Blake Dowling: Musical memories with Charlie Mars
Image via YouTube.

charlie mars
As we all know, a perfectly crafted piece is powerful and acts as a time machine, an instant smile creator.

Someone asked me at a football game this weekend how I started my career.

I replied that you needed to refill that drink, get comfortable, and pull up a chair.

The story goes like this: In 1997, in Gainesville, immediately following my last exam at UF, I hit the road to Atlanta to begin my career.

That last exam was a doozy as I have battled a learning disability in math my entire life, and the last exam was college algebra. UF let me take that class at Santa Fe Community College and I needed a 70 to get my diploma. The professor asked if I would like him to grade it right then and there; he looked at me and looked at the test, graded it, and then wrote a big 70 on it. I got my paper and was free (as the legendary Indigo Girls song, “Closer to Fine,” goes — at least I always thought the lyric meant diploma.)

Next stop, I arrived in Atlanta for an internship, and a few conversations later at Smith’s Olde Bar I was asked to be the tour manager for the Charlie Mars Band. I said yes.

In 1998, Charlie and I began a tour and a friendship that is still alive and well today.

Charlie Mars and the Dowlings post-Tallahassee performance, 2022.

We headed on the road that took us all over the south, with the band playing shows in every SEC market. We toured all over the Carolinas, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. It was a crash course in the music business and the life of a touring professional.

The Hampton Inn closest to the interstate (if we were lucky) was usually home and rock clubs like the Exit Inn (Nashville), Smiths (Atlanta), Pot Belly’s (Tallahassee), Ricks Café (Starkville), Zydeco (Birmingham), and Proud Larry’s (Oxford) were our offices.

It was quite the first job.

We had many adventures with an equal part of misadventure. A story Mars told at his 2022 Tallahassee show involved getting the band van towed (while he was in it) at a music venue. This occurred after the club staff had written on Charlie’s face with a marker while he was “asleep.”

This was followed by him heading to the van to sleep, and then awakening in the tow yard (having slept through being towed) and driving the van out of the tow yard lot the wrong way (the exit) with the writing on his face while the tow lot guy just stared; it was a good tale of the road.

We shared lots of such stories on my podcast last year.

Charlie and I at a 99X breakfast concert at Smith’s Olde Bar, circa 1998, with the establishment’s owners, the Nolen and Reves team, who are rock ’n’ roll royalty.

All these years later, when I think of our year of touring, I recall the friendship and the songs Mars created. As we all know, a perfectly crafted piece is powerful and acts as a time machine, an instant smile creator.

Charlie has been a working musician all these years, still touring the nation while putting out amazing new music every few years. He has excellent acts like REM and the Dixie Chicks and even dated a celebrity, Mary Louise Parker (Weeds, West Wing, etc.), who appeared in the video for his hit song “Listen to the Darkside” in 2009.

These days, Charlie is now living the good life between gigs in the country, back home in Mississippi.

Great pix of the spot are featured here.

As far as his latest music, Charlie’s latest album dropped this month, and on the way home from UF’s homecoming game last week, I spun the record from start to finish. The album is called “Times Have Changed,” as I rolled down I-10 on the prettiest day of the year, it took me on a sonic journey that I will give a 10 out of 10. The track “Silver Dollar” is my 100% favorite. The vocal harmonies are haunting (in a good way) and linger way after the listen is over, and I have spun it four times since. The title track, “Times Have Changed,” and several of the album’s tunes have the vibe you have heard before, meaning they are instant classics and a perfect record for the Fall.

I also contacted political rock star Gus Corbella about his thoughts on Charlie’s career, as I usually see Gus at live shows in town (including at Charlie’s most recent ones).

Fun fact: Gus is an associate member of The Recording Academy (GRAMMYS), 2008-present, so who better than to check in with on music?

“I first came across Charlie’s music at the 30A Songwriters Festival, probably in 2016-17 or so. I was immediately captured by their tremendous talents as a songwriter but much more so by his skill as a storyteller. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to see Charlie perform live, you know that one of his most significant abilities is weaving a story’s most remarkable lyrics or through the intro of a particular song. He often does this with great wit and his tongue firmly in cheek.

“However, Charlie also creates a great mood of intimacy with his music, particularly through his acoustic work. You lose yourself in the moment and the story; he is singing, which is a unique talent. His music transports you to a place, be it your favorite beach town (“beach town in the wintertime”) or your old college dorm (“Listen to the Darkside of the Moon”). If the late, great Jimmy Buffett himself asked you to play him on Broadway, you know you are a special entertainer.

“I’ve been fortunate to know Charlie personally over these many years and truly believe he is one of the great troubadours of our time.”

The older we get, the more we appreciate life and everything in it. I am very thankful my career began with a 100-plus show tour with the Charlie Mars Band, and I immensely enjoyed our friendship all these years later. Mr. Mars is a good man, and he takes his life stories and heartfelt songs to Florida this month, starting in Seaside and then to Saint Agustine. See a show and check out what I am writing about and what I experienced in 1998. All dates can be found here: Tour — Charlie Mars.

I also highly recommend streaming or buying the new album, as he has raised the bar to a whole new level with this latest effort.

The record reminds me that life is short, times change, and to take a minute to sit back more often and enjoy it.

Charlie Mars Band and friends 1998, at Mooses Music Hall, Knoxville, Tennessee, playing a co-headlining show with the legend himself, Col. Bruce Hampton (rest in peace).


Blake Dowling is the CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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