Take an evening stroll on a downtown Mount Dora sidewalk and you’re bound to hear a sultry siren’s voice that gently lures music lovers into one of the many live music venues in the historic district. Once inside, all eyes are on the young artist projecting the light, yet soulful vocals.
In a short time, free-spirited Christina Adinolfi has connected with a diverse audience and developed a following. She selects covers that range from old-school classic rock standards to more current pop and country. Her song choices often have deeply emotional lyrics that, at first, may seem to lie beyond her age, but she always pulls it off. Along with her vocal talent, Adinolfi’s lightheartedness and humility are also on open display in the intimate venues where she performs.
At 22, the spiritual New York native is understandably still defining her style and genre as an artist. Perhaps that’s because in her short life she’s had extraordinary exposure to music. Adinolfi grew up surrounded by musical influences that she worshipped. Back in the day, her father, Sal, played in the Battle of the Bands in Brooklyn and still plays occasional gigs in South Florida. Her grandfather, Bobby Weinstein, was vice president of BMI Records and a renowned songwriter credited with seven gold records including Linda Ronstadt’s “Hurt So Bad” and Little Anthony and the Imperials “I think I’m Going out of my Head.”
It was Weinstein that gave Adinolfi her first keyboard when she was just three years old. At nine, her parents bought her a piano as part of her nine-year journey into classical piano. Guitar was a much different story. The strong-willed youngster decided after just two lessons that YouTube would be her guitar instructor of choice. It’s no surprise that before attracting local audiences, Adinolfi was a leader in her high school’s choir and was always center stage at family gatherings, according to her mother, Lisa.
After a stint in college, Adinolfi joined Lisa in Mount Dora in 2017 and credits local artists like Stephen Currence, David Oliver Willis, and Suzanne Reynolds, among others, as being generous mentors in her still young musical career.
Mount Dora Buzz recently put Adinolfi in the “Hot Seat” to learn more about what makes this passionate young artist tick.
MD BUZZ: If I twisted your arm, whose voices would you say you’re a combination of? CA: Hmmm. I guess Nora Jones, with the soft, graceful way of moving her voice.
MD BUZZ: What genre of music do you put yourself in? CA: I consider myself an open-minded artist and I’m still kind of venturing to find it.
MD BUZZ: Your dad, Sal, was a big musical influence. Tell me about that. CA: He was always listening to the Beatles, The Eagles, The Who and others. I fell in love with music just watching him. Seeing my dad’s passion really motivates me.
MD BUZZ: What do you think your dad feels when he sees you play? CA: I can tell he’s proud and can see himself in me.
MD BUZZ: Going with the premise, ‘Go big or go home,’ what's your dream performance venue? CA: A big spiritual venue because I believe I was given a gift and I want to be able to glorify the Big Guy upstairs.
MD BUZZ: How do you pick your cover songs? CA: To me, it’s all about the lyrics and the moral message behind the song, or sharing an emotional connection.
MD BUZZ: It’s no secret, I would love to see you on The Voice. What will it take to get you to audition? CA: I’m continuing to work on my voice. Fame and having recognition is great, but I feel I’m still learning things in my own life. I want to be mentally and artistically prepared for the experience. It’s something I would love to do, so we’ll see.
MD BUZZ: Musically, where do you see yourself in 5 years? CA: Venturing off into Orlando and maybe getting bigger opportunities on The Voice. I would love to travel the world playing music.
MD BUZZ: If you could be mentored by any artist past or present, who would it be: CA: John Lennon because of his lyrics and Carrie Underwood because of our shared spirituality and how we connect songs and people.
MD BUZZ: Last time you celebrated? CA: My birthday, two days ago.
MD BUZZ: What was your last “Aha!” moment when something clicked inside you? CA: Yesterday. (laughs) Everyone goes through ups and down and I was asking “What am I doing in my life?” I happened to be at a spiritual low point and a woman requested I sing “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts. Before I sang I said a little prayer and during the song, two women in front started crying as I sang, really crying. It was a reminder that He gave me a gift to connect with people and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
MD BUZZ: : Who is your celebrity crush? CA: John Mayer. (laughs)
MD BUZZ: What person do you miss most? CA: My best friend Kelly, in Boca Raton. We’ve been friends our whole lives and she’s been with me for everything.
MD BUZZ: If you could have a dinner party with two performers who would they be? CA: Carrie Underwood would have to be one of them. And Michael Jackson.
MD BUZZ: In your short life, what’s your greatest personal achievement so far? CA:(Thinks for a moment) Working with kids as a senior counselor at a Christian Camp. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
MD BUZZ: What’s the biggest misperception about you? CA: I come off as a very happy person and free-spirited, but everyone has their inner conflicts. As a performer you have to smile on stage, but I’m also a person and go through things just like everyone else.
MD BUZZ: What’s your biggest personal shortcoming? CA: Sometimes, motivation.(laughs)
MD BUZZ: You were raised by an amazing cook, Lisa. What’s your favorite home-cooked meal of hers? CA: Spaghetti pie. So good, oh my gosh! You gotta try it!
MD BUZZ: Tell me your favorite thing in your closet? CA: My vintage dress. No, I want to change that, my cowgirl boots!
MD BUZZ: What’s your favorite trait in people? CA: Compassion and love.
MD BUZZ: Give me three words to describe yourself. CA: Clumsy (laughs) , free-spirited and passionate.
MD BUZZ: What's something most people don't know about you? CA: Actually, I was adopted as a baby. I thinks it’s something unique about me.
MD BUZZ: How does that affect you? CA: I definitely think there is no such thing as coincidence. I feel I was brought to my parents. People ask if I’m curious about my birth parents, but personally, I’m just thankful my birth mother considered me and was so brave and generous. I know the decisions we make can make a big difference and I’m thankful for her. I thank God every day.
After our fun sit-down, The Buzz put Adinolfi through a quick round of “Would you Rather?” Here’s how she did:
Elvis or McCartney? McCartney. Woodstock or Coachella? Coachella. Surfboard or beach chair? Surfboard. Ballet or football? Football. (laughs) Nashville or New York? Oh, golly. New York. Treehouse or cabana? Treehouse. LA or London? Let’s go to LA. Skyline or mountain peak? Skyline. Rollercoaster or golf cart?Rollercoaster. Rats or snakes? Rats! Tequila shot or martini? Tequila shot. (laughs) Neat freak or leave a trail? (laughs) Leave a trail. Diamonds or plane ticket? Diamonds. Voice or Idol?Voice. Nordstrom or Goodwill? Goodwill. Burger or salad? Burger. (sigh) People or dogs? Dogs.
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Few folks can claim such a hands-on dedication to their community. One of Mount Dora’s longest-serving residents is taking a step back. Back, but certainly not out.
Mount Dora City Council Member Cathy Hoechst recently announced she wouldn’t seek re-election this fall. Instead, she feels the time is right to focus on new professional and personal opportunities, as well as to allow someone new to serve the City. Read more
He’s a bit of an enigma. Light-hearted, yet intense. Youthful, yet old school. Although David Oliver Willis is the first to recognize he needs to be more disciplined in some areas of his life, the charismatic singer-songwriter is rock-steady when it comes to his faith and speaking up on social issues.
The two-time American Idol contestant was born in Eustis and attended Mount Dora public schools before aggressively pursuing his career in music. He met his wife, Olivia, a talented singer-songwriter in her own right, while the two were in science class at Mount Dora High. Olivia wasn’t immediately impressed, but after their first cup of tea at her home, she realized the class clown was actually a deep-thinking old soul. Willis graduated in 2009 and Olivia the following year. The couple have been married six years and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Selah Mae, their first child, in March.
Selah’s childhood will starkly contrast her father’s. Willis was put in foster care as an infant along with his two siblings. Before he was nine months of age, the kids were placed in their third foster home with Hattie and Oliver Willis. Listening to the older couple’s extensive collection of soul, gospel and country music records became young Willis’ favorite thing. The hardships written in the music’s lyrics paralleled his own life experiences and resonated with him. It is that deep place where much of Willis’ soulful artistry comes from. Years later, Hattie and Oliver were able to legally adopt David.
While Willis was in high school, Ruth King and Richard Lawrence, more experienced local musicians, helped to guide his early career with advice he still values today.
These days, Willis, who turns 27 this month, plays gigs in Orlando and in his tight community of Mount Dora, Tavares and Eustis. Besides getting booked as a solo artist or with his trio, Willis organizes a weekly open mic night and regularly sings at his church.
Above: Singer-songwriter Olivia Willis
Mount Dora Buzz sat with with David and Olivia and put him in the hot seat to dig a little deeper into this enterprising musician.
MDB: You bring intense soul to your music; where does that come from? DOW: I was raised by older wolves and I always had a stronger liking to songs with a story. (His mother, Hattie, is now 73)
MDB: What genre would you put your music in and what other artists are in there with you? DOW: Alternative folk soul. Amos Lee, Ben Harper.
MDB: What song do you wish you had the vocal ability to sing? DOW:(Quickly responding) Bohemian Rhapsody.
MDB: How do you pick your cover songs? DOW: Relativity and tone that match and whether there is space for creativity in the song. Songs I can re-imagine.
MDB: What artists are your biggest musical inspiration? DOW: Nina Simone & Ray Charles.
MDB: If you could go backstage at any concert, which would it be? DOW: Aretha Franklin at her 1968 Amsterdam concert; well actually I’d rather be backstage with Nina Simone in 1976.
MDB: What did your experience on American Idol teach you about yourself? DOW: It taught me to stay true to myself and also to always put my best performance forward.
MBD: What can we expect from you musically in the next couple of years? DOW: Olivia and I are planning on a stripped down duo album with very little production and I have a new project I’m working on called “The Backsliders” which is a fusion of blues, gospel and soul.
MDB: What do you like in a venue? DOW: I like a venue that has a really cool character and warmth. I like intimate venues more than anything. Technically, it’s lighting, sound and acoustics. Eustis’ State Theatre is still my all-time favorite venue. Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan is another.
MDB: What’s the biggest professional difference between you now and age 20? DOW: I’m full-time music, baby. That’s big. (flashing a relieved smile). I don’t have to clock in. Lord, I thank you. That’s huge.
MDB: What’s the biggest personal difference between you now and age 20? DOW: When I was 20, most things I did were for appeasing someone else. 26-year old Dave does what resonates with Dave.
MDB: What’s your best childhood memory? DOW:(Immediately responding) I was standing at Lake County Courthouse at nine years old and the judge told me, “These are now your forever parents.” Second best was getting a “Woody” toy from Toy Story.
MDB: What’s your favorite city? DOW: That a hard question, there are so many. I like Santa Monica and Savannah; the food and the people.
MDB: Where’s your happy place? DOW: Hmmm. My happy place is home. Well, actually forget that. Put me on a dock. If I have a fishing reel and a little bit of bait, I’m happy.
MDB: What are three words that describe you? DOW: I’m outgoing, giving, a procrastinator.
MDB: Olivia, what are three words to describe David? Olivia: Deep, there’s a lot of different caves. Unpredictable and big-hearted.
MDB: How do you want to be described in five years? DOW:(Excitedly) Prompt, organized, (they both laugh) and consistent. Those are my three biggest pushes to be.
MDB: There is always a calming force. What’s yours? DOW: Music, prayer and prayer.
MDB: Favorite guilty pleasure? DOW: (Laughing) I don’t have a lot of guilt.
MDB: Greatest personal strength? DOW: My thumbs are triple-jointed. (After much thought) Resilience.
Next David was put through the frivolous speed round of “Would you Rather…”
Above: Singer-songwriter Jeff Whitfield (left) with David Oliver Willis (right)
Be the smartest person or funniest? DOW: Funniest. Sing like Freddie Mercury or play guitar like Hendrix? DOW: Mercury. Chef or server? DOW: Chef.
Shout or whisper? DOW: Shout (Olivia laughs). Whiskey or wine? DOW: Whiskey. Fried catfish or Sushi? DOW: Catfish with mustard. Shot out of cannon or head in lion’s mouth? DOW: Lion’s mouth.
Steak or veggies? DOW: Steak. Submarine or space ship ? DOW: Submarine. Pinot or pilsner? DOW: Grigio or noir? Pinot Noir, I’ll take it. Indoors or outdoors? DOW: Outdoors. Live 100 years in past or future? DOW: Past. Sprint or stroll? DOW: Stroll. Diet or exercise? DOW: Diet (laughs). Read or write? DOW: Write. Dinsosaur or unicorn DOW: Dinosaur. But, unicorns can fly though. Olivia: But, dinosaurs are dead. “Ring of Fire” or “This Girl Is on Fire”? DOW: “Ring of Fire.”
Appearances can be deceiving. Stephen Currence does not look anything like a vagabond musician. His guy-next-door good looks with the disarming dimples conceal one of the area’s best vocal talents.
Years ago Currence played at Open Mic Night at Eduardo’s Station, which was home base for many local musicians in its heyday. Originally from Deltona, he’s come a long way since his first paid gig at Tom & Jerry’s bar in Winter Park in 2001. Currence began playing gigs in downtown Mount Dora in 2008 at a small laundromat-turned-burger joint, Chew Chew Express, that sat next to the town's train tracks.
In those early Mount Dora gigs, it was obvious that patrons loved him and his music. In addition to the dozens of regular customers he would draw into ‘Chew Chew,’ there were always more people lingering across the street to take in his velvety voice and acoustic guitar. Back then, Currence often sang with his eyes closed, so no one knew if he was aware of his growing throng of admirers.
Over the years, Currence has grown steadily as an artist. Fast forward nine years and his vocal authenticity, a hybrid of sorts between Ed Sheeran and James Taylor, draws people in from the sidewalk into whatever local venue he plays.
As Currence's confidence has grown, he now sings with his eyes open at least part of the time as if unafraid of the reactions he will see. If you dare flash a smile in his direction, you will always get a smile with a dimple back.
Currence is now writing songs for a original EP. The first track, “Let Me Down,” is emotional and impressive, and leaves the listener anxious to hear more of his originals.
Currence’s vocal talent is matched by his kindness and the sincere humility he wears on his sleeve which clearly resonates on stage. He has spent his professional life helping those less fortunate, whether they are disabled or disadvantaged. Now he squeezes in songwriting and performing between his day job in agency relations at Second Harvest Food Bank and caring for his two sons, Jayden, 13, and Declan, 10.
Mount Dora Buzz recently sat down with Currence in between sets at a downtown Mount Dora gig to learn a little more:
MDB: How do you describe your music style? SC: (Thinks for awhile) I choose songs I care about and can commit to emotionally. I play songs I love.
MDB: What came first: guitar or singing? SC: Guitar. I was eleven. Singing didn’t come until much later. My dad was a Dobro player in a bluegrass band and opened for Willie Nelson before he was famous. MDB: The amount of serious talent in this area is extraordinary. Why do you think the area has such insanely talented musicians? SC: First, there is an audience that appreciates it and businesses that need it. There are so many opportunities to play that it allows younger people to learn their craft.
MDB: What artist’s voice do you covet? SC: Paul McCartney and Jason Mraz
MDB: What two artists would you like to hang out in a cabin with? SC: Paul McCartney and John Lennon
MDB: What’s your dream performance venue? SC: Wembley Stadium (London)
MDB: Your dimples make you look so young and innocent. People would never guess you have a fun and twisted sense of humor. What else do those dimples hide? SC: I have a limitless supply of bad jokes and I love history.
MDB: You’re a very hands-on single dad. Finish this sentence. “I’ll consider myself a successful dad if…” SC: As long as they know I love them and I’m proud of them. I tell them all the time. If nothing comes of my music, they give my life purpose.
MDB: 3 words to describe yourself? SC: (Ponders for a minute) Calm, emotional and caring.
MDB: 3 words your kids would use? SC: (Laughs) Not funny, listener, dumb jokes and sometimes too stressed.
MDB: Who are your 3 favorite artists? SC: Beatles, James Taylor and Ryan Adams
MDB: What’s your biggest fear? SC: Messing up a song.
MDB: What’s your guilty pleasure? SC: Star Trek.
MDB: Tell me a secret about yourself? One that now a lot of people will know. SC: (Laughing) I like to watch old 1970’s documentaries for no reason. I watch them like others watch wrestling.
MDB: Celebrity crush? SC: Lady Gaga
MDB: It's time for the speed round of “Would you Rather...”
Stairway to Heaven or Hotel CA? SC: Hotel California Boxers or briefs? SC: Boxers SuperBowl or Tony awards? SC: Tony Awards Tahoe or Okeechobee? SC: Tahoe Rollercoaster or carousel? SC: Rollercoaster Spiders or snakes?: SC: Spiders Skydive or bellyflop? SC: Bellyflop Brie or American cheese? SC: Brie. I sound like a jerk (laughs) Stout or Lager? SC: Lager Chill or OCD? SC: Right in the middle Lady Gaga or Madonna? SC: Lady Gaga Chipotle or Chick-fil-A? SC: Chipotle Hug or handshake? SC: Hug Voice or Idol? SC: Voice London or Lima? SC: London Burger or hummus? SC: Burger Canine or feline? SC: Canine RayBans or gas station shades? SC: RayBans
You can catch Stephen Currence playing at various bars and restaurants in Mount Dora, Tavares & Winter Garden. Check out the Local Live Music Guide for venues.
Luck was on her side in 2004 when Leigh Love, owner of Mount Dora's popular PizzAmore, offered Jesse Thomas a job in her first restaurant, 5th Avenue Cafe in downtown Mount Dora. The cafe was ahead of its time in Lake County, offering quality gourmet fare with fresh organic ingredients.
Thomas was a recent high school graduate working at Easterseals Camp Challenge in Sorrento before stepping in as the prep person making salads and side dishes at the popular restauant that opened in 2003. Read more
Artist Jane Slivka (photo by Trish Morgan, Mount Dora Buzz)
Jane Slivka was born to be at the beach, but there was a problem. She lived landlocked in the Midwest.
Originally from Ohio, Slivka longed for the ocean shore which she saw in her mind’s eye and now realizes on canvas. Her paintings, normally oversized works of layered acrylics, are a visual trip to a calming, tropical environment.
In her early years, Slivka was a watercolorist and while studying in Florence for a semester, she was inspired by the region’s rich historical art and and vast landscapes. Upon trying acrylics, the artist was enthralled by the vibrant colors and the ability to layer the medium to create texture.
Slivka stumbled onto the Mount Dora art scene in 2004 and quickly made a name for herself. She set up a studio and gallery in Mount Dora's charming historic downtown, which she has called home ever since.
The artist draws inspiration from everyday scenes at Florida's beaches and the many forms of light to be found there, and from her intense connection with people. A trip to her working studio and gallery provides an overview of her bold works, ranging from landscapes to still lifes. The space is non-intimidating and visitors are typically greeted by the paint-brush-wielding, gregarious blonde.
Slivka exhibits at some of the best East-Coast and Midwest art shows. Her work is displayed at the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy, as well as countless galleries. She has long been accepted on Florida's premier art festival circuit, including New Smyrna Beach's Images Festival in January and Mount Dora Art Festival the first weekend in February. She will also be at Vero Beach Art Festival and a Saint Petersburg show in Vinoy Park.
To share her knowledge, Slivka holds painting workshops for groups in Mount Dora and across the Southeast and Midwest for novice and experienced painters.
Slivka's work will be available for viewing at Mount Dora Art Festival (February 4 and 5, downtown Mount Dora) in booth #D-114 on Donnelly Street.
In 1977, an energetic, young dreamer with a wicked laugh and creative streak arrived on Mount Dora's doorstep. By applying his woodworking skills and unflappable ingenuity to the crafting and repairing of furniture, Jeff Herbst built a successful carpentry business uptown.
Sixteen years ago he began crafting beer at home, and eventually his thirst for beer making grew into an unbridled passion. Following the unrelenting call of hops and barley, Herbst, an Ohio native, spent three years converting his carpentry shop into a full-blown brewery complete with four fermentation tanks and six bright tanks for the clarified beer. Mount Dora Brewing, his labor of love, opened its doors over six years ago.
Today, the brewery is expanding its space while loyal customers sip its house-made beers including Pistolville Porter, Beauclair Blond and Dora Drawdy Drool. His most recent brew, a brown ale, is yet unnamed. Creative patrons have submitted names and the favorite contenders are Bad Bunny Brown, Brew-nette Baby, Highland Hare, Uptown Umber One and Highland Haze.
Herbst's old carpentry tools and a hodgepodge of collectibles hang in the open rafters above the brewery's Tap Room. This is the rustic space where friends gather, beer flows and live music fills the room on weekends. The brewery also boasts a beer garden, and the Rockin' Rabbit Cafe that serves breakfast and lunch daily to rave reviews. Dinner is served Friday through Monday.
Married to his patient wife, Peggy, for 34 years, Herbst is an authentic, fun-loving, intense Renaissance man. Affable and creative with a passion for playing music and enjoying belly laughs with friends, Herbst is also fiercely loyal and complex. He's undeniably a proud family man, as well as a 'go-big-or-go-home' force to be reckoned with.
In his college years, Herbst was both a competitive diver and a wide-out on a football scholarship. Yes, that's a nimble tough guy that can run fast and point his toes.
Intrigued by all his interesting complexities, Mount Dora Buzz hung out with Herbst to glean just a few more facets:
BUZZ: You always go all out for Halloween. What was your best costume? JEFF: Peggy and I were the "American Gothic" painting. (see photo with Trevor the bartender at right)
BUZZ: What three words describe you? JEFF: Stubborn, independent, tenacious.
BUZZ: What three words would Peggy use to describe you? JEFF: Dumb ass (laughs), resourceful, tenacious,
BUZZ: What are you afraid of? JEFF: Not much. I'm too stupid to be afraid. I'm afraid of stupid people.
BUZZ: Tell me your worst job ever? JEFF: Roofing in July.
BUZZ: What's on your bucket list? JEFF: Travel to Australia and build an airplane.
BUZZ: What is the best trait in a person? JEFF: Honesty.
BUZZ: What is the worst vacation you've ever had? JEFF: Eating conch in an empty restaurant by myself in Miami on Thanksgiving Day.
BUZZ: What super hero best describes you? JEFF: Go Go Gadget.
BUZZ: What would you like to be in your next life? JEFF: Somebody that doesn't care so much because it would make life simpler.
Then it was time for a speedy round of "Would You Rather..."
BUZZ: Hug or a handshake? JEFF: Hug.
BUZZ: Boxers or briefs? JEFF: Boxer briefs. (smiles)
BUZZ: Sing or dance? JEFF: Yes.
BUZZ: Down dog or dumb bells? JEFF: Is it with partners? (laughs)
BUZZ: Super Bowl or Tony Awards? JEFF: Super Bowl.
BUZZ: Meditation or push-ups? JEFF: Push-ups.
BUZZ: Roller coaster or carousel? JEFF: Roller coaster
BUZZ: "Walk This Way" or "Staying Alive"? JEFF: "Walk This Way."
BUZZ: Spiders or Snakes? JE: "...and that ain't what it takes..." (singing the classic)
BUZZ: Sail boat or WaveRunner? JEFF: Sailboat.
BUZZ: Copperfield or craps table? JEFF: Copperfield.
BUZZ: Beach chair or surf board? JEFF: Surf board.
BUZZ: Heights or speed? JEFF: Both. (Jeff was a 10-meter platform diver)
Mount Dora Brewing is located at 405 S. Highland Street, uptown Mount Dora. Call 352-735-1111 for hours or take-out.
If you really want to know what's happening, ask someone who's right in the thick of everything. Mount Dora Buzz asked Kim Leinbach, the city's Interim City Manager, to share his valuable insights about Mount Dora's future, challenges and other topics.
MDB: If you had a crystal ball, what changes could residents notice in the next five years? LEINBACH: I believe Mount Dora residents will see the beginning of renewed growth and development. As the infrastructure matures in the northeast portion of the community, business interests of several types should be expected. MDB: Next ten years? LEINBACH: Probably more of the same. I wouldn’t be surprised to see, in addition to the commercial activity,additional residential growth as well. MDB: What's been the biggest surprise about Mount Dora? LEINBACH: What Mount Dora has to offer – which is really something for everyone. It is diverse in its attractivenessand appeals to people in all age groups. One might think it largely relies upon its unique downtown or one of many festivals/activities. However, it goes beyond these special attributes to incorporating a variety of shopping, beautiful scenery, peaceful walks and just a great place to live, work and visit. MDB: What's been the biggest surprise about City Hall? LEINBACH: Actually, not really much of a surprise – Mount Dora enjoys the hard work and professionalism of a great staff. Employees demonstrate their desire to serve our residents and visitors with courteous and responsive service. MDB: Providing there are no big delays, when would you expect to see the new bike trail open? LEINBACH: It is still essentially in the design phase at Lake County and a ways away. You could always use the bike courses near the municipal swimming pool, however.
MDB: What are the city's two greatest assets? LEINBACH: The people of Mount Dora and its multifaceted benefits to living here. MDB: In your opinion, what are the two biggest challenges facing Mount Dora? LEINBACH: Managing the anticipated growth for the cityand incorporating new citizens (residential as well as commercial) into the rich history, traditions and values that have prevailed over the years. MDB: Is the city on track preparing to meet those challenges? LEINBACH: I believe so. In the first regard, Mount Dora is working on a number of infrastructure projects to serve growth areas. In the second, I have participated in a number of meetings and oftentimes I hear of the need to prepare for growth with the goal of incorporating it into the mantra of our community.
MDB: There was a common perception that Mount Dora wasn't business-friendly. What is now being done to change that?
LEINBACH: We've listened to a lot of business owners to receive feedback to help guide us in making necessary changes to improve. We'll continue to get better. Mayor Girone has had a lot of meetings on this issue and we've implemented a customer-friendly approach in the building and permitting areas, as well as city-wide. The philosophy is that our residents aren't customers, they are stockholders that own the company. MDB: Do you get the support, time and space needed to effectively manage the city? LEINBACH: Absolutely. Our Mayor and City Council have been very supportive as well as the staff serving our municipality. This is in addition to our residents who have helped me out tremendously. MDB: New city councils can take a while to get their sea legs. Are things moving productively now? LEINBACH: I think our City Council is working diligently on the many significant matters facing Mount Dora and developing a team-building spirit while doing so. MDB: What are your favorite lunch spots? LEINBACH: I haven’t found one I don’t savor. Mount Dora has outstanding offerings to any palate or appetite. MDB: What are your favorite things to do in the city after work? LEINBACH: I like to unwind with long walks, meeting people and bragging about my adopted community. MDB: As the interim city manager, what words of wisdomwould you offer an incoming city manager about Mount Dora and its government? LEINBACH: Mount Dora is a great place. Certainly, it has its challenges, just like all communities, but offers a rich tradition coupled with a promising future. Work will involve managing growth, keeping finances in line, protecting the heritage of the city, parking (a great problem to have as so many communities I have seen in the past wish they had the problem of too many vehicles) and balancing policies with the matters of administration.
"I was hit hard on one play but got right up and tried to shove the guy out of bounds."
That was how Cassandra Patrick, a freshman at Mount Dora High School (MDHS), described the first hit she took during her inaugural junior varsity football game this season.
"I think it is great that Cassandra is playing football. When she is hit, purposefully, during practice or a game, she handles it and bounces right back. She never takes the 'I am a girl route' nor have the opposing teams targeted her for being a girl", said Soraya Lakatos, the high school's athletic director.
This 100 pound, lithe freshman looks more like a cross country runner or a dancer than a burly football player. "Cassandra makes up the difference with her agility, flexibility, endurance, and she is fast. Plus, some of the boys on the JV team haven't had their major growth spurt yet. Once she is in uniform and wearing her pads, it is hard to tell the difference between the boys and the lone girl on the field," said Lakatos.
In middle school, Patrick played flag football and was told she had a good arm and was tough and quick. That inspired her to try out for the quarterback position at MDHS. "Trying out for the team was a lot of fun. It focused on running plays and conditioning, stuff I like to do," she said.
Though she didn't make quarterback, Patrick did make the JV team. She alternates between playing corner back and wide receiver. So far this season, she has played one out of three games, and the team is undefeated. Lakatos noted, "The attitude among the football coaches is that they are not going to be soft on her and that everyone is to give their 100%."
Patrick already knew a number of her JV teammates because they had played flag football together in middle school. When asked how they behave toward her at practice, she responded, "The guys treat me like a sister; they don't treat me like a girl; they have no problem hitting me during practice."
Though her family is very proud of her decision to play football and to stick with it, Patrick acknowledged, "They do worry about me getting hurt." In spite of her family's concern, she would like to make the MDHS varsity team some day, and if she doesn't get hurt in high school, she would like to play college football.
When asked if she wants to pursue a sports-related major in college, Patrick quickly responded, "I want to be an author."
"You should start a blog about your football experiences," Lakatos jumped in and suggested.
As for girls' reaction to her playing football, Patrick said, "The response is usually, ' Wow! Really? That is so cool."
Her advice to other young women who would like to play high school football is, "If you want to go for it, do it as long as you are having fun,' " and Cassandra Patrick is definitely following her own advice.
Maybe it's something in the water. Something that ignites the right side of the brain with intense musicality and creativity. Whatever the reason, Mount Dora seems to be an incubator for emerging music artists.
One local singer and songwriter, Jeff Whitfield, apparently drank much more than his share of the water. His ease and honesty radiates in his music which commands even the passive listener to stop, pay attention and remember it. Whitfield credits the influences of music icons Dan Fogelberg, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Ray Vaughan with influencing his soulful style.
At 39, the humble and humorous Mount Dora High graduate is about to embark on a new chapter of his career. After 18 months of writing and recording, Whitfield, who lives in Mount Plymouth with his wife Tracy and their children Chelsea and Aidan, will release his album of original music, "Choices", in October.
The album kicks off with a pre-release jam at Ruby Street Grille on Oct. 14, followed by an album release concert featuring the full band at the Mount Dora Community Building on Oct. 16. The start of Whitfield's new chapter marked the perfect time for Mount Dora Buzz to sit down with him so his many fans and friends could get to know him a little better.
MDB: With your voice, you could live anywhere, but have chosen to stay local. Why? JW: If I’m broken down on the side of the road, there’s a good likelihood someone will help me. I’m a small town guy. And I’m not that smart, I need everything where I can find it. (laughs)
MDB: Other than your own home, what single place do you feel most comfortable. JW: The woods. The further in the better.
MDB: Where did you play your first local paid gig? JW:(Smiles)Eduardo’s Station (currently the Lost Parrot on Donnelly St.) when I was 17 years old. Vicky, the manager, wouldn't give me more gigs until I showed her my report card that showed I was passing. I was paid 75 bucks.
MDB: What came first: guitar, singing or songwriting? JW: Singing, followed by guitar and piano, then writing. I was 13 when I started.
MDB: You're an incredibly soulful artist. Where does that come from? JW: Early Motown was a big influence. When it’s done right, it comes from the heart. It’s a very honest music.
MDB: What two artists would you gladly walk over hot coals to perform with? JW: Bonnie Raitt. I wanna be the male version of her. (Smiles) And Django Reinhardt.
MDB: What three words best describe your music? JW: I hope people think it’s soulful, musical and serious Music should be fun, but it’s nice to be taken seriously.
MDB: You and David Oliver Willis have complementary musical styles and have collaborated successfully on a lot of local endeavors. What bonds this artistic bromance, we dubbed “Whitlis”? JW: (Laughs) He and I started down the same path. I really dig how he goes out and drums up support for music and the community. David has a lot of talent and gets even better every day.
MDB: 3 words to describe yourself? JW: I’m gonna go with what I hope: Funny, loving, honest.
MDB: 3 words your wife would use? JW:(Laughs) Forgetful. Heartfelt. Kind.
MDB: Where do you draw inspirations for your songwriting? JW: Usually love or pain. My wife creeps into every song I write, whether I like it or not. Occassionally, I like to be whimsical.
MDB: Some people define musical success by how far up the charts an artist climbs. How will you personally define the success of “Choices”? JW: As an artist, being able to listen to it and get that feeling of an album that I really love and I hope others feel the same.
MDB: What's the most valuable lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you? JW: Try your hardest to do what you say you’re going to do. My father taught me that in a very inadvertent way.
MDB: What are you afraid of ? JW: Dying. There’s a great Sam Cooke line, “It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die 'cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky.”
MDB: What’s your guilty pleasure? JW:(Quickly) Potato Chips! The only kind that should be abolished are ‘Salt & Vinegar’. (laughs)
MDB: What's something about you that most people don't know? JW: That I’m a committed father. I do a lot of ‘Mr. Mom’ during the day. My wife works days so we split parenting duties.
MDB: It's time for a speed round of “Would you Rather...” Super Bowl or US Open Golf? JW: US Open Meditation or push ups? JW: Both Boxers or briefs? JW: Neither Tailgate or Broadway? JW: Broadway Rollercoaster or carousel? JW: (sighs) Carousel Beach chair or surfboard? JW: Surfboard! Heights or speed? JW: Almost neither, but I’ll take speed Shaken or stirred? JW: Shaken Hug or handshake? JW: Hug Purell or 5 second rule? JW: 5 second rule Dumbells or down dog? JW: Dumbells Betty White or Barry White? JW: I want them to be married and come to my house for dinner. T-Bone or Tofu? JW: T-Bone Paris or Peru? JW: Paris