On February 19th, 2013, a very special gathering that had been in the making for a few months, possibly since last Summer before East Side Story was a reality, occurred at Rumours East and it was an absolute blast. With the help of April Alvarez, Coordinator for the Sewanee School of Letters program, she managed to help book Kevin Wilson and Amanda Shires and bring several supportive members of the Sewanee family along with her for a most amazing evening.
Oh yes, February 19th had been long in the making indeed. This past fall, after I first started thinking about East Side Storytellin’, I decided to contact April directly with the thought of having a show featuring two very talented Sewanee folks in literature and music. She loved the idea and instantly started throwing out several names of students and teachers currently found within the School of Letters program. I must admit here and now to her and you that I wasn’t really paying attention to her names at first because, being completely honest, I already had the specific notion that the best show possible for this time being and what would totally capture what East Side Storytellin’ embodies would be the writing/reading of Mr. Wilson and the music originality of Ms. Shires. I sent my ultimate request to April, and she went off on a hot trail of emails and phone calls to make it happen without question or doubt. Wouldn’t you know that within a month of asking around on and off the mountain, it was with great pleasure on both sides of the email when she wrote to me saying that the show I had in my head and heart was a go.
So all that said, fast-forwarding to the evening of February 19th, it didn’t surprise me on that afternoon and pre-show timing that immediately after several members of my own family arrived at East Side Story excited about the upcoming show, just behind them was a group of smiling Sewanee friends also very much excited about the upcoming show and seeing the bookstore for the very first time. It’s one thing to see pictures online or read good press clips on paper, and it’s an entirely different experience to walk inside the door of an original idea turned reality. I can say that it truly made my heart smile to see April, Michael Thompson, and a couple of others who made the trek to the store smiling and standing around two of the most important people in my own life … my parents.
But I progress. It was already time to get the sound check and artists meet-up going on down the street. We all walked over to Rumours East and smack dab into author Kevin Wilson and members of his family in town. Then, we walked inside the restaurant together and immediately saw Amanda Shires (her boots said so first) and her family too. It was already quickly becoming a delightful family affair, all things said.
After an hour of completely rearranging the set design, checking all microphones/speakers, and moving seats around wherever we could fit them, we were ready to begin. But to quickly preface the action that took place, I should explain more than the Sewanee factors involved why this was a very important show for two specific reasons:
1- We had to set up the stage in the front room facing out into the lobby and the back room instead of the normal back right room facing inwards because we had already booked way over our regular capacity of RSVP’s capable of filling Rumours East nearly a week before the show took place. With the names/art of the featured guests, and said support traveling for Sewanee’s sake, we had people willing to sit on the floors to get in on this action.
2- It was the last East Side Storytellin’ show at Rumours East. As you can recall and recap on our website links of past shows since November 6th, we have had quite the beginning and run at this venue. The location was a perfect fit for the start of this thing, and this particular line-up was a perfect ending to the run we’ve had.
With those factors known, I managed to walk through and around the crowd up to the front stage to introduce the show and Kevin Wilson properly. I first heard Kevin read during this past year while attending the Sewanee School of Letters, and I remember being blown away by his creative prose, his outlandish written realities, and authentic emotions found within every crazy character and situation he created and shared with us during his brief reading. Having recently finished reading Kevin’s award-winning novel of The Family Fang, I was very excited to find out that he was going to read from something he had written about the characters in said book after he already published the original work. Basically, we were all going to have the wonderful opportunity to hear something for the first time that many have never had the chance to read. Talk about AWEsome!
Needless to say, Kevin (although he was physically sick and battling the latest bug sweeping the nation) blew everyone away yet again. That’s pretty much what Kevin Wilson does with his words to anyone willing and fortunate to come face to face with them. He blows you away. You can listen to the reading at Rumours East below for yourself, but know that there’s nothing better as a book lover than to witness someone as talented and dynamic as Kevin Wilson in person if you are able to have that chance.
After Kevin finished and made his way back to his family’s side, I was humbled with the task introducing one of the most talented songstresses and stars on the rise in Nashville and the nation for that matter. This special evening was the first time I had met Amanda Shires in person because we both commuted during our school sessions at Sewanee this past Summer. At that time, I was busy plotting and formulating what would become East Side Story when not writing fiction and she spent her time away from poetry on the mountain by making music and taking the entire music scene by storm like it was her job (side note, it is her job). On this night, Amanda brought her boots, guitar, fiance (now officially her husband, the talented Jason Isbell), and stories that she intertwined into the most beautiful songs. Oh yeah, her voice wasn’t anything short of awe-inspiring either. My favorite part of the music was the song, as you’ll listen below, about the girl being bulletproof. It totally reminded me of a main character, Annie Fang, from Kevin’s book, and once again how perfect the pairing of both these incredible artists together really was for the experience of it all.
Before we called it an evening, I managed to get Amanda, Kevin, and April back up to the front of the room to talk about their creative processes, ties to Nashville, and individual lives at Sewanee. Each of them were tremendously insightful while articulating what makes them tick and enjoy their creativity to the max. It was evident to me, and probably everyone else under the same roof, that we are all better for having the chance to see a glimpse of how these two artists see the ordinary AND crazy worlds we all live in through the lenses of their art.
After we spent the majority of time speaking about their songs and books, we dove head first into a discussion about what makes Sewanee so special to every single person who travels through and/or lives there for an extended period of time. Each artist made the case of why it was a perfect fit for their pace/outlook on life respectively, and this sort of questioning was great timing to give the spotlight to April in order to talk more about the University of the South in general. April briefly shared what the School of Letters program is about, why it is so unique and established, and also how its positive effects reach far beyond the bottom of the mountain that it sits on- quite evident as seen in the one-of-a-kind East Side Storytellin’ event that it helped produce, obviously.
All in all, it was a pleasure and honor to be associated with such class all around. I don’t think we could have asked for a better send off from Rumours East than the crowd we brought together, the talent that was shared, and the prestige that Sewanee contributed to our creative cause. Many thanks need to be shared to everyone that helped make it happen.
You can see a short list of thanks below:
*To my wife, Emily Frances Harper Beard. Nothing would happen without your support and love.
*To Tom Eizonas and the WAMB Radio family. Nothing would be shared to the public if not for your recording skills and time that you put into this project to make each minute better than the one before.
*To April Alvarez, John Grammar, Sam Fox, Michael Thompson, and everyone else from the Sewanee family who attended or helped spread the word about the event. You make every Summer better and better, but you also help all of us reach and surpass our potential with prose and more … more than words.
*To Kevin Wilson. A man who fought off a sick bug, rush hour traffic, AND a grizzly bear while finding time to change a spare tire for a complete stranger with a glass eye and wooden leg so he could help an old lady cross the road in the snow uphill both ways in order to make an appearance at East Side Storytellin’ on time (I believe everything he told me or made notes about). Seriously, I’m glad you enjoyed the event and I look forward to reading more of your work now that you have the real Child A and Child B in your life. Write onward and upward.
*To Amanda Shires. Thank you and Jason for graciously taking time out of your last minute pre-wedding planning/rehearsing/enjoying days to spend an evening with fans, new and old, of your prose and music. I am very jealous of the way you effortlessly weave in and out of your storytelling and songs while blending them together so wonderfully with your personality, but know that I am even more jealous of your boots with your name on them. Congrats on getting’ hitched! Here’s to many years of wedded bliss and musical wonder ahead.
*To the family and friends of Rumours East. Thank you for allowing us time and space to build East Side Storytellin’ from scratch. We hope that we treated your house with the love and respect that it deserves. We look forward to many more occasions in the best back patio in the city when the weather permits, and we hope to keep our creative bridge intact for several events here and there in the future of East Side Story and where this crazy ride takes us next. Thank YOU!
Now, without further ado, here is the link of the edited version of East Side Storytellin’ 8: Kevin Wilson and Amanda Shires.
The NEXT East Side Storytellin’ event will be …
Date- Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
Time- 7 pm sharp (Central)
Location- Fat Bottom Brewing Co. (900 Main Street)
Get your RSVP on for your own table- call 615-678-5895 and tell them how many friends are coming with you. Otherwise it is first come, first available seats.
Side note, here is the image for the limited edition print that was not available the night of the show (our good friend and artist, Alex Smith, was sick for the 2nd week in a row but is currently on the mend). It will be available upon request to buy for $20 per if you email me at email@example.com ahead of time. Pretty awesome work again if I do type so myself.
PS– Love this extra picture too, group shot take two!