December 12, 2013

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River City Sessions showcases music and spoken word

AS MICHAEL GRAY TELLS IT, IT WAS A HOLIDAY “mistake” that helped to inspire The River City Sessions, the popular arts series at The Camp House.

“For many years, I have written a Christmas story and sent to friends as my form of a Christmas card,” Gray says. “One year, the year I wrote “The Italian Gentleman,” I was invited to read it at the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild Christmas Party. Upon reaching the podium, I suddenly realized half of my manuscript was missing. Luckily, I had practiced enough and remembered enough to finish by telling the story. After the program, several people I knew—and a few I didn’t—approached me and commented that I should tell my stories as a matter of practice.”

So Gray tried to find a place to do just that and came up empty-handed. He contacted the people at The Camp House, “who were extremely accommodating and helpful in putting together a biannual program called Wordfest.” After a couple of years, WUTC offered to air the program and Gray and other organizers felt a name change was in order, since music had become just as big a part of the program as spoken word. The series was rechristened The River City Sessions, its motto became “Southern Culture; Reclaimed and Unchained,” and its mission described “a collaboration of poets, authors, storytellers and musicians whose work honors life in the South and the tradition of literature and music which best express our unique culture.”

Says Gray, “As a child, I sat in the shaded yard of my grandparents’ home as friends, family and neighbors dropped by to entertain each other with a mixture of stories and music on Sunday afternoons. The yard was filled with the sound of traditional music and the telling of tall tales, as well as the blending of many voices rising together in song.” The River City Sessions, he explains, brings that front yard to The Camp House once a month.  The show is broadcast two weeks later on WUTC 88.1 locally and across the Internet on

For the December 13 show, “We are doing something a little different,” says Gray. “We invited a few of our previous performers and left the choice of presentation up to them. Be ready for anything in the way of poetry, music and story that in some way celebrates the season.”

So far, he told us, “Robinson Renard, a barista at The Camp House, approached me after a show one month and asked to audition. As I struggled to find a time and place, he pulled out his guitar and began immediately. He went from our stage to a one-man show in just a few weeks.” Renard will be sharing his music and poetry.

Ben Schnell, the producer of “Another Story,” who is enjoying immense success as a producer and storyteller, will present a story written by his great-uncle about Christmas during the 1920s.

Kemmer Anderson, the Walden’s Ridge poet, Milton Scholar, who teaches at McCallie, and Donyale Grove, the successful poet and artist, will all do readings of their poems.

Local musician Robin Burk will be introducing her new CD at the show. “It’s sure to sooth and relax those stressed over the holidays,” says Gray.

Pattee Wilbanks and Robert Lovitt from Nashville will be playing traditional music. 

Robert Cyphers and Gray will share some favorite memories of Christmas through story and song.

And likely last and certainly not least, Gray will be telling “The Italian Gentleman,” “the story that in some ways began this whole journey and remains my most requested Christmas story.”

Don’t miss this lovely and unique holiday evening.

The River City Sessions Holiday Show,


7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13,

The Camp House,

1427 Williams St.


December 12, 2013

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