George Dawes Green—poet, novelist, and son of Georgia's St. Simon's Island—believes that "everyone's had enough of the Internet." As proof, he can point to the success of the Moth, the storytelling series he founded in New York in 1997, which has spawned franchises in a handful of cities across the country (L.A., Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta) and, just this year, in Berlin, Germany. He needn't go that far, however; on October 21 Green was in tiny Washington, Ga., population 4,000, the ninth stop in his Unchained Tour of Georgia. Roping together a crowd of veteran Moth storytellers ("raconteurs," in the Moth parlance) and a couple of musicians, Green launched the October statewide tour "to spread the message that indie bookstores should be the vital center of communities."
On October 21, that indie bookstore was Washington's Retro Cinema & Books, a virtuoso establishment featuring a deep collection of movie memorabilia, a general-interest bookstore, a bar and lounge, and a state-of-the-art 60-seat cinema, which was three-quarters full for the event. Opened in 2008, Retro is the brainchild of Dana and Richard Kibbey, who moved from Florida to Washington looking for a slower pace of life; there, just off the town square, they found the perfect spot to indulge their love of movies, books, and wine bars. "My husband had a vision of a movie theater," says Dana Kibbey, "and we decided we had to incorporate everything." New York author and Moth regular Dan Kennedy, serving as MC, remarks of Retro, "If we had anything like this [in New York], we'd actually be cool." Green calls it "a perfect shrine to the good life."
The 13-stop, 15-performance tour features a rotating cast of 10 raconteurs and musicians, including novelist/filmmaker/journalist Tina McElroy Ansa, poet and memoirist Chad Faries, poet/playwright/actor Edgar Olivier, "Best Storyteller in Philadelphia" (and first female to win the Moth's Grandslam) Juliet Hope Wayne, and longtime teacher Wanda Bullard.
The Unchained Tour kicked off at the beginning of October on St. Simon's Island at Palm Coast Coffee, in support of Beachview Books, G.J. Ford Bookshop, and Hattie's Bookstore in nearby Brunswick. Unfortunately, the tour quickly ran into trouble—its transport and tour mascot, a 1975 Blue Bird school bus tricked out by a 30-person crew from the Savannah College of Art & Design, broke down almost immediately. "That bus was a dream. A short dream," deadpans Kennedy. "We were told that the gas line was in backwards. In about three days we found ourselves in a caravan of SUVs and sedans." Green was hopeful that the bus would be repaired in time for the two-night Atlanta finale on October 28 and 29.
Musical interludes for the first half of the tour, including the show at Retro, were provided by Charleston, S.C., duo Cary Ann Heart and Michael Trent, whose gritty, soulful country provided a foot-tapping counterpart to the raconteurs' stories. Bullard began the evening with a story about her father, the fire commissioner of Booneville, Miss., who made her the first involuntary volunteer firefighter. Ansa followed up with a moving, rhythmic tale from her 1950s childhood, about how she came to get her first big-girl visit to the beauty shop, following an almost-perfect family trip to the "colored" beach, spoiled at the last moment by a white woman's casual racism.
Before his laugh-out-loud, modern-gothic tale of the conflagration that consumed his mother's ancestral family plantation in Waynesboro, Ga., Green took the stage to introduce and thank Retro's owners, and talk a bit about the tour's mission: "I know [Retro Cinema & Books owner] Dana sometimes gets discouraged, but there is good news coming. I know this because Prince told me so." Green explained that, in a recent interview, legendary musician Prince declared the Internet dead—a funny line, but one Green takes seriously: "[The Moth] gets lines around the block because people want these kinds of experiences. They want to be right up in front of performers and storytellers. They want the physicality of printed books." Dana Kibbey took the stage to thank him back, remarking, "We don't get this kind of thing every—well, ever."
By mid-evening, Green was already talking about returning for a second tour, in which they'd enlist local raconteurs along the way. "In the meantime," he said, taking Kibbey's hand, "this is your bookseller. Don't forget that!"