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Winners at Maggie's on the Prom's Story Slam in 2019 compete during the Grand Slam. The storytelling event at Maggie's is serving as a template for the upcoming Pacific Story Slam, which will take place in Astoria, Seaside, and Long Beach, Washington, from Jan. 20 to April 10.

Every bar, every town, every place has storytellers.

But which ones are the best?

That’s the question the upcoming Pacific Story Slam, organized by three North Coast bar owners, will attempt to answer.

Over the next 10 weeks, storytellers from Astoria, Seaside, Long Beach, Wash. and everywhere in between can share tales on themes of love, first impressions, travel and more before meeting at a final Grand Slam on April 10 at Fort George Brewery in Astoria.

According to Carla Curtis, owner of North Beach Tavern in Long Beach, “There is already this storytelling environment here,” not just at bars but throughout the Lower Columbia River area. “Bringing the communities’ stories together is just going to be very fun.”

Along with Curtis, the Pacific Story Slam is being hosted by Diana Kirk, owner of Workers Tavern in Astoria, and Sadie Mercer, co-owner of Maggie’s on the Prom in Seaside. Each establishment will hold one story slam per week between Jan. 20 and March 19 before doing a town-specific semifinal featuring the winners from previous slams. The top four contenders from each city will then advance to the Grand Slam. North Beach Tavern’s slams will be held at 6:30 p.m. Mondays; Workers’ at 7 p.m. Wednesdays; and Maggie’s on the Prom’s at 6 p.m. Thursdays.

An introduction at Maggie’s

Story slams are hardly a novel idea, Mercer said, referencing NPR’s The Moth Radio Hour and The Mortified Podcast, but when she held a 17-week series at Maggie’s last year, the concept was well-received.

Kirk, an author and avid storyteller, was one of the weekly winners who advanced to Maggie’s finale. Although she shared what Mercer described as a “tear-inducing funny” story, she lost the competition to Seaside Mayor Jay Barber, spurring jokes about the competition being rigged and sparking the idea of holding a town versus town competition.

More importantly than righting the wrong, however, Kirk wanted people, especially from demographics who don’t normally frequent her establishment, to have an opportunity to share their experiences.

“Those stories are important and they don’t always have a place to tell them,” she said. “All stories are meant to bring us closer together.”

Mercer agreed, adding, “It’s a defining moment. … What gives the first impression of you? If you’re meeting somebody new, what story do you tell?”

Judging the best

The Pacific Story Slam will borrow numerous concepts — and themes — from the event held at Maggie’s last year. All stories must be true, personal stories told in first-person and under five minutes.

One element that will change is judging.

At Maggie’s, three volunteer judges were asked to publicly score the stories, a judging style used at Rhythm and Rye’s StoryOly in Olympia, Wash. However, voting in a crowd of 200 is more anonymous than in a crowd of 20, Mercer said, adding, “People don’t want to be considered judgmental.”

She and Kirk found a significant amount of “guilt-voting” transpired, where judges were compelled to give a story a high mark, not because it was told well but because they felt bad the speaker experienced the life events they were sharing.

“We wanted to eliminate that and have this be about storytelling itself,” Kirk said.

For the Pacific Story Slam, every audience member can vote by anonymous ballot, so final scores are an average of the general opinion. During a Haunted Story Slam at Workers, Kirk experimented with this judging method to ensure there is adequate time to calculate ballots.

At the Grand Slam, the mayors of Astoria, Seaside, and Long Beach will judge, along with writer and filmmaker Arthur Bradford and Harry Gerard “Buzz” Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Friday Night Lights. The contenders will compete for cash prizes, bragging rights, and a trophy to be displayed at their hometown bar.

Organizers are unsure whether the Pacific Story Slam will become an annual event that eventually involves more town. If it does grow larger, Kirk said, they will incorporate other bars, where people go to find “their own community.”

“A bar isn’t necessarily about alcohol,” she said. “It’s about finding a living room that is public where people meet and find other people to share with.”

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