What is “your” song? You know the one where, as you’re switching through the radio dial trying to find something you like, you come across one of your favorite tunes. Instantly, you’re transported back to your senior year in high school where that particular song serenaded you through summer, marking the moments like time bombs and you had no idea of their importance. Or maybe it’s the time you spent witnessing the Beatles revolution and even you blurred the lines between fan and groupie status, and “Hey Jude” will always make you cry.
Music is the highlighter on the script of life, accentuating times and events that were both great and tragic and never letting you forget you’ve lived. Oftentimes, it is a song that’s current to your time, but in many instances people will gravitate to the music that their parents listened to and they grew to appreciate. Phew! Music is life! And it is with that love for music and theater that has sprung a local production onto the national stage. Decades Rewind, an interactive, fun-for-the-soul Broadway size show, is getting it right with fans across the United States, and one of the men behind it all is a local North Port resident.
Mark Blinkhorn’s love of music has always been intermingled with his desire to help others. He has been a first-responder for most of his life working as an EMT, while also attending fire school where he ultimately worked for nearly 28 years as a Sarasota County Firefighter. He will tell you he was proud to be a Battalion 4 guy and when his retirement drew nearer, his heart and the drumsticks that had long been in his hands began to beat together for an idea he had brewing for some time.
“It all started with a Facebook friend’s request,” a mantra many of us can relate to these days. The request came from an old elementary school friend who, as it turned out, was the namesake of nearby Smitty’s Pub & Grille. A surprise meeting at the bar turned into an all hours of the evening conversation spent reminiscing and planning new opportunities to play together in the band at Smitty’s. It was while jamming there that Mark became good friends with the keyboard player, Peter Gatti, and divulged his secret vision of a decades-type band that would dress in era-appropriate costumes while playing some of the best tunes of the past 40 years. Turns out, Peter had a similar idea but they kept it hush-hush until the timing was right. With the addition of a guitarist, Al Owen, the three friends brainstormed on how to make this a one-of-a-kind production. They spent countless hours thinking about the most finite details and eventually began to put the plan into motion. Their first show was at the Manatee Players Theater in Bradenton in November of last year, and since then has received phenomenal response.
Mark and Peter have been bringing Decades Rewind to some of the hottest venues in the nation this past year, including recent stops in South Carolina and Georgia. The show focuses on medleys beginning in the 1980s and gradually rewinds through the ‘70s and ‘60s. Some of the most nostalgic musical eras of our time are covered with elaborate set and costume changes, along with large background screens depicting images of the relevant era. Eight musicians, six vocalists, and a full horn ensemble treat the audience to a barrage of disco funk, pop, Motown, and hippie era music and more, depending on the set they’re in. The show travels with about 25 people and includes top-notch talent form the Tampa Bay area including a seasoned choreographer who has over 30 years’ experience with Busch Gardens and a costume designer who also works with Cirque du Soleil. And, increasingly popular characters like “Colonel Funk and the Funketts” make regular appearances to a crowd that rarely finds itself sitting. As soon as the music starts, the crowd is up, and from there, Mark says, “it’s just a whole lot of fun.”
The giver in Mark and his comrades’ shines brightly through the Decades Rewind project. They are currently auctioning a custom ‘70s chopper and will be splitting 100% of the raffle ticket profits between the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and Heartstrings for Heroes, an organization that provides music therapy for Purple Heart recipients. In addition, at select shows, Decades Rewind honors a Purple Heart recipient with a guitar and special memorial plaque. And if that’s not enough, handmade bears by Nina’s Share-A-Bear are offered for sale, and for every bear that is purchased, one is donated to a child in a local hospital.
The hearts and bravery of first-responders seem larger than life given their job is to run toward the very danger that might harm them, usually to save the life of another. In Mark Blinkhorn’s case, those qualities were matched by a love for music and a desire to continue to help others. His brainchild, Decades Rewind, is a perfect mix of the songs we all love, balanced with a good-hearted nod toward American Veterans and worthy charitable causes.
The show will be hitting major cities in our area in the near future, including stops at the Port Charlotte Cultural Center and Manatee Performing Arts Center in September and the Strazz Center in October, then on to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in November. Be sure to get your tickets soon and kick off fall with a show that will send you dancing down Memory Lane. For more information, please visit www.decadesrewind.com.
photo credits Ken Munson, Morgan Bernard, Chris Gatti, Dianne Coleman Ljungquist