This weekend, Tucson Weekly executive editor Jim Nintzel will stand on a stage before family, friends, acquaintances and possibly enemies, and tell a story about the time he went to jail.
"It dates back to when I was a reckless college student," he says. "And there were multiple violations of leash laws involved."
So, OK, he didn't get locked up for the sexiest crime ever, but you're going to want to hear the full story, right? He'll be telling it at the first-ever Bar Flies event in Tucson, the storytelling/spoken word event produced by the Phoenix New Times and Valley Bar that just kicked out its fourth season up in Phoenix.
"Since pretty much the first conversation about Bar Flies, we've talked about how much we wanted to bring it to Tucson, because Charlie [Levy, owner of Valley Bar] and I just had a big passion for it, and I've always had a crush on Tucson," says Amy Silverman, co-founder of Bar Flies along with Katie Bravo.
Nintzel isn't the only storyteller in the lineup—in fact, he's not even the only Tucson Weekly writer on the lineup. He'll be joined by Julia Fournier, Norma Gonzalez, Molly McCloy and Brian Jabas Smith (the Weekly's very own Tucson Salvage columnist).
Events like this one—locally, think Odyssey Storytelling and Tucson Storytellers—have blown up in recent years, but one of the things that sets Bar Flies apart is that it's crafted by writers. As most writers would prefer to tell you in an email rather than a phone interview, they like writing out carefully crafted stories, not telling them off the cuff. At Bar Flies events, the stories are scripted—participants don't just create outlines of their stories in advance; they write down the whole damn thing.
"It's pretty amazing when I go and listen how great the stories are," says Levy, Phoenix concert promoter, owner of the Phoenix Bar Flies venue and lunch partner to Katie Bravo the day she first brought up the idea of creating Bar Flies. "And I hate this kind of stuff—going to things of this nature is not my thing. If I like it, that means everybody will like this."
Silverman and Bravo choose a different theme for every event, but try not to be too strict with the authors about sticking to it. At the time of this interview, for example, McCloy was trying to decide between sharing stories about a physical trip to Montana with her father, a psychedelic trip she took when she was a teenager and the time when, as a preteen, she and her friend accidentally came across her mother's sex toys. (Maybe an involuntary field trip to somewhere she never intended to go?) McCloy is an experienced storyteller, to say the least—she's won the Moth Story Slam three times—but she's done Bar Flies before and is excited to do it again, and not just because she doesn't have to worry about getting off-book.
"It's a chance to sort of find a dynamic style through the reading of [a work] and write something to be read out loud instead of just published," she says.
This middle ground between telling a story completely on the fly and printing out a sheet and reading it off like a speech has hit the sweet spot for Phoenicians—the shows up at Valley Bar often sell out. And it makes sense if you think about it: Imagine if your friend who tells the best stories—maybe it's the guy who once drunk-impulse bought a $700 belt, or the girl who works at an animal refuge center and can share top-secret stories about the time the monkeys got out—had the chance to sit down and get the story as perfect as they could before getting up to tell it. Wouldn't the results be worth $5 to $7?
Smith, who has spent years doing just that in his Tucson Salvage column here in the Weekly, will be reading a piece from his upcoming book of the same name, a collection of stories and essays based on the column.
"It involves a sort of field trip—metaphorical anyway—about a guy who takes field trips in his mind while staring at the world," he says.
So go to hear a sneak preview of Smith's new book. Go to spend a night laughing and feeling inspired and joyful about your own life and writing. Go to see Nintzel make his last round on the triple crown of Congress Street venues (he was once on stage with Geraldo at The Fox Theatre, and met his match in "accommodate" at a 2017 spelling bee on the stage of The Rialto). Go if you like storytelling events, and go if you think you don't. Go for the chance to turn off your phone and listen to your neighbors.
"It just hits the right spot between being able to be entertaining and being literary," McCloy says. "You don't have to be versed in all of the poets to understand all this. It tends to really create community.... Maybe it's the non-tech-mediated chance for people to actually talk to each other, and that's something people are missing."