Whenever Arch Simonson plays his “Are You Experienced” album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he feels as if it’s 1968 again, when he met Jimi Hendrix. Playing vinyls transport Simonson back to his youth when he would go into a record store, sift through the stacks of albums, put them on a turntable and enjoy the music. “It’s not just the memory of the song itself,” the Village of Bonita resident said. “It’s the memory of the time decades ago.” Nostalgia is a key element of entertainment—especially for people 55 and older. In Florida, which has more than
7 million residents over the age of 55, multiple attractions and businesses take people “back in time” such as the Citrus Tower, the Ocala Drive-In theatre, Goofy Golf of Pensacola and the 1950s diner-style restaurant Johnny Rockets.
Connecting to Fond Memories
A person’s pop culture preferences tend to be imprinted during their late teens and early 20s, said Benjamin Ho, an associate professor of behavioral economics at Vassar College, who researched nostalgia as a market in the entertainment industry.
In a senior community like The Villages, tribute shows such as “Absolute Queen” and entertainment groups that have elements from the ‘50s to ‘80s such as the British Invasion group, the Back in Time group, Johnny Wild & The Delights, Cactus Jack & The Cadillacs, Forever Motown and more come to the area and draw huge crowds of retirees.
“In part because we have fond memories for that time in our life, and the music and movies from that time reminds us of them,” Ho said.
When Simonson plays his vinyls, it gives him a nostalgic feeling of his past.
He has a large collection of vinyls today that he still listens to. Simonson started collecting vinyls and albums in the early 1960s for the memories and has worked his way up to about 1,000 45s, some of them rare editions, and has about 700 albums.
Older generations drive the nostalgia market because a person’s spending power tends to be at its highest for people in their 40s and 50s, and the entertainment industry has been catering to that by producing content from their teenage years, such as new movies for the “Star Wars” franchise from the 1970s and 1980s, Ho said.
That makes Florida a hotbed for old-fashioned locations that can take people back to their younger years.
Ocala has Vinyl Oasis, a record store, and the Ocala Drive-In, which shows movies on a big screen that people can watch from their cars.
Vinyl Oasis sells all types of vinyls of all different genres and has about 20,000 records available.
Owners Clifton and Janine Durant opened the store for several reasons, but especially because vinyls are making a comeback.
Making Vinyl Popular Again
For part of 2020, vinyl records outsold CDs in the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s, according to data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Clifton believes records are popular again because of the experience a person can get when playing a vinyl.
“It’s the collectability, it’s the sound, it’s the ritual of taking the record out, looking at the liner notes, putting it on the turntable,” Clifton said.
Clifton said Ocala provides a good music scene, with a range of residents with different music tastes and several music venues. It’s also close to The Villages, which has residents who used to use listen to vinyls growing up, Clifton said.
Simonson said he enjoys vinyls because it usually provides the original version of the song.
“The sound wallet for a vinyl record is the best because the entire audio tracks were captured and put down on vinyl, whereas today its digital information,” Simonson said.
However, the demographic Clifton sees coming into the Vinyl Oasis ranges from young to old, and he believes that nostalgia has had an effect on business in a positive way, Clifton said.
“That’s what’s attracting the young kids, and the older folks just want to get back to what they have,” Clifton said.
At the Ocala Drive-In theatre, movie-goers can watch new releases and old movies similar to how people used to when they were popular in the 1950s and mid-1960s.
It first opened in 1948, and John Watzke has owned the place since 2011.
It has become a popular location for local residents, Watzke said.
“The drive-in is more of an experience,” he said, “It is a memory more so than a walk-in theatre.”
At a regular movie theater, people are just paying for the movie. When they come to a drive-in, it is an entire outing with the family where more than the movie will be remembered, Watzke said.
When Watzke talks to older people about a movie they saw at a drive-in theater, they can remember where they saw it and the car they were in at the time.
Drive-ins also bring back memories for Watzke, who used to go to them when he was young. In 1913 his grandfather was a projectionist, then his father became one, then he did, along with his brother. Now his sons and his brother’s sons are projectionists, too.
Watzke always wanted to open or own a drive-in.
“If somebody has not tried the drive-in, they really need to check it out,” he said.
Reminding People of the Old Days
Old-fashioned diners have also remained a staple in the restaurant scene.
In The Villages, Johnny Rockets in Lake Sumter Landing has elements of a 1950s restaurant. Some of the nostalgic decor includes Coca-Cola advertising, individual jukebox stations, chrome accents and red vinyl seats. The staff also will do dances to popular songs.
The 1950s setting of the restaurant is popular among Villagers, said Kirk Walker, owner of the Johnny Rockets in Lake Sumter Landing.
Walker became owner of the location in 2019 because he felt the location and decor was “intriguing,” he said.
Walker said customers tell him the restaurant reminds them of their younger years — especially the jukebox area.
Florida residents and visitors can also have a vintage experience at Goofy Golf at Pensacola.
Goofy Golf of Pensacola is a miniature golf course that was built in 1958 and includes 36 holes for miniature golf and other activities. One of the most famous parts of the course is the 24-foot tall T-Rex.
“It’s one of these places that we have people who literally walk in everyday and talk about childhood memories or young memories of coming here,” said Marty Stanovich, president and executive director of the First Tee Gulf Coast, which owns Goofy Golf of Pensacola.
A Childhood Favorite
First Tee Gulf Coast purchased the course in 2016 after it had been closed for some time. The organization renovated it but kept the course the same as much as possible to keep those memories, Stanovich said.
Staff at First Tee Gulf Coast purchased the course because they saw an opportunity to restore a historic location in the state, Stanovich said.
“We knew that the community would love it and support it,” he said.
Since the renovation and reopening of Goofy Golf of Pensacola, people have been stopping by to check out the place they used to visit when they were younger, and staff are seeing some people bring in the families to introduce them to the place they liked to visit growing up.
“We get people who come out into the community and tell stories of when they were kids here,” Stanovich said.
The business operates from Friday to Sunday. Saturday is Goofy Golf’s busiest day, and staff are seeing about 100 people per day, which are the numbers they saw before the pandemic hit, Stanovich said.
Paying Homage to an Industry
Florida also is home to historic landmarks such as the Citrus Tower in Clermont, which is known as one of Florida’s first “attractions,” according to the website for the Citrus Tower.
It pays tribute to the citrus industry that used to thrive in the area, said Scott Homan, operator of the Citrus Tower.
The tower was built in 1955 and opened in 1956. Its purpose was to be a tourist attraction, and it still is one today.
“We see thousands of people every year who come out to see the sights and learn about the citrus industry,” Homan said.
Homan also sees many visitors stopping by who used to visit growing up.
“Lots of guests came here as kids with their parents when the Tower opened, as it was one of the largest attractions in Florida in the 50s and 60s,” Homan said.
The Citrus Tower is also nostalgic for Homan. He grew up working with citrus by planting, weeding, spraying and doing irrigation.
“It’s sad to see the industry slowly die,” he said. “Working at the Tower is still a cool tribute to that.”
Honoring History, the Icons
The location still offers amenities to give off that “old feel” of Florida. In the lobby, there are videos about the tower from the 50’s all the way to the present time. The elevator to take guests to the top of the tower has been modernized but was renovated in a way to keep it aesthetically similar.
“We love the history and aim to respect it well,” Homan said.
In The Villages, entertainment history comes alive through groups and shows that embody music from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s — decades when many Villagers were growing up.
The Villages Entertainment puts on tribute shows such as Forever Motown and Classic Albums Live partly due to the nostalgia factor, said Brian Russo, executive director of The Villages Entertainment.
Some upcoming tribute shows include Absolute Queen, a tribute to the band Queen. The show will be from Monday to Wednesday at Savannah Center. In May, there will also be tribute shows to Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and John Denver at Savannah Center.
“Patrons love the opportunity to see someone who captures the essence of the artist they love, especially if they can’t see the real thing,” Russo said.
Villages Groups on the Trend
Local group Back in Time started off performing doo-wop-type songs from the 1950s and 1960s, but members are trying to dip into other decades such as the 1970s.
The group, which was formed about three years ago and includes five members, performs songs by Elvis Presley, Chicago, Heatwave, The Beach Boys and more.
“We’re just trying to relate to the people and bring back memories that they had when they were growing up and things that made them happy in their early years,” said Village of Lake Deaton resident Denny Iwago, leader of Back in Time.
The British Invasion group, which is part of the Beatlemaniacs, plays music from the early British Invasion era, when British music groups quickly gained popularity in the U.S. Some bands featured are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
“I think The Villages has that demographic that is just perfect for that era, the music that we play,” said Jim Fraser, band leader of British Invasion.
High School Days
The group includes five members, including Fraser, all of whom grew up during the time of the British Invasion.
“Our generation looks back on that very nostalgically and I think — like any generation — the music and what was happening when you were in high school tends to be the music and the ideas (that) kind of stay with you your entire life,” Fraser said.
Sometimes when Fraser, of the Village of Silver Lake, plays certain songs, it brings back memories for him from when he was 16 or 17. He grew up in a beach town outside Boston and there was an amusement area similar to Coney Island. Whenever he and his friends would wait for a certain ride, the song “Ticket to Ride” would always play. Now whenever Fraser performs that song he can’t help but feel like he is back there hanging out with his friends again.
“That’s one that always gets me that way,” Fraser said.
Playing some songs featured in The Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night” also brings him back to his younger years. He remembers when he saw the movie in the theater.
The British Invasion group wants to bring people back to their youth in the same way.
“It’s a lot of nostalgia,” Fraser said. “People love to go and hear the stuff that they were connected to when they were in high school.”
Staff Writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or email@example.com.