Like many musicians, Eric Garcia was left with little to do during the lockdown. As one week of the pandemic stretched into one season, Garcia, who performs under the moniker Uncle Scotchy, resolved to challenge himself artistically.
"I was going to start writing a blues opera that I would perform — a one-man show," Garcia tells New Times. "But I realized as a musician I never thought about talking to people on stage. The most I ever said between songs was, 'Tip your bartenders.'"
Then Garcia had a creative epiphany. The longtime event booker suggested to the managers at Bar Nancy in Little Havana that they initiate a storytelling night.
"They said they had Wednesday nights open," he recounts. "I later learned they thought it was a terrible idea, but they thought it was something they could pull off safely with social distancing and a 35-person capacity."
On opening night last September, Garcia wasn't sure how Uncle Scotchy's Storytelling Extravaganza would go either — but the weekly event quickly built a following.
"Wednesdays have become a lot of people's favorite night. It's like therapy for a lot of people," he says. "There's a core of people that just come to listen. But during the breaks, they end up telling each other stories. Stories beget stories."
Storytelling Extravaganza imposes a few rules. For example, though the majority of performers are stand-up comics, they are not allowed to do bits. Instead, stories should be more personal.
"Comics love this. They're natural-born performers, but this is a time they don't have to be funny," Garcia says. "Plus, they don't have to deal with hecklers."
Another rule: Stories must be a true event in the storyteller's life.
Other than keeping the story to under 15 minutes, everything is up to the person holding the mike.
Storytelling Extravaganza has been such a success for Garcia that he looked to immortalize the tales with the help of sound engineer Julio Licona, who records each session for a podcast. And there's a good chance that the podcast of the upcoming May 12 show, billed as an "all-star" night, might be the best one yet: Garcia is inviting Storytelling Extravaganza's best performers back to the stage, including Kevin Benoit, JP Kauer, Pauley Mcaulerson, and Marcel Salas.
"Susie K. Taylor has a great story she tells called 'Boobs, Butts, and Botox,'" Garcia adds. "She talks about having a mold of her butt made for her husband. It starts off where you think she might be a little too proud of her butt, and then it gets humbling."
Along with hosting the night, Garcia will retell a story about a first date he went on.
"I'm going to lay off the heavy stuff," he says.
An example of the heavy stuff: a story about his mother's bout with Alzheimer's.
"That was the night that got me hooked on storytelling," he admits. "I was able to throw some funny into it, but at the end, I looked around and everyone was crying. I got everyone to feel, which made me feel better. I'd been carrying that pain around since 2009."
As Garcia continues to develop his blues opera, he's become a real student of storytelling. He prepares obsessively before each performance.
"Some storytellers wing it. I've tried," he says. "One time to experiment, I went there without any prep, but I didn't feel comfortable."
The biggest lesson he has learned is that storytellers need to be engaging every second they're on stage.
"When you're playing music on stage, your mind can wander sometimes and nobody will notice," Garcia says. "If you do it while storytelling, people will start talking. I don't know how the audience knows, but they do. You have to be present, or they won't stay connected."
Uncle Scotchy's Storytelling Extravaganza. 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, at Bar Nancy, 2007 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-397-8971; nancy305.com. Admission is free.
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