Stories that draw you like a moth to a flame

By Terry Sullivan

If you haven’t been to Cliff Bell’s for its monthly Moth Story night, you’re missing a truly unique night of home-grown entertainment, great atmosphere and good food.

The past two months I’ve gone to Moth night with old high school buddies from Pittsburgh and this senior citizen group of Steeler loyalists really enjoyed the evening together in our adopted hometown.  One of my Pittsburgh pals is a scout for the Texas Rangers and he’s looking forward to coming back later in the month — again for business — but also because Detroit’s earthy-side reminds him of Pittsburgh.  As he puts it, the city offers him access to enjoyable, honest entertainment while on the road.  (Note to file:  During his scouting trip we also took in a few of Corktown’s finest watering holes.)

Photo courtesy of Cupcake Detroit

Crowds start to gather at Cliff Bells, a downtown Detroit jazz club and restaurant, on the first Thursday of every month as early as 4:00 in the afternoon to make sure they have a table for dinner, which is followed by two and a half hours – 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM — of live entertainment.

WDET sponsors Moth night and rebroadcasts the evenings live, no-notes, real-life stories and the NPR station has been very successful in creating an enthusiastic and loyal following.  The program’s GrandSLAM event was held September 19 at the Gem Theatre where ten of the year’s winners competed to go to New York City later this year and represent Detroit on the Moth Main Stage against winners from other Moth storytelling towns.  Southern California native Joel Miller was the winner with his story about how he decided to become a doctor after a medical mission to Peru put him face-to-face with a native woman with extreme arthritis in need of help.Around the corner from the Fox Theater, the place is packed. The blend of clientele covers the waterfront from college students and young professionals to adventurous senior citizens who still have the stamina to have fun and stay up beyond 10 PM.  Be prepared for a $5 cover charge, but that’s a steal for the level of entertainment you’ll enjoy along with good company and memorable evening.  If you arrive after 5:30 PM your best seating option is most likely at the horseshoe bar, which is also a good spot for small groups of friends to gather.

Founded in New York, the Moth Storytelling night has taken root in L.A., Chicago, Louisville, Pittsburgh and its at Circus in Ann Arbor the third Tuesday of the month.  Produced and hosted by WDET’s Alex Trajano, the evening never loses its “electricity” once Alex begins his rousing and enjoyable ad-libbing where no one is safe from his light-hearted and adult-level jabs.  If you’re not familiar with the evening’s rules of engagement, each month has a story theme and ten bards are randomly selected to tell their true story.  Themes for the past two months were “food” and “struggles.”

The next monthly Moth Story Slam will be held October 6 at Cliff Bells. The theme is “near death experiences.” Alex selects three teams of objective and unbiased judges. Their scores are awarded in a fashion comparable to Olympic figure skating or platform diving and are always accompanied by cheers and jeers — and there is no instant replay — yet.

Just to add to the evening’s fun judging teams select brand identities. For September the adopted team names were the Struggleos, the Kawamians and the Sissyfits.  Once Alex quiets down the crowd, the local bards for the night have at it. Orations range from light-hearted, emotional, humorous, dark and heavy, plain stupid to poignant.  Style of delivery ranges from amateurish to state high school debate champ.

What more can I tell you but you’re missing the boat if you don’t take in a night of storytelling at Cliff Bell’s.

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One comment on “Stories that draw you like a moth to a flame

  1. Great account of the Moth Story Slam at Cliff Bells. Very cool night. Great crowd and another reason to go downtown for an evening!!

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