May 25 2016 11:59 AM

Don Middlebrook brings tropical vibes to mid-Michigan

Michigan native Don Middlebrook, seen here performing in Key West, Fla., specializes in the Caribbean-flavored style of rock popularized by artists like Jimmy Buffett.
Courtesy Photo

It may seem like trop rock, the genre of Caribbean-flavored music popularized by artists like Jimmy Buffett, is best suited for cruise ships and beach resorts. But Michigan native Don Middlebrook thinks it has a place in Michigan, too.

“People ask me how I can live in Michigan and think tropical, but people in the north need it more than anyone,” Middlebrook said. “It’s an escapism that everyone could use a little of.”

Middlebrook splits his time between homes in Haslett, Saugatuck and Florida. The guitarist and songwriter has been part of the Greater Lansing music scene for over 20 years. He and his band, the Pearl Divers are gearing up for a busy run of summer gigs, with stops all over the Midwest. He’s lined up several mid-Michigan performances, including a run of Wednesday evening gigs at Reno’s East. He’ll even make his way to Pittsburgh in August for a pre-concert party before Buffett himself performs in the city.

Middlebrook is also preparing to release a new album, “Guitar Island,” in July or August. The album features steel guitarist Doyle Grisham, a longtime member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.

“It’ll be a busy summer,” Middlebrook said.

Middlebrook is a founding member of the Trop Rock Music Association, which promotes trop rock throughout the U.S. The group started in 2005 as a social club for a handful of tropical-minded musicians. Over the next decade, it grew into an 8,000-member organization with members in 48 states, Canada, England, Mexico, St. Thomas, Cayman Islands and Costa Rica.

“I was surprised how big it got,” Middlebrook said. “Now it’s a national organization. It’s like watching a genre come alive.”

The group even has its own awards ceremony, which takes place at an annual convention in Key West, Fla. Last year, Middlebrook snagged the Songwriter of the Year award, and his latest album, “Songs from Talespin Bay,” earned an Album of the Year award. He was also given the I Can award, which recognizes charitable work in the trop rock community.

Charitable work is a core part of the trop rock ethos. Communities of trop rock enthusiasts — who often call themselves “parrot heads,” a term coined by Buffett — have sprung up around the nation, and many of them encourage volunteerism and charitable giving. The Mid-Michigan Parrot Head Club, also known as the Rum Chums, has raised over $80,000 for local charities since its inception in 2003.

“We like to party with a purpose,” Middlebrook said. “We have heroes peppered all over the country.”

Don Middlebrook

With Rush Clement 6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 1 FREE Reno’s East 1310 Abbot Road, East

Lansing (517) 351-7366 See web for other summer dates: