On Saturday, The Moth’s GrandSLAM Championship returns to the Kentucky Center.
Louisville’s storytelling scene is in full bloom, with an array of events popping up and gaining their own distinct followings. But the undisputed grand mammy of this storytelling boom is The Moth.
The Moth started in New York City in 1997, before spreading to a select few cities. Louisville had its own version back when only 10 other cities were running story slams. Now, dozens of cities host monthly events.
Each month, Louisville’s Moth holds a stellar slam at Headliners Music Hall, but once a year, producer Tara Anderson gathers the 10 best storytellers, all winners from the previous year’s competitions, and welcomes them to the GrandSLAM.
This year’s crop includes previous GrandSLAM winners, certainly storytellers to watch, but it also includes some newbies. One of the glories of The Moth is that everyone has a story to tell.
Insider spoke with two newcomers, both who have been telling stories less than a year, to find out how they got started and how they feel about going to the big game.
Chris Radford is a teacher and Louisville native who’s been telling live stories since February. But he’s been interested in writing for much longer.
“The first interest I had in telling stories would have been (in) middle school, high school — I just started writing little short stories here and there, and I never showed them to anyone, and they weren’t personal, just something funny,” said Radford.
His first interaction with The Moth was three years ago.
“I attended the GrandSLAM just as an audience member. And from the very beginning of that, I was fascinated,” he said. “So I started to going to the local slam on a semiregular basis.”
For monthly slams, anyone who wants to tell a story puts their name in a hat, and 10 names are drawn at random. After being a fan for several years, Radford decided to put his name in the hat last February, and he got picked the very first time.
The February slam repeats the same theme each year: Love hurts.
“I had, what I consider, an absolutely hilarious breakup that was not funny at the time, but with hindsight being 20-20, it was really remarkable,” said Radford. “And I had some time to heal, so I thought, why not talk about this experience.”
The audience agreed it was quite remarkable.
“I was shocked when I won,” he added.
Radford will square off against nine other competitors, including newbie Bridget Flaherty.
Flaherty, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform Saturday at Double-Edged Stories, can hardly get through a sentence with out tripping over an interesting story about her life. She used to work in the high-pressure business world before she quit it all and went on the road with her 11-year-old child. She lived as a vagabond for a while before settling back down.
Unlike Radford, Flaherty did not to get tell a story immediately.
“Three different times I put my name in the hat and did not get picked,” she said.
Flaherty actually lives in Dayton now, driving the two-and-a-half hours to Louisville for each slam. Because she’s willing to drive here, it’s not too surprising to hear she’s attended other Moths all throughout the East. She traveled, in part, because she didn’t feel like waiting to get on stage in Louisville.
“I’ve actually performed on The Moth stage in Chicago, Ann Arbor (Mich.), Pittsburgh and Louisville,” said Flaherty.
But Louisville is her first and most frequent. Her Louisville slam-winning story comes from her time as a vagabond.
“It was a story about picking up a hitchhiker in El Paso, Texas, and driving him all the way to Benson, Ariz. The topic was caution, and I told a story about throwing caution to the wind,” she said.
Every slam has a theme, and the GrandSLAM is no different, so come watch Flaherty, Radford and other Louisville luminaries spill their guts to theme of “Fuel to the fire.”
The event on Saturday, Jan. 13, starts at 8 p.m. at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater, 501 W. Main St. Tickets are $27.50. It frequently sells out, so get your tickets in advance.