Mike Brown, also known as “Mojo Mike,” is renowned for his captivating performances and stories about Rock and Roll history. Nowadays, he enjoys performing at Monday Night Jam sessions at the Tiki Bar & Grill, Open Mic every Wednesday at the Pareidolia Brewing Company, and Sebastian Inlet’s Surfside Grill.
Mojo Mike, who began playing music at the young age of 6, and his wife have become a musical staple in the Sebastian music scene, entertaining audiences at numerous venues. While Mike is best known for playing keyboards, he also plays the guitar and accordion.
“I started taking piano lessons from my aunt when I was six. It was frustrating for my mom to try and get me to practice. A couple of times, she smacked me with a broom to get me on the piano,” Brown humorously recalled.
However, at 13, his passion for music ignited after a chat with his cousin about The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. “He said to me if we learned to play guitar and started a band, we could get girls. I got my first guitar from Goldblatts’s Department Store on the south side of Chicago. It cost $16,” Brown reminisced.
By age 14, Brown and his mates had formed a band with their debut performance in Black Oak, Indiana. They were limited to four songs, which they repeated. Brown reminisced, “In high school, I was part of various bands, one being a soul band. My college days, too, saw me associated with several bands, notably a bluegrass group where I got to play the dobro and mandolin.”
After he and Penny married, he still lived in Indianapolis and juggled performances with four bands. One of them was his very own, “Mojo Gumbo.”
Recalling the band’s name, he said, “I started it after Hurricane Katrina. A musician from New Orleans came to stay with friends, and they asked me to start playing with him. His name was E.J. Phillips. He introduced me to all the music of New Orleans and Louisiana, like jazz, blues, zydeco, and Cajun. We played all the music from there, and I started playing more accordion.”
He had known Penny since high school and even played the guitar for her church choir. Their paths crossed again at a reunion about 15 years ago, and according to Brown, magic happened.
“We got married in New Orleans in Congo Square by a Voodoo priestess and moved to Sebastian in 2015. Penny met Lynn Johnson, Robert Johnson’s wife, at the art fair. Lynn told Penny about Rob’s Open Mic sessions at Pareidolia Brewing Company, and we have been to almost every one since then,” shared Brown.
They began attending the Monday Night Jam sessions at the Tiki Bar & Grill. This is where Brown began sharing snippets of Rock and Roll history before diving into his songs.
The first band Brown joined in Sebastian was called ‘The Mixers.’ He fondly remembers Joe McManus as an exceptional band leader with a diverse taste in music. By 2017, the band played regular performances at various venues.
Then, the Ukulele Choir was born in 2019. Brown recalled how it started, “we were sitting on the porch at Pareidolia, and Lynn Anderson was saying that she wished she could learn to play the ukulele. Penny said, ‘Mike can teach you!’ That is how the Pareidolia Ukulele Choir got started. The choir participated in the Sebastian 4th of July parade that year.”
Sebastian Daily captured footage of Brown and the Pareidolia Ukulele Choir from that parade.
A month later, they graced the stage at Pareidolia’s Brewing Company premier festival, Groovestock, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
“Most of the players were folks who played at Robert Johnson’s Open Mic. We also did our first ukulele festival that year,” Brown elaborated.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Brown and his wife collaborated often with their friends, Jeff and Sue Golden. Their garage became their practice haven, and they broadcasted their performances live on Zoom for their close friends to enjoy.
“Golden Ukes got pretty good and certainly was unique. We played at just about every festival, including Frog Leg, Clamfest, Shrimpfest, Art Fest, and Earth Day. We also started playing at the Surfside Grill at the Sebastian Inlet State Park,” shared Brown.
In 2021, they took the stage for two significant events at Pareidolia Brewing Co. One celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, and the other, Groovestock II.
“Again, we tried to use those musicians who participated in Open Mic. We also had professional help from Dave Scott and Dale Cinski at the Dylan Fest and HairPeace for Groovestock II,” Brown mentioned.
Come April 2022, Brown graced the stage at a festival paying homage to the legendary John Prine. However, soon after, Brown realized he was playing so many gigs that he was losing energy.
“I had been playing with a guy from Melbourne, John MacDonald, almost every week, so I quit that. The Golden Ukes broke up. Penny and I were playing at least once, sometimes twice a month, at Surfside Grill, and we kept doing that,” he said.
Moreover, Brown took on the role of the keyboardist for the Monday Night Jam at the Tiki Bar & Grill, an engagement he still honors, weather permitting. He and his wife are regulars at the Open Mic sessions at Pareidolia every Wednesday and are part of the Robert Johnson Band. They have a cherished tradition of performing on Christmas Eve at Pareidolia, a ritual they’ve upheld for the past half-decade. Brown emphasized, “I think that is the one tradition we will keep doing till we can’t do it anymore.”
Brown says the musical vibe in Sebastian resonates deeply with him and his fellow musicians, adding, “Sebastian is unique in the support and cooperation musicians have with each other. I love the encouragement we get from our audiences. Dave Scott gave me my nickname-Mojo Mike. It is great being in a small town and going to Publix and having people say, ‘Hi Mojo!’ I don’t feel like a star. I feel like I have a lot of friends.”
The community truly cherishes the presence of “Mojo Mike” and Penny. Their energy is infectious, and they never fail to captivate those around them. Mojo’s performances, interspersed with tidbits of Rock and Roll history, are a treat for the audience.
Below is a rundown of Brown’s forthcoming schedule. Drop in and say hello to Mike and Penny.