White celebrates 20-year milestone with Club Passim January 12 at 8PM
Don White was ambushed with the Jerry Christen Memorial Award in front of a sold-out crowd at the me & thee coffeehouse in Marblehead in November. But no one should be surprised he was the 2012 winner of the prize, which honors Boston folk musicians who show dedication to the concept of community. In April, White was ambushed with another award – the Key to the City of his hometown, Lynn – at the Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic. Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan popped up on the mic to give White the award and also declared April 11 “Don White Day.”
It’s fitting that White has been recognized twice this year for his dedication to two communities. He has been a part of the folk community for more than 20 years, making people laugh with his wry stories and touching their hearts with his music. He has been dedicated to his family and his city from the start, and for the past several years, has worked to create a scene in Lynn and worked to pass his knowledge on to others. He created the Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic four years ago and the Sunday Night Open Mic last year, both of which happen weekly at the Walnut Street Café in Lynn. Both attract artists and performers of all ages from all around the North Shore and beyond, but the focus is on Lynn.
“I’m putting a lot of energy into the people coming up behind me in this town,” he says. “I started the spoken word open mic and the music open mic to make sure that the people coming up, the kids from Lynn, have the opportunity to show their stuff and share their work.”
In April, Mayor Flanagan called White the “Papa Bear” of Lynn’s community of artists, and said, “Don White was our cultural district before we even had the designation,” a reference to news in March that Lynn had been designated a “Cultural District” by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Similarly, it was White’s dedication to his home community that earned him the Christen Award. “He clearly loves this music and works tirelessly to introduce it to an ever-expanding audience,” says Liz Freeman, board member and treasurer of Boston Area Coffee House Association, which presents the award, and coordinator of the Linden Tree Coffeehouse.
White has been teaching performance skills and comedy for ten years, sometimes to aspiring new artists, but often to community members who might be able to use those skills in their professional or personal lives. “The idea of understanding how a joke works or how to make someone laugh is a very powerful thing because nobody is not engaged when they’re laughing,” says White. “So if you’re a teacher or a preacher or you’ve got a little job in a cubicle and you find yourself having to travel around the country lecturing, if you can get a group to laugh, especially early on, it changes the whole dynamic of what’s happening.”
White celebrates another milestone January 12 when he plays Club Passim for the 20th consecutive year. He started out as an opening act and in a short time, came to headline the venerable venue, the premiere gig for a folk musician in a town that reveres the genre. It is worth noting that his opening act, Kirsten Manville, is from the North Shore community, and a regular at the Sunday Night Open Mic. “It meant a lot to me to be able to start there when I was relatively new, and then grow in front of that listening audience,” says White. “I’m glad to help give someone else the same shot I had.”
Don White Live
January 12, 8PM
47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, Ma
Tickets: $18 advance/$20 door