Roslindale Open Mike

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There is no one-word description for what Don White does. He has survived and thrived for twenty-five years, bringing his audiences to laughter and tears in his live performances, studio recordings, including his latest CD More Alive, and on the printed page. He is a storyteller-comedian-author-troubadour-folk singer-songwriter. He is a walking challenge to the phrase “file under.” Best to just sort him under “Don White.”

Don’s approach to music is a weird, unique blend. If he just played folk music, it would be a handy label. But he has invented his own genre with a mix of humor and powerful songwriting. White’s arc as a writer and performer has taken him from his industrial hometown of Lynn, Ma across the country as hitchhiker, through Boston’s comedy clubs and coffeehouses, and onto the stage with greats like Christine Lavin, Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal, Ritchie Havens, Patty Larkin, Bill Morrissey, Tom Rush, and Louden Wainright III. At every point, White has been the ultimate observer, infusing his work with his experiences as a husband, a father, a seeker, and a joker.

White guesses he wrote his first songs sometime when he was eight years old, tunes he could hum or sing in his head. Things started to click when his parents bought him his first guitar at age 15, when White was absorbing music from John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and Bob Dylan. He left his working class hometown after high school graduation and spent three years hitchhiking across the country, building a foundation for his personality and writing.

White’s career took a new direction when he started hosting a music open mic at one of the country’s hottest comedy clubs, Catch A Rising Star in Harvard Square. There he developed the toolkit of both songwriter and club comedian – he became “comedian funny,” not “folk funny,” he says. That gave him an act unique in the folk world. He became undeniable. “I was bringing comedian sensibilities to a show, and then I had a couple of songs like ‘I Know What Love Is’ so now they’re laughing their head off, and now they’re crying, and that is my niche.”

Many songwriters use their real lives for inspiration, but few do it like White. He draws inspiration from his family, whether it’s a touching song about the circle of life or an uproarious story about dealing with his daughter. “I’m always amazed by people who write songs about the Civil War in a convincing way and were never there. I assume they were never there. Write about what you know. I’ve been raising kids and being in a relationship since I was a kid myself. I mean, I could try to write about other things, and I do, occasionally, but that’s what I know best.”

White has stayed involved in his community, often helping young musicians navigate the local scene, and creating outlets for creative expression like the Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic and Don White’s Sunday Night Open Mic at the Walnut Street Café in Lynn. He continues to grow and evolve as a writer. In 2006, he released his autobiography, Memoirs of a C Student, and in 2010 released a new album, Winning Streak. He’s currently working on a new comedy/music special. What’s the next stage? Only White knows for sure. “As a writer, I’m interested in all kinds of things now. I have all these ideas now where I want to let the story tell the story, instead of coming out and saying, ‘This is how I feel.’ I want to write that way now.”

Racing through its ninth year!