The Unchained Tour finishes with a glorious night in Savannah

The Unchained Tour made another stop in Savannah last night — its final show on the Heart Shaped Tour through the Southeast.

The performance, which packed about 350 of us into the spare ballroom at the Knights of Columbus on Liberty Street, was simply beautiful on many levels. George Dawes Green, founder of The Moth, is the visionary behind The Unchained Tour, but he obviously has a huge cast of supporters.

The host for the evening was the sharp-tongued Peter Aguero, who in the second half of the show told a bawdy, hysterical story involving an appendectomy wound and sex with his then-girlfriend-now-wife. Aguero works routinely with The Moth and has his own “improvised storytelling rock band”: The BTK Band.

The musicians for this tour were Rachel Kate (Gillion) and Joel T. Hamilton. Some in the audience probably remembered Rachel Kate from her former band The Shaniqua Brown, but she is quite a different presence with just a guitar. I had never heard or heard of Hamilton, but I loved being transported by his music. I will listen to him again, for sure.

Dawn Fraser told a beautiful story about her twin brother — a runner who participated in the Special Olympics after her own competitive career was cut short by a bad injury.

Savannah native Edgar Oliver, whose one-man show Helen & Edgar opens in NYC on October 9th, told a story of losing all the “military records” in his care when he was a cadet at Benedictine Military School. The subtle and very funny details conveyed the dreamy distractions coupled with the mundane duties of adolescence.

At one point George Dawes Green took the stage to extol the virtues of independent bookstores specifically and local shopping generally. He called Joni Saxon-Giusti to the stage — The Book Lady. George is passionate when he talks of tuning out the online world and focusing on old-fashioned hardbound books. George had asked Joni to come to the stage with a book, and she chose The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, who recently gave the Ursrey Memorial Lecture presented by the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home. (Both Joni and I are past presidents of the Home.)

George’s message is compelling, for sure, but I’m in the camp of taking ownership of the technology rather than shunning it. I think newer technologies have much more power to overcome isolation than to create it.

During the intermission, some audience members submitted their names for a chance to tell 1-minute stories.

Tom Kohler, longtime head of Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy was among them. Seeing his old Armstrong history professor John Duncan with his wife Ginger (owners of V&J Duncan with its trove of antique maps, books, prints, etc.), Tom began his story: “I love you, John Duncan.”

Peter Aguero and Rachel Kate applaud Neil Gaiman at the end of his story. At least a few of the hearts are in focus.

And then he told a story of his first day at Armstong, as he tuned out in the back of the class. Professor Duncan then created an uproar with just a few words: “Jesus was his name, and Christ was his game.”

After the class calmed down, Duncan gave the young adults a simple lesson in free speech, academic freedom, and the adult world:

“Ladies and gentleman, I’ve just shown you the difference between high school and college,” John Duncan told that history class 40 years ago. “If we were in high school, you could get me fired. But we’re in college, so you can’t.”

I’d heard Tom tell that story before, just sitting around somewhere, and I was thrilled that it found a larger audience.

No secret: many in the crowd were there to see Neil Gaiman, whose works like The Sandman and Coraline have made him a towering figure in some literary spheres — and a huge favorite among a subset of young readers. Gaiman was the final storyteller of the night, and he told a moving one of finding a dog, of adopting it, of going on a 3-day date only to be spurned, but I’ll let him describe it:

Last night I told a story about chains: about my dog, who spent the first three years of his life on four foot of chain, and about the chains that bind us, and about love, which, only after I told it, I realised was peculiarly appropriate, given the name of the tour. It’s called Unchained.

Neil Gaiman graciously greeted fans and signed autographs after the show.

That was from Gaiman’s blog post last week: In which I am Unchained . . . I have no idea how the story sounds to him now after having told it again. Btw, there’s a great photo of Gaiman and his dog Cabal here.

George was effusive at the end of the show in his praise of Gaiman, who apparently has pledged a significant sum for five years to The Moth’s new high school slam storytelling program. It was amazing and generous that someone of Gaiman’s stature and apparent wealth gave nine days of his life to The Unchained Tour.

George was also effusive in his praise of Samita Wolfe, The Unchained Tour producer, and other supporters.

What a great night. But a little long — I think almost everything goes on too long. Except life.

Later on at one of my usual haunts, I talked to two close friends deep into the night.