Sometimes, a person’s purpose in life is revealed when he or she least expects it.
At age 47, Mark Houghton is pursuing a country music career in West Orange.
An Ocoee resident for more than 20 years, Houghton is no stranger to providing service to the community. He has helped residents throughout Orlando since 2000 through his business, Orlando DJ and Lighting.
Now, Houghton is offering a new service to his community through music that shakes the soul.
“Music has always been something I’ve put on the back burner, but being here in this special community and singing these country songs makes me feel like this is home,” he said.
Houghton didn’t sing a day in his life until he was 26 years old.
Houghton said he and a few friends were laughing at brave souls singing country music at a karaoke bar. Six months later, he took to the stage.
“I started performing at karaoke bars every so often, and people would say, ‘Dude you’re really good,’” Houghton said. “I never took it seriously, (because) I always had my own business.”
Now, he said, his life has in a different direction.
On May 8, 2021, Houghton had his first solo show at Front Row Sports Bar and Grill in Ocoee.
Six months later, Houghton is playing country music at Orlando venues professionally about three times a week.
“I never once saw this coming, but maybe that’s what makes it so special,” he said.
The feelings and emotions that go through Houghton’s head as he performs can sometimes be overwhelming. He said being on stage is surreal.
“People keep telling me I’m good, but I still can’t believe all these people come out just to see me,” he said. “I try to speak to as many people as I can at my performances and just get to know their face and name and tell them how appreciative I am of them.”
Because of a steady stream of offers, Houghton now enjoys the luxury of choosing where he performs.
‘I KEEP A CLOSE WATCH ON THIS HEART OF MINE’
As a native of New York, Houghton never heard a lot of country music. As a deejay, Houghton said he must play all types of music, but nothing compares to the sound of country.
“Country music is a great way to express yourself, and the songs always have so much depth and meaning,” he said. “When I sing country music, I truly feel it in my core.”
With his newfound success, Houghton knows he must stay humble and true to his craft.
“I never want to be complacent in my music,” he said. “I see people just go through the emotions, and they don’t seem happy or to enjoy what they’re doing.”
Houghton sings from the heart, and it’s easy to notice. His happiness and positive energy radiate from the stage. He covers old country, new country and everything in between. Some of his favorites include Alabama, Johnny Cash and Jake Owen.
“I like to sing the songs I can feel and the ones I can relate to, and there’s a lot of those in the country genre,” Houghton said.
One of the special songs he sings is Riley Green’s “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” Houghton dedicates the song to his Grandpa Frank every time he sings it.
“This is the guy that gave me my first beer, used to play catch with me,” he said. “It’s songs like this that keep me going in life.”
Although Houghton mostly performs covers, he plans to eventually branch out and write his own music.
‘THAT AMERICAN COUNTRY LOVE SONG’
Houghton was not always a solo act. He started off as a duo called Renegade Fusion but said it has been hard to keep a drummer with COVID-19 and other stressors. He is currently looking to put together a two- or three-piece band to have as back-up.
“It’s a completely different feel when you have those people up there with you and helping you create those songs,” Houghton said.
However, no matter the lineup, Houghton finds reward in his work as a performer.
“When I look around the room and I see everyone is enjoying what I’m doing I know I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do,” he said. “The applause, the smiles, the laughter and the energy keep you wanting more.”
Houghton hopes his journey will inspire others to take a chance and pursue their passions.
“I had nothing in May, and I just decided to go out and do it,” Houghton said. “I had never done most of these things before, and I’m accomplishing a lot of firsts. It can be scary, but it can also be amazing.”
Houghton currently is working on learning the guitar and ukulele, as well as writing some of his own music in his free time. He said he hopes to release his own song in the next year or two. Several songwriters also have asked him to take on performing their songs.
To give back, Houghton is currently organizing a charity event at the same place his music career began.
The Toys for Tots toy and can drive will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, at the Front Row Sports Bar and Grill. Houghton will perform with other local artists, and a special raffle will occur — all for a good cause.
“This life and dream I’m living would never have been possible without my family, my girlfriend and the rest of the community,” Houghton said. “I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
STAY IN TOUCH
Email: [email protected]
- 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at Lake Harris Hideaway, 11912 Lane Park Road, Tavares
- 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at Front Row Sports Bar and Grill, 146 N. Clarke Road, Ocoee