There is no one-word description for what Don White does. He has survived and thrived for 20 years, bringing his audiences to laughter and tears in his live performances, studio recordings 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.” Experience his unique brand of music, mischief and laughter at Theatre 82 on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m.
“It’s a weird, unique blend, I think. I’m not sure how you sell this. It would be easier if, say, I just played gospel music. You could say that. But I kind of invented what I do. There’s no easy way to say it.”
White started out as a songwriter, then took a detour through Boston’s swinging comedy scene at Catch A Rising Star in the early ’90s before coming back to the city’s venerable folk scene with a whole new approach. White now had the toolkit of both songwriter and club comedian – he was “comedian funny,” not “folk funny,” he says.
“I was bringing comedian sensibilities to my show, and then I had a couple of emotional songs like ‘I Know What Love Is,’ so first the audience is laughing, and then they’re crying, and I bring them back. That is my niche.”
White has headlined his own touching and uproarious shows and shared the stage with legends like Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens and The Band. He tours regularly in a co-headlining show with Christine Lavin. He has released five studio albums, two live albums, a greatest hits collection and a co-headliner live album with Lavin, as well as two DVDs and his autobiography, Memoirs of a C Student. His latest studio album, “Winning Streak,” is available now on iTunes and at www.cduniverse.com.
White was ambushed with the Jerry Christen Memorial Award in front of a sold-out crowd at the me & thee coffeehouse in Marblehead last 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.”
He has been teaching performance skills and comedy for 10 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 celebrated another milestone recently when he played the legendary 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, was 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,” said White. “I’m glad to help give someone else the same shot I had.”
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. The adjoining Characters Café now serves beer and wine. Theatre 82 is located at 82 Rolfe Square in Cranston. For tickets and more information visit www.artists-exchange.org.