Christine Lavin on her work with Don White and laptop concerts

As part of our International Folk Alliance Conference preview series, we’re rounding up a bunch of notable acts that are coming to town and chatting about what’s happening in their world. The International Folk Alliance Conference takes place from February 19-23. Details here.

It’s a given to anyone who has heard her music that Christine Lavin is a funny woman. “Sensitive New Age Guys” absolutely nailed a particular part of the ’80s zeitgeist, and you could replace “new age” with “hipster” and have a modern-day update. However, she’s effortlessly funny during the course of our chat on the phone, revealing that she’s in her pajamas before we’ve gone a minute in. However, she’s not all giggles and goofs, as she reveals when we talk about her more serious songs and her work with the new medium of streaming concerts from one’s living room.

The Pitch: How did you get involved with the Folk Alliance International Conference?

Lavin: The last one I went to was in Memphis because there was something special we were doing for Dave Van Ronk, who’s my mentor and teacher. I was kind of out of the scene for a little bit, because I was taking care of my mom for two and a half years, living in upstate New York and not performing as much.

I started doing shows with this guy, Don White, and we decided to go to establish that we were officially doing this as a duo. We do maybe 15 or 20 shows a year, and we wanna do more because it’s so much fun. We figured the best way to do it is to go to Folk Alliance.

How did you and Don White come to be working as a pair?

It’s a great story, actually. I met him at a club called the Old Vienna in Westboro, Massachusetts. He was opening for me, and we were sharing a dressing room. I asked him if he would sing me a song because I’d heard he was really good. And he refused, just like, “I can’t just turn it on. I really need an audience.” And I thought, “Who is this guy? The headliner asks him to sing a song, and he says, ‘No!’?”

I’ll tell you, I’ll remember that performance for the rest of my life, because that’s the only time in my career I started a show off with a ballad because the audience was so laughed-out. He’s impossible to follow. So when we got this idea to do shows together, I said to him that the only way I’d do it is if I get to go first. He said no because I’m a little more well-known. The next time we performed together was in Chicago, and he went first, and it was a disaster.

So now it works out perfectly because I’m friendly, and get the crowd all warm and happy, then he comes out and is all powerful. Then he brings me up at the end, and we do stuff together. I get the best of both worlds: I don’t have to follow all that energy, but when he brings me back, he stays up there, and together we just have so much fun.

How does a show change when you’re doing a showcase performance?

Well, it’s shorter. Our regular show is around two and a half hours long, so it’s a microcosm. We have a lot of audience participation, and it’s mostly funny, but both of us often do serious tunes because the funny stuff works better if you have a few serious songs thrown in. Just for the contrast, you know?

How do you determine when to put a serious song into a set of mostly humorous material?

I have found over the years that it’s important – if I’m doing a solo show – that the third or fourth song should be serious, just to establish that it’s not going to be all funny. Because if you wait too long to put in a serious song, what happens is they don’t know it’s supposed to be serious, and they start laughing.

What’s up with the laptop concert thing you’re going to be hosting?

I’ve done four of them so far. I just started in January. It’s a new technology that’s really taking off, where performers do concerts from their laptop to people who are logged on all over the world. You can make money from it. People pay whatever they – they can tip you if they like what they hear.

I did the first one by myself, but the thing is, I’d forgotten I was supposed to do it! I remembered at 8:15, when it was supposed to start at 8, and I was – like now – in my pajamas, so I just went online and I saw that there were 41 people waiting for me. And I hadn’t told anybody because I’d forgot! So I sang to them with my bathrobe on.

We’re going to do two of them [at Folk Alliance], Friday and Saturday, and any money that comes in will go to the Folk Alliance scholarship fund. Everybody gets to do one song and talk about themselves for 30 seconds. We’re going to try and get as many people signed up as we can. People will get work out of it. People will get fans out of it.

Christine Lavin and Don White perform at the Folk Alliance International Conference on Friday, February 21. Details are here.

Categories: Music