STEPPING OUT: Petaluma’s Battle of words

West Side Stories ‘Grand Slam’ show to return to the Mystic|

Dave and Juliet Pokorny have had quite a year.

Not only have they produced eleven individual story-sharing contests under the banner of their monthly West Side Stories series (now in its seventh season, with most winning stories printed monthly in the Argus-Courier). They also produced October’s massive Wine Country Spoken Word Fest, bringing storytellers and poets and writers from all over the country to Petaluma.

And they’re not done yet.

Having awarded 12 storytellers since January, West Side Stories now has one more little thing to do before calling it a year.

“Now we have to crown a champion,” says Dave Pokorny. “We have been gathering the first Wednesday of every month for the last seven years, to tell stories and listen to our friends, our neighbors, our teachers, our doctors, and even total strangers. Everybody’s got a story.”

West Side Stories is held at Sonoma Portworks, where the event has sold out every month since almost the beginning. Each year, the winners from the previous eleven months, including those who tied, are invited to participate in a year-ending event called the West Side Stories Grand Slam, held at the Mystic Theatre. Thirteen tellers relating thirteen true stories.

“Some are hilarious,” says Juliet Pokorny. “Some are exciting, and some heart-wrenching.”

In the early years, the Grand Slam was always held at Sonoma Portworks, but demand has grown so much that, the last two years, the event has routinely sold out the Mystic’s 450 available seats. For the 2017 Grand Slam, the theme that each teller will be preparing a story for is “When We Were Young.”

Dave Pokorny will be hosting the show. From the thirteen performers, a story-telling champion will be selected by audience vote.

The 13 tellers for 2017 are as follows:

Brandon Spars (winner of the 2016 Grand Slam)

Ray Engan – January 2017 winner (theme: New Beginnings)

Peter Dietrick – February 2017 winner (theme: Second Best)

Bill Reading – March 2017 winner (theme: Passive Aggressive)

Jabez Churchill and Jeff Hannon – April 2017 winners, tied (theme: Drawing a blank)

Churchill also won in May, 2017 (theme: Awfully Nice)

Jessica Morrell – June 2017 winner (theme: Uninvited Guest)

David Pastran – July 2017 winner (After Hours)

Jon Lehre – August and September 2017 winner (August theme: Fish Out of Water; Sept. theme: Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed)

Cara Wadsen and Angie Funtanilla – Tied for October 2017 (theme: Random Acts of Kindness)

Andy Sewell – November 2017 winner (Last Resort)

“Wild Card” – (There’s ALWAYS a wild card) Yet to be chosen

(Email David at

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