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EVENTS: Wine Country Spoken Word Fest

What: Wine Country Spoken Word Festival

When: 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. today; 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Della Fattoria, Brewsters Beer Garden, Hotel Petaluma, The Big Easy, Mystic Theatre, all in Petaluma

Tickets: $15-$250

Information: 707-477-4416, davepokornypresents.com

Perhaps what makes the inaugural “Wine Country Spoken Word Festival” so intriguing to Dave and Juliet Pokorny is not knowing what to expect out of their guests, since nothing is scripted. They simply knew it was time to do something big in their own little town.

Filling a void from the Bay Area Storytelling Festival, which closed in 2016 after 30 years, this is the first U.S. spoken word fest that merges all forms, according to Dave Pokorny. While existing in Dublin and Amsterdam, a crowdfunding campaign helped put it on here.

“There are storytelling festivals all over the country,” said Pokorny in a phone interview, “but there is no combined spoken word festival in the United States. This is it.”

And in response to this week’s fire disaster in Sonoma County, Pokorny has decided to offer discounted $5 tickets to Friday night and Saturday events, and donate half the proceeds to fire victims and their families.

“Storytelling, comedy and poetry can be healing and our goal is to use this weekend as a way to bring our community together,” said Pokorny. “We know there’s no way to bring back the property our neighbors, friends and families have lost, but by

bringing our community together, we hope people can start to heal, support each other and commune using the power of live storytelling.”

The three-day event opens with a gala at 6 p.m. today in Petaluma’s Della Fattoria, with performances by more than 25 artists. From best-selling authors, national storytellers, poets and stand-up comedians, there’s a lot to see, such as Ghost Stories at midnight, where $5 tickets can get you in the door at Brewsters Beer Garden today.

A high point for many that night will be at 11 p.m., when author Amanda McTigue, a 2013-2014 West Side Stories Grand Slam winner, will tell a spooky tale, with traditional teller Cathryn Fairlee, TEDx speaker Brandon Spars and Hal McCown, by a fire at Brewsters Beer Garden.

“My goal is to make it feel like we finished dinner, there’s some peach pie, everybody’s relaxed and now we’re getting to the good stuff,” said McTigue in a phone interview.

Known for writing “Going to Solace” in 2012, Californians enjoy her tales of growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, a place that’s all over the notion of ghosts. McTigue will be sharing a true ghost story from that part of her life, and the rest is a secret.

“I don’t lean toward ghost stories,” said McTigue. “My material is usually some fabric of everyday life: the oddities, people, characters. That’s what I’m often telling stories about.”

Saturday’s lineup could be a tough choice for those who want to see their favorites. From 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at Hotel Petaluma will be special guest Willy Claflin, sought-after poet Steve Connell, storytelling favorite Bil Lepp and a monthly Do Tell Story Swap.

Simultaneously at Della Fattoria: a poet-trio, liars contest, solo artist Akwi Nji and The Write Spot author reading. Concurrently at The Big Easy: West Side Stories Petaluma slam, comedian Mickey Joseph, artist Leslie Scatchard and a Poetry Out Loud contest.

The festival headliner finale includes New York Times best-selling author Sarah Vowell, Lepp, a five-time West Virginia Liars Contest champion, and Connell, who performed for former President Barack Obama, the U.N. and Oprah Winfrey, at 7:30 p.m. in Mystic Theatre.

What: Wine Country Spoken Word Festival

When: 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. today; 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Della Fattoria, Brewsters Beer Garden, Hotel Petaluma, The Big Easy, Mystic Theatre, all in Petaluma

Tickets: $15-$250

Information: 707-477-4416, davepokornypresents.com

Dave Pokorny made sure to decide ahead when it came to a particular performer he can’t wait to see in person. He plans on staying after his own show for Joseph, a friend, who was the first that come to mind when filling up a spot with a stand-up comic.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Claflin,” said Juliet Pokorny in a phone interview, “for those of us who like storytelling, he’s a master at it. We’re excited he’s going to be there.”

With so many options to choose from, they’ve admittedly had people contacting to ask why so-and-so got matched at the same slot as such-and-such. However, this is the reaction the Pokorny’s wanted, for it to be almost impossible to pick at times.

“We have lived off the idea that like attracts like,” said Juliet Pokorny, “and built a festival that Dave and I would want to go to. We’re asking our audience to come and be curious.”

Sunday at 10 a.m. will be a panel on values hosted by Storytelling Association of California co-chair Sara Armstrong, poet Garth Gilchrist, teller Elaine Stanley, Spars and Fairlee.

Two workshops, Fairlee’s Traditional Tales for Adults, and The Wisdom of Hodja Tales with Kiran Rana come next, before finishing with a closing concert featuring guest tellers.

Single tickets are available for all shows except the gala and Saturday’s VIP reception at Della Fattoria, while Sunday’s swap lunch with Gilchrist at 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. is invitation only. Today’s registration is at 3 p.m. in Hotel Petaluma. Saturday and Sunday is at 9 a.m.

“If people are willing to take a risk,” said Juliet Pokorny, “they’ll understand what we’re doing, and by the time we kick it off next year, it’ll be completely different.”

Nearly seven years in the making since creating West Side Stories Petaluma, the Pokorny’s first opened at the Pelican Art Gallery. It’s only fitting the beginning of their festival takes place where it all started — in the same space — now owned by Della Fattoria.

From the looks of it, Petaluma seemed like an ideal place to have the festival and was among the Pokorny’s top choices. Couple a historic downtown and it being a beautiful city to walk around in, the welcoming community and residing there is what sold them.

“We believe Petaluma has a draw, that people will want to come back and enjoy the backdrop,” said Juliet Pokorny. “That’s what makes it such a lovely place for this.”

With the variety this festival brings, everything goes back to a notion of how important spoken word is, and why it remains relevant today. Whether a storyteller, writer, poet or otherwise, nothing else hits to the heart and emotion of what someone has to say.

“Storytelling is essential,” said Dave Pokorny. “That’s why there are paintings on cave walls from millions of years ago, you have to tell stories. They just die unless they get told.”

A fascinating thing about storytelling is how people view it competitively. For McTigue, winning the West Side Stories Grand Slam two years in a row was a thrilling experience.

“Storytelling has never been about a competition where I’m from,” said McTigue. “I had to get used to that, calm down, and go ahead and tell a story for fun, and I did.”

She sees this inaugural festival as an exciting opportunity to spread the spoken word, and connect increasingly screen-enamored audiences to their roots of physical presence.

“I really believe the idea that life and art are not so far apart,” said McTigue, “storytelling is the place to make that clear. There’s nothing like sitting across from people, eye to eye.”