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Tales and Ales

This is how a little idea backed by a hugely generous community resulted in Tales and Ales, a storytelling event in Loudoun County, Virginia.

I’ve always loved a good story. Years before I was writing stories, I was listening to them. My parents would often have friends over for dinner and, long after the dishes had been cleared and the other kids had dispersed, I could still be found sitting there—listening. Whether it was some wild story about a family friend’s standoff with a buffalo—remember, I grew up in South Dakota—or just some too-good-to-walk-away-from church gossip, I listened. And I’ve been listening ever since.

I don’t think I’m alone in this love of stories. Think about how often we share stories. We meet friends for walks and bike rides, we have neighbors over for dinner, we catch up with colleagues by the water cooler, we call our mom on Sundays just like good children should. But think about what we’re really doing in these moments? We’re sharing stories—swapping experiences. And just because it’s human nature, we’re likely sharing stories with people whose lives look similar to ours—because we’re talking with our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, our friends. But a few months ago I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be fun to hear stories that exist outside my immediate circle?

So I took to Facebook and just tossed out an idea. “Hey, would anyone be into a storytelling night?” I thought handful of people would be up for it and at some point we’d gather in the corner of a local coffee shop. I closed my laptop and went to a meeting. When I came back, my little post had blown up with 40 to 50 comments in just a few hours

My friend Susan Talbott posted, “I’d love to help.” I promptly recruited her to be my co-organizer, overall sounding board, and the event’s emcee. My cycling buddy Scotty Beam, who also happens to be a production director with Sirius XM, asked what he could do. I asked him to run the sound.

Chris Burns, co-founder of Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, posted “we’d love to host” and suggested the name Tales and Ales.

People eager to step up to the mic began sending in their stories—some funny, a couple odd, and all enlightening.

I emailed a couple of friends for advice on how to get sponsors—just enough to cover expenses. Rusty Foster replied and said consider Bow Tie Strategies a sponsor, and Beth Erickson replied, “Count Visit Loudoun in.”

My friend Hillary Davis designed the logo. My cousin printed the T-shirts. My husband manned the video camera.

And on Friday night, minutes after the heavens opened up to let loose a torrential downpour, we turned on the mic.

“Welcome to the very first Tales and Ales,” Susan Talbott spoke to cheers. “It’s story time.”

English teacher Lindsay O’Connor shared how an investigation for the public defender’s office in New Orleans lead to an unlikely connection with a Mike Tyson.

Mark Mervine brought the audience back to Sterling Park 1995 with a story that included him with rollerskates on his feet and cuffs around his wrists.

Doug Davis, of Gaithersburg, MD, shared two of his favorites: one about how a Japanese World War II soldier gifted his father with a samurai sword and another about his role in saving the astronauts of Apollo 12.

Mother-son duo Kate Moore and Samuel Moore-Sobel spoke about how they’ve found hope in unexpected places after a life-threatening run-in with sulfuric acid.

Local Journalist Margaret Morton shared scenes from German air raids on England, including how a stinky rubber gas mask pulled at her 4-year-old face and blonde hair as she navigated pig corpses hanging from the ceiling her father’s cellar.

Tom Sweitzer, the evening’s headliner, recalled the heart-wrenching consequences that came with his decision to vocalize his distaste for the husky-sized pants he received as a Christmas gift. Sweitzer is the executive director of music therapy center A Place to Be. (The evening also doubled as a fundraiser for the nonprofit therapy center.)

Every few minutes throughout the evening, the brewery staff hurried to set up another row of chairs. And before long, the chairs were all called for and people began lining up in the back. It was warm in the brewery’s warehouse, where we all gathered below whiskey barrels and sacks of hops and barley stacked high. But even those left to stand didn’t seem to mind. After all, they were consuming cold beer and great stories.

Let’s do it again. The next Tales and Ales is set for Saturday, Oct. 20, at Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, VA. If you’d like to share a story, email an eight-minute video (nothing fancy) to If you’d rather audition over a phone call, email us your contact information. Follow us at for more details.

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