Radio Campfire, a new audio storytelling series, to sound off at Detroit's Matrix Theatre

Local fans of the radio show "This American Life" and podcasts like "Serial" should be pleased to hear there's a new audio storytelling series being produced here in Southeast Michigan that offers something you simply can't get by popping in a pair of earbuds.
It's called Radio Campfire, and the special element it brings is a live audience. That's right, those who attend events in the series have the opportunity to listen to a selection of curated recordings with a roomful of other audiophiles.
"We gather round to listen, imagine and enjoy an evening of memorable radio documentaries, soundscapes and experimental sonic shorts," reads an online description. "Think relaxed, magical and intimate, like the campfire (minus the burnt marshmallows.)"
Alternating between Ann Arbor and Detroit, each gathering focuses on a particular theme. The first event at Ann Arbor's Literati Books in January dealt with the topic "Name Game." The next, scheduled for March 27 at Detroit's Matrix Theatre, will explore the concept of "Warmth."
Anyone can submit a recording for events, provided that they follow the guidelines and send them in before a show's deadline. Radio Campfire "counselors" choose from these submissions and supplement them with other works that they feel fit the theme.
The kindling for Radio Campfire was laid last fall by members of an audio group called the Smitten Mitten Collective. Among others, its founders include Zak Rosen, an award-winning independent multi-media producer whose features have been heard on NPR and the BBC, and Renee Gross, a freelance journalist who produces "The Feminist Fork," a bi-monthly podcast about politics and food.
Laura Herberg, a collective member and counselor who graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine and has produced for WDET, says organizations of audio producers like Smitten Mitten are common in other big cities. Members of the Detroit group started with meetups to talk audio and critique each other's pieces, but some hungered for more.
"When I moved here four and a half years ago, the [Google] list was not active. We would get together to do audio stuff, but it was kind of like audio people having a cocktail party at someone's house," she says. "I wasn't at the meeting when they came up with Radio Campfire, but I think it came out of a desire to have a structured regular event surrounding radio storytelling where we can celebrate it and have an excuse to practice—make our own pieces."
Shannon Cason, a Moth GrandSLAM winner who produces the podcast "Shannon Cason's Homemade Stories" for WBEZ in Chicago, joined on as a Radio Campfire counselor in January. He was part of the Ann Arbor event at Literati books, contributing a piece about how gambling led him to meet his wife and start a family.
"It was a great turnout – a packed house," he says. "People just sitting quiet listening to audio."
Cason's favorite story from the "Name Game" event involved a game of checkers.
"It was these old guys...They're so competitive with it," he says. "It was interesting in that sense—just hearing their voices and the competition that they had."
"It's really short," chimes in Herberg. "It's super sound-rich. It's just really exciting. You're just in it. You hear the sounds of them moving the checkers."
The two Radio Campfire counselors are geeked to have their next event in an actual theater where they can turn down the lights and soak in the sound. Herberg in particular is looking forward to hearing the roar of the crowd again.
"It has been a while since I was in a radio program, when I've been in a public situation and they play my piece," she says. "There's something really cool about being in a room full of people and hearing: 'OK, they got that!' I've listened to my pieces with one other person, but it's a totally different experience when that's multiplied by 50."
Radio Campfire's "Warmth" show will take place on Friday, March 27 at 7:00 p.m. at Detroit's Matrix Theatre.
David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.