraising site Kickstarter, funds needed especially for the remodeled 1975 Bluebird school bus that transports the band of raconteurs and has become something of a mascot. According to the on-stage commentary of host Peter Aguero (a “Moth GrandSlam Champion”), the bus needed “about six new engines” over the course of the latest tour.
Along with Aguero and Green, the Unchained lineup included memoirist Elna Baker (The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance), journalist Tina A. Brown (Crooked Road Straight: The Awakening of AIDS Activist Linda Jordan), novelist and former editor-in-chief of French Vogue Joan Juliet Buck (Daughter of the Swan), Savannah playwright and New York theater legend Edgar Oliver (The Man Who Loved Plants), and Atlanta-based writer Randy Osborne (Made of This). Repeating their 2010 stint as the tour’s musical support was the soulful foot-stomping duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, who go by the moniker Shovels and Rope.
Buck, a New York-based writer unaccustomed to the South, told PW that the audiences had been fantastic, and that practically every audience member she met was a writer: “It really is the most literate and educated state. It feels good to be giving our all to people who can read and also write.” Green, whom Aguero called their “pied piper,” took the stage to thank his tour-mates (including bus driver Jose Ray, “beloved of children all across Georgia”) and pay tribute to Wanda Bullard, Green’s best friend, whose storytelling gatherings at her house on St. Simon’s Island provided Green the inspiration to start The Moth, and who traveled with the 2010 tour; Bullard died of a coronary last September.
The future of the Unchained tour looks promising: Green brought along cameramen and journalists during this tour, and he’ll be putting together a documentary about it once he gets back to his Savannah home. The official Unchained literature pledges to take “brilliant raconteurs, along with musicians and writers and other artists, to towns large and small across the South—and eventually across the continent.”