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Troubadour Middlebrook gives back to inspiration

Tim Croft
The Star

Don Middlebrook developed a love affair for the community of Mexico Beach long before Hurricane Michael.

Roughly three years ago, the “Trop Rock” artist was en route South Florida to his next show in New Orleans and stopped at Mango Marley’s in Mexico Beach.

Middlebrook was jotting lyric ideas on a bar napkin while talking with a bartender by the name of Ashley.

Middlebrook and Ashley got to kibitzing and the conservation turned to Middlebrook’s songwriting and that napkin.

At the time Middlebrook was using the Mango Marley’s menu as a jumping-off-point, but Ashley’s story slowly made its way into the lyrics.

Ashley, on the other hand, was pretty skeptical about the entire enterprise until Pandora, playing in the bar area, followed a song from the Zac Brown Band with one of Middlebrook’s songs, Middlebrook said.

A Google search cleared away all skepticism; in 2016 Middlebrook was named the “Trop Rock” songwriter of the year and he has put out several CDs.

“I liked the sound of Mexico Beach,” Middlebrook said in the summer of 2018. “I need adventures, I need song inspiration.

“Her story just felt more and more like a song. My heart goes out to a teacher who has to go out and have an extra job because she doesn’t make enough money.”

By the end of the night Middlebrook was jamming and talking to the crowd that had gathered.

Six months later that song and CD, “Mexico Beach Road Trip” began streaming, as well as hitting 45,000 AMI jukeboxes around the country.

The song is an ode to a night spent in Mango Marley’s, the friends met and pays tribute to Ashley the teacher and bartender.

“You hear that in the chorus, ‘A beer in my hand/I followed her lesson plan,’” Middlebrook said. “I was trying (with the song) to get the feel of what that night was like.

A release party was held in June 2018 back at Mango Marley’s.

“As a songwriter, an artist, when all the pieces come together and it’s a little out of your hands, you feel like there is a God,” Middlebrook said. “And he loves Trop Rock and he loves Mexico Beach.

“It was just one of those things. It’s all just taken off.”

The bond created was strengthened by Hurricane Michael.

Following the storm, Middlebrook, who is based in Michigan and fronts the Pearl Divers band, dedicated all sales and downloads of “Mexico Beach Road Trip” to assisting hurricane impacted areas.

Further, the singer/songwriter created the first hurricane relief benefit that raised $4,000.

During the coming year, Middlebrook will distribute $3,000 to the city of Mexico Beach, earmarked for beach rehabilitation, replacement of palm trees and repairs to the canal.

Another $1,000 will be donated to Mango Marley’s, which has been operating from a tent since the storm and is expected to return to its former building soon.

Meanwhile, Middlebrook’s song sales will continue to benefit Mexico Beach.

And later this month, Jan. 15-16, Middlebrook will be part of a second relief benefit, spearheaded by the Panama City and Emerald Coast Parrot Head Clubs, a two-night stand at LuLu’s in Destin with a line-up of “Trop Rock” performers between 5-9 CT each night.

All are welcome and there is no cover change.