White at the mic – Walnut Street Café hosts weekly events for musicians and speakers

Lynn musician Don White has led a very interesting life. A professional folk singer and songwriter since 1988, he has seven CDs and two DVDs to his credit and has also written a book, “Memoirs of a ‘C’ Student, a lot of which is about Lynn.

In the 1990s, White had a regional hit, “I’m from Lynn, What can I Say,” which received a lot of airtime on WBCN-FM.

White, 53, is somewhat of a legend on the café and coffeehouse circuit, having performed in them all of his adult life. He’s also a local pioneer, helping Lynn-area people find their creative voice at the Walnut Street Café.

White, a graduate of Lynn Classical High School, is bringing his common-man touch and immense talent to the Walnut Street Café each week as the leader of two diverse events: Don White’s Sunday Open Mic (live music performances) and SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mic [hosted by Tony Toledo], bringing a crowd of poets, storytellers, comedians, community activitists, and overall creative people to the café every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Both events are free of charge.

A grandfather and father in a multi-generational Lynn family, White lives within walking distance of the Walnut Street Café.

He reached out to Jim Chalmers, owner of the café, and Speak Up and Sunday Open Mic were born.

“The idea for Speak Up was to emulate other spoken word open mic nights I had seen in Cambridge,” said White during an interview in the Walnut Street Café’ courtyard. “It’s an event where people are attentive and respectful and everybody gets to say what they want.”

Speak Up debuted at the café on Sept. 1. Sunday Open Mic program was launched three months ago.

“The Sunday Music Open Mic has been a gigantic success,” related White. “It’s a really hip event. It’s mostly people in the 20s and they just take the place over. Everybody is really respectful to each other and then afterwards, we come out and jam in the courtyard.”

The reaction to White and the Chalmers family’s efforts to bring these distinct events to Lynn has exceeded expectations.

“The response has been tremendous,” said White. “It turns out that there’s a tremendous demand for this sort of thing.”

White said the idea behind Spoken Word is simple. “People just get up and they talk about whatever they want,” he said. “There is a five-minute limit and there’s a featured poet in the middle of the program. It’s free form. We deliberately didn’t call it a poetry reading or a storytellers’ gathering because we wanted everyone to feel what they had to say had value. I feel Spoken Word is a secret jewel in the city. These two programs at the café are helping to nurture the latent creativity that’s in the community.”

Michael Chalmers, assistant manager of the Walnut Street Café and a former football standout at St. Mary’s High School, said Open Mic and Speak Up have been great showcases for the café’s patrons to enjoy.

“It’s really fun to have these local artists bring their music here and to get out there on stage and be heard,” said Chalmers. “We feel our café is a great venue for these types of events. I’ve always been a fan of Don White’s. He’s a great Lynn resident and I’m glad we have a piece of him at our café now."

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