By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Mike White’s memorial service was on his birthday, which was Monday, Sept. 7. White died six days before that at the age of 67.
White was known by many in the area, having been one of the co-founders of the Newton car show and for being a show promoter and organizer. He also was a great friend to Harvey County Now, assisting the team in putting together Blues, Brews and Barbecue every year.
“Mike was like an unofficial staff member,” said HC Now publisher Joey Young. “He was absolutely our biggest hype man for the newspaper and the concert. When Bruce [Behymer] and I were cooking up the idea for Blues, Brews and Barbecue, it was Mike that Bruce called first to ask questions.”
Young said White always was incredibly generous with his time and had an energy about him no other person could match.
“You cannot tell our company’s history without mentioning Mike White, and that is saying something for someone who never once drew a paycheck from it,” Young said.
HC Now’s advertising manager Bruce Behymer agreed.
“I think it’s safe to say if it weren’t for Mike White, there would be no Blues, Brews and Barbecue,” Behymer said. “After Joey Young and I discussed the crazy idea of putting on an outdoor concert, Mike was the first person we called. He came over and sat in the back of the office with us and we, as a team, put that whole thing together.”
White’s first order of business was to introduce them to sound guy, Adam Akers, whom Behymer said is one of the best in the business.
“Mike wasn’t about to let us get away with using anyone else and that first year when we heard Amanda Fish and Dustin Arbuckle, who Mike booked for us, we knew we hit the bullseye,” Behymer said.
White instilled in them the power of promotion.
“Owning a media company, we know what it takes to promote an event and we’re darned good at it,” Behymer said. “Mike White, however, took things to a whole other level. If there was a platform to promote on, Mike was there and he pushed our concert harder than anyone would have thought possible. I don’t think the man slept.”
More than once, White told Behymer there’s no such thing as too much promotion and to “get obnoxious with it.”
White helped with that and a lot more behind-the-scenes work for the concert.
“He was our booking agent, head of the promotional department and coach,” Behymer said. “And I can tell you we didn’t pay him a hell of a lot of money. He was a part of Blues, Brews (and our newspaper too) because he cared. All he really wanted out of the deal was for us to succeed.”
Behymer said White wasn’t like a father to the newspaper—more like a “crazy uncle.”
“He would often leave voicemails on my phone acting as angry customer Mr. Smith who didn’t get his paper, which made me laugh every single time,” Behymer said. “There is no one out there like Mike White. He was a dear friend and I really miss him. Later on, Mr. Smith.”
Another friend of White’s, Bill Ryan, owner of Those Blasted Signs, enjoyed his time with White.
“I miss him,” Ryan said. “He used to come into the business at least three times a week. I’m probably going to miss that the most.”
He said White went with him on several sign installation jobs Ryan had and White asked Ryan for assistance for various things during car shows.
“When he billed Leon Russell at the Fox Theatre, he called me and said we need to unload Leon’s piano,” Ryan said. “That was fun. It was a baby grand. It was his personal piano that he took with him on the road. It was really heavy.”
Ryan didn’t get to meet Russell, but White got him front row seats for the concert.
“He did autograph my shirt that I got,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of a treasure of mine. We used to talk a lot about music—him being a promotor from way back and I was in bands most of my life. We traded stories.”
He was a good friend and local musician Jimmy Wallace said he’ll really miss him.
“He always did a great job promoting and assisting concerts and events in Newton,” Wallace said. “I had the pleasure of working with him when I performed. He was fun to be around and I enjoyed visiting with him. My deepest condolences to his family.”
Another of White’s friends, Dave Baughman, said he’s known White for more than 32 years. He said he first met White when Baughman was printing T-shirts for another car show in the park. He met White at one of the meetings and then he’d run into him from time to time.
He and White also were members of a local group, as was former Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton and others, and they used to have various activities.
“We probably did eight or 10 events,” Baughman said.
In addition, White and Baughman also started the Kansas Blues Fest at Camp Hawk, having some pretty famous headliners, like Tommy Castro and Duke Robillard, Baughman said.
“One of our former bands we had was Bad Dog Smokin’,” Baughman said. “We had lots of groups. Mike helped with that. He also did emceeing, like he did at Blues, Brews.”
The blues festival was from 1993-2003.
“Somewhere along the line, the Fox [Theatre] became owned by the Newton class of 1965,” Baughman said.
That’s something White helped with—getting shows at the Fox, like Leon Russell and John Mueller performing Buddy Holly.
“That was one of the first big names we got,” Baughman said about Mueller. “Of course, Mike did all the contracts.”
With the Mueller concert, Baughman said White wanted to put a hot rod outside the theater as an attention-getter for the show. That’s where the car show started.
Baughman said he told White they should do a car show, which they ended up doing with 80 vehicles on two blocks. Later, White did the concerts and Baughman did the car show.
One of the bands that came to the Fox was the Southern Rock All Stars, which included members from various southern rock groups, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special. That concert had a price tag of $10,000, so Baughman said they raised the money by selling advertising that was put inside the theater.
“We learned a lot putting on stuff there,” Baughman said, like it’s not a good idea to have a show on Fridays because people are tired from the workweek. Saturdays are better.
“Most of our friendship, besides putting on stuff, we went to car shows,” Baughman said. “We’d do like 20 car shows a year.”
It was a way to advertise Newton’s car show. Baughman said he’d print up 1,000 shop rags with information about the show and hand them out to people with vehicles they liked. They later found out people started collecting those and putting them on their shop walls.
“We had lots of good times,” Baughman said. “We were always interested in entertainment. That was the thing that brought us together—doing different shows and concerts. On our trips, we did a lot of talking.”
Baughman also said White always wore his Hawaiian shirts and that he must’ve had 20 or so or them.
“We liked putting on shows,” he said. “You can’t please everybody; that’s something we learned early.”
Another person who knew him, Sonja Davis, is sad.
“I just don’t want to believe it,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m absolutely heartbroken to learn of the passing of such a great man. He was best friends with my uncles and like family to us all. Michael White, you will be missed terribly and by so many. Rest easy.”
Throughout his career, White met a variety of not-so-famous and famous people. The famous ones include Kurt Russell, John Travolta and Harrison Ford. He met them all at once at the Airport Hilton in Wichita, where they were getting re-certified on their planes, White once said.
White was around a lot of stars, from rock to movie and met them mostly through his former business called Michael White Agency Entertainment. He operated the business, which sold contracts to promoters out of Newton.
“Met lots of rock stars because of my business being an agent selling contracts to promoters,” White said.
He also met Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, The Who, Chicago, 38 Special, ZZ Top, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Kansas and Black Oak Arkansas. He didn’t just hang out with movie stars at Legends in Wichita; he was there one time with the band Journey.
One time, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones bummed cigarettes from him when The Rolling Stones were in Wichita in their Bigger Bang Tour, which White said was supposed to be their retirement tour.
“I was asked to do security and me and Keith Richards bummed around together during the concert and pre-concert and all that,” White’s story goes, adding he thinks it was because Richards wanted to bum cigarettes off of him even though he had cases full of cigarette cartons onstage. “He was too lazy to walk up to the stage. The stage was huge. He had somebody go get me a pack and give it to me at the show.”