Since its debut last September, Story/Stereo has hosted unlikely combinations of poets, authors, and musicians—-from jazz poet Brian Gilmore to post-punk legend J. Robbins (Jawbox, Office of Future Plans)—-and it’s all been entirely free. It all takes place just outside the District at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, which curates the literature portion of the evening; the musicians are hand-picked by Chad Clark (Beauty Pill) and Matthew Byars (the Caribbean). Such gloriously cost-free events are always in peril of finding their bank accounts empty: Luckily, Story/Stereo just received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“It was important to us to keep the event free,” Clark tells Arts Desk. “In my mind, I see Story/Stereo as a companion or sister event to Fort Reno—-we’re inspired by Fort Reno giving something to the community that’s free, positive, and about art and expression. I think it’s great that Story/Stereo begins exactly when Fort Reno ends, and ends when Fort Reno begins.”
Previously, the event has been funded by the Writer’s Center—-a nonprofit that is funded by the “Maryland Arts and Humanities council, as well as a blend of other sources,” according to Clark. While next fall’s line-up has yet to be announced, the NEA grant won’t impact the curators’ selections. “There are no restrictions on the grant at all, that I know of,” says Clark. Though he declined to disclose the amount of the grant, he did say: “Without it, we would’ve had to ask people involved to volunteer. We might’ve been able to continue because the goodwill has been so strong, but I’m psyched about the grant. I see it as fuel for us to continue.”
“I still regard the whole thing as an experiment,” says Clark. “We’ve overcome certain perceptions that it could somehow be stuffy—-that it would be somehow dreary and intellectual. It’s really comfortable, and it’s in a beautiful theater that many people didn’t know existed before Story/Stereo happened.”
That it’s not a typical rock ‘n’ roll venue might be an advantage, Clark says: “It actually makes a great date. You’re going to like something a lot—-either the band and the music or the author or poet—-and even if there’s something you don’t like, there will be something interesting to talk about.”