Neil Diamond tribute to raise funds for Parkinson’s disease support at the Wheeler Opera House
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Sweet Caroline Tour’ benefitting Parkinson Association of the Rockies
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Friday, March 29, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $50-$75
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
When Jay White decided to quit his day job selling life insurance to take his uncanny Neil Diamond tribute act on the road, he didn’t expect it to carry his music career for the next 36 years.
“It lasted a lot longer than I thought it would last initially,” White, who brings his two-hour Neil Diamond show to the Wheeler Opera House tonight, said in a recent phone interview from his home in Las Vegas.
Now White, who performs with Diamond’s former bandmembers in what is billed as “the ultimate Neil Diamond concert experience,” is giving back to the man whose music he’s lived and breathed for all these years. The Aspen performance benefits the Parkinson Association of the Rockies in a show of support for Diamond, 78, who retired last year after being diagnosed with the disease.
In 1983, as little more than a hobby, White started performing as Neil Diamond at a supper club in Detroit during its regular tribute night where cover acts would play 15 to 20 minute sets as varied pop music icons. After six months of performances, he made the leap to devote himself to recreating the “Sweet Caroline” singer’s epic concerts.
“I told my wife, I think I’m just going to perform full time for a while and see how it pans out,” he recalled. “It’s turned out to be quite a ride.”
White performs with a 10-piece ensemble that includes Diamond’s percussionist King Erisson and keyboardist Mark Levang. He promises the full Diamond experience — the voice, the bedazzled stage shirts, the thick parted hair, the audience interaction and the sing-alongs to “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “Sweet Caroline” — as he rolls through Diamond’s decades-long run of hits.
“Anyone who has never seen a Neil Diamond concert, we’re going to re-create that experience,” White said.
Diamond, of course, is among the most beloved American entertainers and songwriters in history, thanks to his epic concerts and enduring songs like “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Solitary Man,” “America,” “Love on the Rocks” and so on.
“Neil Diamond writes about his own experiences, his own hopes and dreams,” White said. “When people hear these songs, they connect because they connect to those emotions and that’s the thing that keeps his music alive.”
A part-time Roaring Fork Valley resident, Diamond endeared himself to locals even more last July when — in his only reported public performance since his retirement — he appeared with an acoustic guitar and played for first responders in Basalt at the command post as firefighters battled to save the town from the Lake Christine Fire.
White, through his role as a Diamond doppelganger, has twice met Diamond when the singer has come through Las Vegas. Diamond once signed a photo of the pair with the salutation: “Keep singin’ so I can stay home and relax.” White is also featured in a documentary film included in the 2003 Diamond box set “Stages.”
While White’s core audience is people who lived through Diamond’s astounding run of hits from the late 1960s through the ’80s, his shows have become multi-generational happenings.
“Young people come up to me on the road and say, ‘My parents love Neil Diamond and they played his music all the time and I grew to love his music, as well,’” White said.
When Diamond announced his diagnosis in early 2018, White pivoted to support Parkinson’s research and awareness.
“My manager and I got together with Neil and said, ‘Maybe we can do some shows to benefit Parkinson’s organizations in different cities around the country?’” White said.
White’s goal is to raise $5 million for Parkinson’s research and support over two years for organizations like the Parkinson Association, a Denver-based nonprofit that provides support and assistance to people living with the disease and their loved ones.
“Neil has given me a lifelong career since I was in my 20s. I couldn’t be more grateful,” White said. “I owe everything in my life to performing his music. So I feel like this is a way for me to return the favor by helping out people who have Parkinson’s.”