Stories. Wine. Dinner. On a cool September evening, the Townies Block Party, sponsored by Ojai’s Kim Maxwell Studio and the Townies Podcast, is returning for an encore.
Launched by Maxwell in March, her block parties are the culmination of four years of hard work developing a Townies podcast that has been described by one reviewer as “Prairie Home Companion high on fermented Pixie tangerines.”
Maxwell believes her podcast appeals to audiophiles who love a good story. “The inspiration for the block party is the same as the inspiration for the podcast itself,” she explained. “I feel a real need for community and to connect with our fellow man.”
She feels that stories are an important thread that runs through all our lives.
“Stories have always been a place where we meet because stories point out that, regardless of our political stances or beliefs, we are ultimately the same,” she said. “We all get our hearts broken. We all drop our phones in the toilet. We all have dreams that don’t come to fruition. We all have weddings and babies born. So there are celebrations and things that we grieve that we do better together.”
This version of the Townies block party, whose theme is “Bridging the Generation Gap,” will feature live music from local musicians Tom Lennon and his grandson Charlie, as well as fan-favorite storytelling performances from Tatum Becker, Megan Bergkvist, Lily Brown, Sarah Hartigan, Jim Lashly, Noah Lashly, Christopher Newell, Sarahi Noyola and Betsy Randle. It will take place at picturesque Topa Mountain Winery, and food and wine will be available for purchase. The event itself is free.
Another highlight of this block party will be the stories developed by students taking part in Kim Maxwell’s celebrated writing and performance workshops, which have hosted people from all walks of life: lawyers, baristas, students, cashiers, dentists and the unemployed.
For Maxwell, storytelling is directly connected to her life growing up in Calgary, Alberta. When she was young, her community used to throw block parties. Maxwell credits those parties and storytelling sessions for sparking her love for the dramatic arts.
“I fell in love with the craft of acting, which led me to Los Angeles to some pretty amazing teachers, which led me to falling in love with plays and playwriting and directing and the whole overarching thing of storytelling in general,” she recalled.
When she moved to Ojai, she helped co-found the annual Ojai Playwrights Conference. She has also been teaching writing classes for 30 years. As a part of her class, students always write and perform their own stories.
“People come and take my class over a 10-week course,” she said, “and write and rewrite; and then they rehearse and perform them in my studio in front of a live audience.”
Four years ago, Elizabeth Alvarez, a friend from Santa Barbara, saw one of those live shows. Afterward, she walked up to Maxwell and told her that this needed to be a radio program. Maxwell took this advice to heart, bought some recording equipment, and began to record all the shows. It was the seed that would eventually become the Townies Podcast.
It’s an idea that she hopes to take on the road. “We want to go in to other cities around the county with stories, but also celebrate the food and the musicians of that area,” she said.
The Townies Block Party will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Topa Mountain Winery, 821 W. Ojai Ave. in Ojai. For more information about The Townies Podcast, Kim Maxwell Studio or the block party, visit thetowniespodcast.org or kimmaxwellstudio.com. Episodes may also be downloaded from iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and Blubrry, among other podcasting services.