All together now
On a Sunday night at the Hangar Bar in Stead, singer songwriter Canyon White took the stage for open mic night around 8 p.m. The start time always coincides with the end of the last NFL game of the day. Half a dozen locals chatted and drank domestics while White set up her guitar in front of the flat-screen TVs next to the jukebox. She looked at home in front of the tie-dye banner bearing her name, a simple PA and a bongo drum—she’s done this before.
“Being at the Hangar for 16 years, once a week, really challenges me,” she said. “I found my voice. I consider myself one of the blessed ones, and that’s kind of what the open mic has done for me.”
White’s open mic could very possibly be the longest running engagement in Reno. She acts as MC and headliner, playing requested classics, leading singalongs and dipping into her repertoire of over 300 original songs she’s compiled in her 30-plus years of playing music. However, she’s always ready to cede the floor to anyone with a song to sing.
“I use all the energy I have for my project, which is music,” said White. “And not just my music, but to support other people’s music. I’m encouraging those who have been in it for 40 years to say, ’Don’t be discouraged. Your time could be now. You never know who’s listening.’”
White’s musical range skates between blues-rock and country with an earthy soul, mellow vocals and an acoustic steel-string. She finds a smoky, Melissa Etheridge-like rasp on the high end of her more powerful rock numbers.
She got her start playing trumpet in the Washoe County school system.
“I went to college and discovered the guitar,” said White. “At some point in my freshman year, I hit the road as a roadie for other people—carrying their stuff—and they’re my influences. People that no one knows, just road warriors who go out and play their songs.”
While Willie Nelson did hear of one her songs once, and that’s enough for White to “die a happy woman,” she said, the primary goal for her career has never been fame or recognition, but to put on the best show she can and help others do the same.
“I understand about competition,” she said. “You want to beat the other guy. You want to be the best. But in music I don’t need that at all. I feel it’s a cooperation. I know every new club that opens up. I know every new festival that comes and goes. I know the names that come and go, and I’m proud of every one of them.”
White considers her wins in RN&R’s “Best of Northern Nevada” readers’ polls to be among her crowning achievements. She was voted Best Local Musician and Best Songwriter in both 2015 and 2016.
“This has been my job, my gig, my goal, my dream,” she said. “So that has meant something to me because that is my community giving me a ’atta girl.’”
She plans to release a “best of” compilation, her fourth self-produced album, at some point this year. She often says she considers herself Reno’s best-kept secret, but fans can join her onstage at The Hangar or at one of the other open mic nights she hosts in Carson City.
“The fact that I’m getting some recognition is really—I’m OK with that, but that’s not the point,” said White. “To me it will always be about the song. I’m a slave to the song.”