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Return of a Hamilton Native: Chris "Isto" White Performs at the Barge

By Bridget Sheppard
On February 22, 2012

  • ISTO THE MAESTRO. Hamiltonian Chris White, who goes by Isto, gave an idiosyncratic, uplifting performance at the Barge.

When Chris White, or "Isto," as he is better known, views the world, he sees a quirky land of fantastical occurrences in ev­eryday life. In his music, he addresses chal­lenges such as a gremlin that repeats an ex-girlfriend's name, but also expresses how we can overcome obstacles with a sense of humor and a song. Isto, who grew up in Hamilton, attended Wesleyan University and now resides in Brooklyn, performed to a full audience at The Barge Canal Coffee Co. on Saturday, February 18. With songs that have been described as a combination of Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra and Mel Blanc, Isto charmed his listeners with a range of covers and original pieces.

While Isto touches upon darker themes in songs like "Spirit in a Bottle," he constantly finds the posi­tive aspect of situations in his origi­nal lyrics and adds his own sound to songs. One such optimistic song, "O.J. Simpson" recounts robbing a bank with O.J. Simpson and then later meeting up with Napoleon Bonaparte in Hawaii.

After the twists and turns of the narrative, Isto admits, "Now, you may think this song went by in a non-sequiturial haze," but he points out, "I would argue that life is like that in a lot of ways."

Isto enjoys the little things in life and wishes to share his joy with everyone; he sings about the wonders of tuna salad and bacon and eggs. He even has a song called "The Happy Song," which states, "My doctor says laughter is the best medicine; my doctor is a clown."

In between taking requests from the au­dience for his original pieces, Isto performed Disney covers – "The Bare Necessities" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" – as well as old classics from singers like Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly. Interspersed between his songs, Isto entertained the crowd with tales, such as how he once caught an 80-foot fish and sliced off its 90-foot tongue with the sword he conveniently brought fishing with him that day. He also engaged in conversation, asking if anyone had read any good books lately and, rather than take a break in the middle of the performance, he sat strumming his guitar with his eyes closed to let people leave without his notice.

As students and residents listened to him spin unusual fairy tales about everyday life, Isto's attitude became contagious. As he sang "I'm a Werewolf Over You," howl­ing through a transformation process, Isto showed that life depends on how you view it. Rather than being muddled down with cynicism and despair, Isto embraces what life throws at him, noting excitedly at one point, "My guitar's never made that sound before!"

Instead of allowing a new sound to impose disaster on his perfor­mance, Isto added a new bit to his song with the odd sound at the center. Adapting to life as it comes, Isto's songs tell us about what pos­sibilities are out there. He reminds us in one song to "think of all the things you can do with a chair," for he sings, "If your mind's open, there's no stopping you."

In that case, there is no stopping Isto and his uplifting music.

Contact Bridget Sheppard at

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