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Monday, April 22, 2024

Human jukebox ‘Gator Ron’ rocks Gainesville stages

Former teacher transformed into local celebrity

Dressed in a vibrant Florida Gators collared shirt and matching Gators sneakers, 75-year-old Ron Blake wasn’t the typical attendee at a midtown bar. He was, however, the most popular.

When DJs called Blake up to perform the first song of the night Jan. 25, The Social at Midtown’s attendees roared with cheers. Halfway through the song, a crowd of a dozen college students formed near him.

Better known by fans as “Gator Ron,” the retired Alachua County Public Schools teacher has recently risen to local stardom for his karaoke performances, attracting crowds of young adults and elders alike at multiple venues he frequents every Wednesday.

Blake can belt out hundreds of songs from a multitude of artists and time periods, but the crowd favorite remains “Uptown Funk,” he said.

“The one the kids want to hear the most has got to be Bruno Mars,” Blake said.

From participating in middle and high school “Glee” club as a child to hanging up Neil Diamond posters in his classrooms, Blake has been an avid music fan all his life.

His karaoke career began over a decade ago, after Blake began harmonizing with his musician son-in-law while he practiced. From there, his kids persuaded him to try karaoke.

“They got me to go out, got a couple of songs I could feel comfortable with,” Blake said. “That’s just taken off.”

He later met Bradley Searles, a 35-year-old Gainesville resident who performs with Blake. Within the last year, they became the “Human Jukebox Duo,” a pair capable of singing over 200 songs.

At their official events, audience members can flip through an alphabetized binder of their musical repertoire and text Searles a code representing the requested song. From there, the two add the recommendations to a queue.

The idea was Blake’s, who pushed for them to begin taking the performances seriously, Searles said.

“I agreed, we’ll go look for some gigs and launch something,” Searles said.

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Blake’s decorated performance history began with nursing home gigs, facilitated by long-time friend and karaoke DJ Michael Davis.

Davis said one of Blake’s largest strengths is his versatility — he’s able to rile the crowd no matter the age of audience members.

“He gets the people going,” Davis said, “That’s all that really counts.”

The nickname “Gator Ron,” Davis added, was his brainchild.

Last year, the duo performed at private parties hosted by 42-year-old Burt Wetherington, a former student of Blake’s who joins him on his Wednesday karaoke adventures.

Wetherington said the events were successful; even County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler sang alongside them.

“We didn’t realize that she did bluegrass at one time,” Wetherington said.

Music comes second only to the passion Blake has for his supportive family. While his wife Doreen isn’t fond of bars, she and others close to him always attend his larger gigs.

No one makes Blake happier than his wife, he said.

“No one catches my eye and has captured my heart like you have,” Blake said in reference to her, “I mean that.”

More recently, the duo has performed consistent gigs the first Saturday of every month at Mother’s Pub & Grill from 8 p.m. to midnight. Their first show saw upward of 50 requests and lasted until 1 a.m.

“We never got through all of our requests,” Gator Ron said, “I’m not designed to go to 1 o’clock.”

Blake can also be found every Wednesday at multiple venues. He starts his nights around 6:30 at One Love Cafe or Crafty Bastards, heads to The Social at Midtown and ends at Vivid Music Hall.

Contact Aidan Bush at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.

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