Front Porch

Paying Tribute to an Old Friend

The legendary Steve White, who died in 2011

The legendary Steve White, who died in 2011

Flyer for the Steve White Music and Art Festival

Flyer for the Steve White Music and Art Festival

On the sixteenth of this month, the first Steve White Music and Art Festival will celebrate the memory of this singer/songwriter. To be held at Encinitas’s Seaside Bazaar, the plans for the festival include a full day of music, the participation of artists, and the world premier of a documentary that explores the life, music, and art of this man who succumbed to a battle with cancer in the spring of 2011.

White lived the last 20 years of his life in Leucadia, just north of Encinitas. Alda Leal, White’s life partner, says that the choice of having the festival at the Seaside Bazaar was something of a no-brainer. “Steve was such a part of the whole Seaside Bazaar scene,” she says. “He would come and go as he wanted. There was no schedule. He played music when he wanted to.” White sometimes performed both days of the bazaar, Saturday and Sunday, sometimes for hours, fitting his performances there between his other gigs.

According to Leal, Encinitas has one of the highest percentages of artists in San Diego County, yet the North County beach community has a dearth of museums and galleries for artists to display their work and for the public to enjoy their creations. She hopes that the festival – this month’s festival to be the first of what promises to be an annual event – can serve as a catalyst to establishing more permanent facilities for the artists of the region.

Moving here from the Lake Tahoe area in the late eighties, White became a fixture of the local open mic and coffeehouse music scene. A gifted songwriter, White’s tunes were sometimes quirky and funny – one song told of the delights of being a dog, another sang of the most naive imaginings of a life lived in Paris – while other songs could be evocative or painfully sad.

Besides his songwriting talents, White was possibly one of the most amazing performers. The term one-man-band evokes the image of a novelty act, but the Maine native seamlessly incorporated funky guitar playing, the blowing of a harmonica, and singing, all the while his feet stomping out rhythms on a percussion board to create a funky wall-of-sound backdrop for his songs. Often overlooked here in southern California, White finally received some of the recognition that he had sought throughout his career. He performed on the East Coast and regularly toured Europe and other parts of the globe.

Producing dozens of paintings and hundreds of sketches, White was also a visual artist, which the festival will celebrate as well. Similar to White’s easy-going approach to most things in his life, the festival is going to be a casual affair. From 10:30am till 3:30pm the stage will be an open mic for performers, with anybody who can make it on stage able to sign up for a time slot. From 3:30-5pm the open mic format continues, but all the performers will be singing only the songs of Steve White.

As part of the celebration, Painting the World With Music, a documentary on White’s life, will premier next door to the Seaside Bazaar at the La Paloma Theatre. The film starts at 7pm that evening after the day of musical performances. Clint Burkett, the director of the documentary, had released an earlier version of the film in 2011, not long after White had passed away but wanted to polish his film creation. “The original film was perceived by many as being more of a tribute rather than a documentary,” says Burkett. “It’s hard when you’re so close and involved in a project to enforce that objectivity. People also want a story when they see a film like this, and I think that I achieved that. I added some narration, which helps to fill in the storyline.” Burkett, who had met and befriended White in 2009, had spent seven weeks on the original effort, finding musicians who had performed with White as well as family members to appear in the film. He also got his hands on old footage of concerts and interviews of White.

“I started working on the remake in 2011. I put the word out that I was looking for anything to do with Steve White,” says Burkett. “I was flooded with photographs and notebooks that contained lyrics to Steve’s songs! Less than six months ago I received a film of Steve taken when he was performing in Malaysia.” In his subsequent research for the remake of the documentary Burkett found that White was constantly creating music, writing, sketching, and painting. The documentarian amassed between 15 and 20 of White’s journals, all filled with one song after another. Through the journals Burkett could trace the evolution of some of White’s music, and he says that in some ways he got to know White even better after he passed away. After the film’s premier, he plans to get Painting the World With Music shown at film festivals, here and abroad.

Tickets to the documentary are free through You can find more information about Painting the World With Music and the Steve White Music and Art Festival at

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