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True Stories: One Theme, One Mic, One Night

Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far. The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far.

The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. Television is tedious and social media doesn’t count. One is increasingly broadcast distraction for the masses, the other a safe haven for hecklers.

Story Club Columbus is different, turning noise into narrative. On the first Tuesday of the month, the stiff drinks and potent sodas of The Rambling House prime an informal gathering of experienced and aspiring storytellers. Audiences can hide in the shadows, but any pretense of anonymity disappears as soon as presenters step into the light and take the stage. The rules are deceptively simple: Everyone gets eight minutes. Stick to the theme. And stick to the truth.

That doesn’t mean someone is going to quickly kill the microphone if you run too long. Nor is a little latitude or literary license going to earn you a giant gong. The format isn’t for the faint of heart, but it isn’t intentionally intimidating either.

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time,” explained Meryl Williams, founder of Story Club Columbus, who brought the idea here from Chicago. “I used to live there, and once a month, I went to Story Club Chicago with a group of friends. It took me more than a year before I got enough nerve to get on stage myself. I knew when I moved back to Ohio that I wanted to start a branch of Story Club in Columbus.”

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time.”

Intimate oratory isn’t always easy, even in a sympathetic venue filled with eager ears and fueled by liquid courage. It’s not stand-up comedy, though it’s often amusing. And it’s not beat poetry or spoken word, even when the room grows solemn or silent. It can be all of these, or none of these over the course of an evening—or even a single performance.

“The stories that stick with me the most are the ones that were clearly hard for the performer to tell,” Williams recalled. “Sometimes stories are kind of heavy, or they’re hilarious, but my favorite stories told on stage are the ones that manage to be both.”

Story Club isn’t the only outlet of its kind. Right around the corner at Wild Goose Creative, Speak Easy also meets monthly. The programs are similar, but not the same. Both have a monthly theme, but Story Club is a curated mix of open mic and invited presenters. Add the libations and atmosphere of The Rambling House, and maybe the art form feels a little less polished and more spontaneous.

Now two years in, Williams has moved to eastern Ohio and recently handed the microphone to a new host, Samantha Tucker. The two share more than a passion for storytelling. They’re both Ohio Roller Girls, so neither was short on grit or afraid to take a hit. But being fearless on her feet isn’t the only skill that made Tucker a natural fit.

“I have experience in writing, theater, and improv, so it was an easy transition. But the focus on non-fiction is what initially attracted me to Story Club,” noted Tucker, whose first show as host in October had the seasonal (not intentional) theme of “Fear”. November’s theme was “Election”, though that didn’t keep political concerns from slipping into the collective conversation ahead of schedule. “I think my first month’s theme was a happy accident. Several presenters mentioned the Supreme Court. We try to keep our theme open, relevant, and in the moment—where we are as a city, and as a country.”

Though the basic construct remains unchanged, the content is evolving with a more noticeable shift from known voices to new voices. Outreach into the immigrant and refugee communities, seeking the stories of New Americans, is quintessential for Columbus and personal for Tucker.

“Both of my grandmothers were what some would call ‘war brides.’ One is from Korea, one is from Germany, and that’s where they met my grandfathers. In my family, a lot of what we know and understand about each other is from oral history,” she revealed. “I feel like my identity is shaped by immigrant stories, and very different perspectives of what it means to be an American.”

Regardless of the theme or tone, the thread that binds each evening together is the appreciation of stories that are live and true in an era favoring discussion that is distant and dubious. Tucker offered a few pointers for those apprehensive to take the stage.

“If you’re a first-time presenter, I tell people to reverse-engineer their stories. If you’re not sure how to get somewhere, start with the ending—the last thing you want to leave with your audience, the thought you want to linger with them,” she explained. “Think about five moments you want to include in your story, then work your way back to the beginning. You have to know where you want to land.”

Some storytelling suggestions are esoteric. Others are obvious, or should be.

“If there’s a theme, know it and stick to it. That hasn’t happened once or twice. No more than three puns per story, because you don’t want the audience to turn on you,” chided Tucker. “Okay, I made that rule up, but it’s still good advice. Speak into the mic, that’s also a good one.”

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process.”

Another defining element of Story Club is that featured storytellers are actually paid, which is exceptionally rare for upstart art exhibitions of any kind. With a suggested donation of $10 for a one-night-only performance (which is a steal), proceeds are divided among invited performers. Patrons cast ballots at the end for their favorites, which offer guidance for future shows. Amateurs become regulars, and regulars often become featured storytellers. It’s a simple strategy that still works.

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process,” noted Tucker. “I don’t know if there is art without audience. When we ask people to vote and pick the story that meant the most to them, that’s what we’re acknowledging, that we’re doing this for you—that we can’t do this without you.”

For more details on Story Club Columbus and upcoming themes, visit storyclubcbus.com.

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Arts & Culture

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Arts & Culture

Undercover: Unique music festival showcases Columbus music talent this weekend

Mike Thomas

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Since beginning in 2018, Columbus Covers Columbus (CCC) has grown into a signature event in the thriving local music scene. Now in its third year, this unique festival is centered on the concept of local musicians playing sets comprised entirely of music from other local acts.

CCC is the brainchild of Columbus music promoter Tony Casa, who wanted to create a showcase for a supportive community of local artists to share their mutual admiration for each other's music.

As entertaining as the event is for spectators, CCC doubles as a valuable networking opportunity for local entertainers and creatives.

"There are great local merchants, games, and tons of networking opportunities for everyone in the community," says Casa. "This isn’t just a great show, it’s like a proper festival—but in the winter."

Since its inception, the event has expanded to include stand-up comedy, poetry readings, burlesque performances, live podcast recordings, and more, all in the spirit of promoting and celebrating the Columbus creative community.

CCC will take place from January 17-19 at Classics Victory Live at 543 S High St. The event is 18+, with tickets available at the door for $10. For more info including a full list of artists and vendors, visit Columbus Covers Columbus on Facebook.

Cover photo by Catherine Lindsay photography.

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Arts & Culture

Columbus band snarls is bursting with promise on debut LP

Mike Thomas

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As the decade that birthed the fidget spinner and basically nothing else of note drew to a close, music blogs large and small dedicated astonishing amounts of digital ink to their inevitable “album/song/artist of the decade” rankings.

Usually restrained to a totally undaunting 100 items, these lists surveyed the topography of a ten year span that saw the legacy of rock music as we know it (straight, male, and horny) continue its gradual and unceremonious slide into irrelevance.

From relative newcomers like Courtney Barnett, Snail Mail, and Julien Baker, to established voices such as the Breeders, St. Vincent, and Sleater-Kinney, rock music in the 2010s was revitalized by female artists who enjoyed a larger portion of the spotlight in this decade than ever before.

Columbus-based alt-rockers snarls are firmly situated on this new wave, but the rapid success the group has enjoyed since forming in 2017 is entirely due to their own hard work and astonishing creative powers. Consisting of Chlo White on guitar and lead vocals, Riley Dean on bass and vocals, and sibling duo Mick and Max Martinez on guitar and drums respectively, snarls is the capital city’s contribution to the future of rock—and they won’t be contained to the 614 for long.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Originating in the local DIY scene, snarls got their start playing house shows, eventually moving on to established venues throughout the city. The group’s sound incorporates influences from ‘90s grunge, to the emo stylings of bands like American Football, to the pop sensibilities of Halsey and Kesha. The result, as White puts it, is music that coalesces into a “melting pot of teenage angst.”

In the summer of 2019, snarls was propelled to a new level of notoriety when the video for the group’s single, “Walk in the Woods”—a glittering anthem of unrequited love sung over chorused-out guitars and with a hook more infectious than meningitis—premiered on the music blog Stereogum. The track also made the cut for the site’s “100 Favorite Songs of 2019” roundup.

“We didn’t even have a tripod, the camera was set on like four books and the backdrops kept fucking falling,” White recalls of filming the video, which the group self-produced.

“That song not only has given us more streaming, but has brought us so much press and cool shows,” Mick says of the track, which has accrued almost 40,000 streams on Spotify at the time of this writing. “I don’t think the Sleater-Kinney thing would ever have happened if that song wasn’t out. It’s crazy that just that one song alone has brought us so much opportunity.”

The Sleater-Kinney thing? That would be snarls opening for the legendary Pacific Northwest rockers at the Newport Music Hall on their recent tour stop in Columbus. While it was easily the biggest show in the young group’s career thus far in terms of profile and audience size, the members of snarls were up to the challenge.

“For me, it’s easy to switch between playing a house venue and playing the Newport,” Dean says confidently of the band’s milestone moment. “It’s still just a stage. It’s still just people watching me play my music. One’s just bigger.”

If the release of the group’s breakthrough single is any indication of snarls’ trajectory, it’s safe to assume big things are on the horizon. “Walk in the Woods” is just a taste of the group’s first full-length LP, titled Burst, which is planned for a Spring 2020 release. To help achieve their artistic vision for the album, snarls tapped Jon Fintel of Relay Recording to handle production duties.

“Jon has played a really important role,” Mick says of Fintel’s contributions to the recording process. “Not only does everything sound high-quality because of him, but even when we brought demos to him, it was like ‘let’s scrap this song because it doesn’t quite fit in, and I know that you guys can do something better.’ And then we wrote one of our favorite songs.”

For established fans, the description that snarls teases for their new release should come as no surprise: expect a long emotional arc cast across tracks that alternate between “perfect for dancing,” and others better suited to crying. For snarls, the completion of the recording provides a profound sense of accomplishment.

“I make a lot of art. I’m always making a photo, or doodling, or writing. But this is one of my—our—finer- crafted pieces of art that I am just really proud of, regardless of what happens with it, or if it goes anywhere,” says White. “If it just sits in a dark corner for the rest of my life, I’m still content. I’m just really proud of all the work that we collected in this little ten song record.”

Find snarls on all major streaming platforms. For tour dates, merch, and more, visit snarlsmusic.com

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