by Kathy Sands-Boehmer
Don White is one of a kind. He’s a genuine guy who loves his hometown of Lynn, loves his community of fans and friends, and loves being able to communicate via songs, stories, and humor. Don was a keen observer of musicians as he was growing up and learning how to pick out some tunes on his guitar. It wasn’t until he made the connection and began to study comedians so he could learn about the art of performance. When he married his music to his humor, things began to click. His words and music and outrageously funny stories made an impact on audiences from all over.
Don White has teamed up with Christine Lavin who is another unique singer-songwriter with an astute sense of humor and a chronicler of all things human, especially in New York City. The two of them play off each other and involve the audiences at their shows. They are constantly reinventing themselves and their routines so it never gets old.
Don took some time to respond to some questions for The Noise.
Noise: When you first started out, I understand that you spent considerable time at the old “Catch a Rising Star” to observe some of the best comics in the country. For you, that was an invaluable lesson in many aspects of comedy. Off the top of your head, can you recall any details about what you learned from some of those comics?
Don: I call upon what I learned at Catch every time I set foot on a stage. To me, comics, folksingers, poets, storytellers all suffer from the same disease — they think they have something to say and they want to say it to as many people as possible. Early on I could see that each of these communities were trying to connect with audiences but they were all bringing a different set of tools to the job at hand. I still don’t understand why there isn’t more cross pollination between groups that have the same goal – communication. From the late ’80s thru the mid 90s I spent every free evening studying the communication skills of comics, poets, musicians and storytellers. All these years later I can feel the influences of each of these communities when I perform.
Noise: You consider yourself first and foremost a storyteller but you took a detour through comedy and folk music. Do you have any favorite storytellers? What is the core of a memorable story?
Don: I recently performed at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Every Teller I saw there was bringing something to the art form that was new to me. That was in October and I still haven’t processed it all yet. For me there is a lot that has to happen for a story to be memorable. The content, the delivery – not being able to predict what is coming next or seeing the moral too early in the process all contribute to keeping me engaged and making the experience memorable. I would highly recommend that people who are curious about storytelling look up Bil Lepp, Donald Davis, Kim Weitcamp and our local heroes Judith Black and Tony Toledo.
Noise: You have said that you enjoy being a performance coach to younger entertainers. I’m certain that you have given them much wisdom and many great stories about your life as a musician/ songwriter/ comic/ storyteller, but what have your students taught you?
Don: That’s a pretty good question, Kathy Sands Boehmer. Having taught performance, comedy and storytelling for over 20 years I’m pretty sure that I have acquired more knowledge than I have contributed. One major thing I’ve learned is to say, “I don’t know.” When you have four more decades of experience than the person you are teaching you can easily fall victim to thinking that your years give you knowledge and authority that they do not. You show respect to a student when you admit that you don’t know the answer. It does something to the relationship that is hard to describe but deepens the back and forth in a way that nothing else can.
Noise: What’s your favorite thing about working with Christine Lavin?
Don: How much time do we have here? Her comedic sensibility is just remarkable. Her dedication to her work – her sense of mischief – her generosity – It’s a big list of favorites.
Noise: Have you tried to learn how to manipulate the baton like she does?
Noise: You’re known as a guy who has a fierce love of family and your stories about your parents and children are as hilarious as they are touching. Now that you’re a grandfather, have you started working on material about the youngest members of the White family? Do you see any glimpses of any of them following in their grandfather’s steps?
Don: As far as material goes, a few anecdotes have found their way into the show but I’m nervous about writing about a subject before I can be objective about it. I’m so insanely in love with them that I’m afraid anything I write will be sappy and fall into the category of songs that make me roll my eyes when I hear them. Regarding the possibility of my grandchildren following in my footsteps – If you could see my journey to this point in its entirety you would see years of footsteps that no one should follow. They can be whatever they want. I’ll support it – within reason.
Noise: What’s up next for Don White?
Don: Be in the moment – enjoy the ride – be present but not complacent – and several other under appreciated cliches all of which boil down to trying to behave in a way that will look good from the end.
Don White and Christine Lavin will be appearing at me&thee coffeehouse (28 Mugford St., Marblehead, MA) on Friday, March 6. It’s a Don White Birthday extravaganza so who knows what to expect!