Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic Turns Five

Beverly Storyteller Tony Toledo hosts and features at Lynn event’s Fifth Anniversary Show April 10th

It was five years ago, on April Fool’s Day, that host Tony Toledo and local singer/songwriter/ storyteller Don White gathered a group of North Shore poets, storytellers, activists, and other locals for the very first Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic. People took their five minutes to share their own work, or that of a favorite author, or to give the audience a quick update on what was happening in their community that week. And then a funny thing happened. They came back the next week. And the week after that. And again, the week after.

They have kept coming for five years – the experienced and published writers, the people who’ve been hiding poetry in a notebook for years without telling anyone, the occasional musician or comedian, and lovers of the written word in general. They have been entertained by each other, and by host Tony Toledo, who will take on the additional duties of featured speaker on April 10 when the Speak Up! celebrates its fifth anniversary with a show in its usual Wednesday night slot at the Walnut Street Café in Lynn.

Beverly resident Toledo has fostered a welcoming, loose environment at the Speak Up!, and has a few tricks planned for this show (which may or may not involve writing “instant haikus” with the crowd). “Speak Up has reached a milestone,” he says. “We’ve been meeting now for five years. Every Wednesday. Unbelievable. And yet the facts slap me right in the face. It is so.  Five years. Wow.”

Lynn native Don White created the show five years ago, and also created a music open mic which he hosts every Sunday at the Walnut to give creative people in his home town an outlet to share and cultivate their talent. It’s something he never had in Lynn when he was coming up as an artist, and wanted to provide. “I had to go to Cambridge to find it, and I wanted there to be something like this in town,” he says. “Because there are so many other good things going on in this city now, it’s a good time for it. It’s well-timed.”

White is proud of the results he’s seen over the last five years, and he’s thrilled it has lasted. “It’s a big deal,” he says. “There’s a lot of great stories in this town, because the town has so many people from other places, they’re libel to only tell these stories to each other. Now we have a place where people can come and say what’s on their mind. I feel like it’s unleashed a lot of communication.”

The Speak Up has featured well-known writers and performers like Pulitzer-winning journalist and critic Richard Eder, writer and musician Scott Alarik, and satirist Jimmy Tingle, as well accomplished locals like Elizabeth McKim, known as “The Jazz Poet of Lynn.” But it has been the newer voices that have really caught White’s ear.  “Some of my favorites are people who never expected anyone would care what they had to say but came and blew everyone away,” he says. “To me, personally, the favorites are the ones who never did it before, who came a couple of times and saw that because the way this is structured, everybody’s welcome, maybe I have something to say. They have a compelling story, what they’ve been through, what they’ve had to struggle through quietly.”



Speak Up! Spoke Word Open Mic Fifth Anniversary feat. Storyteller Tony Toledo

April 10, 7PM
Walnut Street Café
157 Walnut Street, Lynn, Ma