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Posted on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 9:40 a.m.

'The Moth' storytelling nights drawing capacity crowds at Cavern Club

By Jenn McKee

Where might you hear stories about someone paying a college tuition bill with a drug dealer friend’s (anonymously donated) money; a vehemently straitlaced uncle’s retro porn film collection; and a White Panther Party member who was once accused of bombing a CIA office—all on the same night?

At the live storytelling event called “The Moth,” regularly hosted on the third Tuesday of each month at the Cavern Club. Recently popularized by a public radio show called “The Moth Radio Hour,” the event was born in New York City in 1997, and the show—which is now staged in cities across the country—invites audience members to come on stage and tell an unrehearsed personal story, no longer than five minutes long, that fits into a specific theme. (Last month’s theme, for instance, was “Underground,” while February’s theme is “Bosses.”)

“We turned away 300 people the first night, which was in September,” said Cavern Club owner Nick Easton, who noted that the event has sold out every time his bar has hosted it.

In fact, patrons are encouraged to show up at least an hour before the show’s 7:30 p.m. start time. (Having been turned away in December, I showed up at 6:30 p.m. for January’s program, and even then, most of the folding chairs situated theater-style around the stage were full or being saved.)

Easton was initially approached by representatives from Michigan Radio and the New York Moth office, who were looking for an Ann Arbor venue that served alcohol, could accommodate 200-300 people, and has a workable stage.

But the seed for an Ann Arbor edition of The Moth was likely born when an Ann Arbor Summer Festival Moth event sold out quickly last year.


The Moth

  • What: A popular, multi-city, monthly live storytelling series (featured on public radio’s “The Moth Radio Hour”) that asks audience members to tell an unrehearsed, unprepared tale on a given theme.
  • Where: Cavern Club, 210 S. First St., Ann Arbor.
  • When: Tuesday, Feb. 21. Doors open at 6 p.m., stories begin at 7:30 p.m. Patrons are strongly encouraged to arrive at least an hour before the show starts.
  • How much: $5. 18 and over. For more information, visit or
“We felt it would be well attended (at the Cavern Club),” said Easton. “ … But I was still amazed. … Because it was something so totally different than anything we’d ever done here before. … It gives us a chance to introduce the space to a whole new crowd of people.”

Indeed, January’s Moth appeared to draw a wide range of patrons, in terms of age. And although the show’s hosts had to do some pre-show pleading with the crowd in order to reach the program lineup minimum of 10 stories (the show ran a little over 2 hours), Bluffton University senior Jim Yoder had made the 90-minute drive from Bluffton, Ohio to ensure that he could finally be a part of The Moth.

“I’ve listened to podcast, and I’ve listened to the Radio Hour since a couple of years ago, and I have wanted to come, wanted to be a part of it for so long,” said Yoder.

Meghan Sager, a fellow Bluffton music major who was on a first date with Yoder, tagged along without knowing anything about the show. But her first impressions were overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it’s absolutely hilarious,” said Sager. “It’s something that you never see. … The thing that just astonishes me is, it’s just these random people that go up there, and their stories—they just blow you away.”

Yoder was the last storyteller of the night in January, and he talked about how he rebelled against his Mennonite, anti-gambling upbringing by getting sucked into the world of online poker while at college.

Three groups of audience judges —self-named Clandestino, the Mothballs, and Team Jacob—didn’t award Yoder enough points to make him the night’s winner (who would move on to a Moth championship), but it sounds like he’ll be back to give it another try.

“I feel like people in general are losing their ability to talk to one another, and convey the emotion they need to convey to one another,” said Yoder during the show’s intermission. “I was just on my phone, and we were looking at Facebook, and we were looking at Twitter, and then I pulled out my (phone) again and I said, ‘Let’s check Twitter - no, let’s not check Twitter.’ Because this is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing here. It’s fascinating to me, and it’s interesting to me, that this is something that people used to do every day with their family and friends, and now we have to come together just to do it again. And it has to be an event.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.