By LEXIE BROEMMER
For The Herald-Whig
Mark Flora, frontman of the Holy Rocka Rollaz, says he came out of his momma with a love for '50s music.
He grew up fascinated with guitars, drums, the Beatles and catchy songs on the radio. In 1976, Flora started taking guitar lessons, and as a freshman in high school, he was in his first band.
Now at 55 years old, he's been in bands, off and on, ever since. None of them has ever gone as far as his current band has.
The Holy Rocka Rollaz is scheduled to perform the Hannibal Concert Association's final concert of its 2018-2019 concert season. The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hannibal-LaGrange University's Roland Fine Arts Center Parker Theatre. Without a season or patron membership, tickets cost $20 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets may be purchased ahead of time at hannibalconcerts.com. They can also be purchased at the door starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Rollaz, based in Minnesota, started off as a prison ministry band at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in 2003.
Performing '50s tunes for and sharing the good news with the inmates went so well that Flora ended up catching the bug to perform music again.
"I'd taken a hiatus to enjoy the married life and have a couple of babies," he said. "One night, drummer Matt Alexander and I were driving back from a particularly rowdy and fun night of singing for the inmates, and I looked at Matt and said 'let's do this in clubs and car shows, but let's do it in an authentic, raw, rootsy way. Period instruments, tube amps, ... dress the part and try to deliver early American rock 'n' roll the way it used to be done.'
"Matt nodded his head, and we started planning the Holy Rocka Rollaz."
In 2010 the group formed with bass player Paul Jongeward, who was also a part of the ministry band. After he left the band in 2012 due to family concerns, Flora's wife, Lisa Lynn, joined in playing stand-up bass.
Out of all the bands Flora has been in, he says the nine years playing with the Rollaz have been the most fun and enduring.
"I was 46 when the mid-life crisis hit. I don't care about fancy new cars, and I already had a supermodel wife," Flora said. "My crisis was, 'what if I never chase my lifelong dream of being in a rockabilly band?' So I charged at it. Hard! It's still a blast to play this music."
Flora loves '50s music because it's pure and fun.
"It captures the excitement of a purely American art form," he said. "Plus, the songs were written so well that they soar through the decades, still sounding fresh. When we perform Buddy Holly songs, Johnny Cash songs, Chuck Berry songs, Patsy Cline songs, early Elvis, the audience response -- particularly folks who grew up hearing those artists on the radio -- is really strong. And the younger kids, even a good handful of them are taking it in and having fun."
The Rollaz don't just play rockabilly music, they embody it.
"We get all gussied up. We bring our specialized instruments and amps. We do our best to deliver the sound, the look and the spirit of '50s rock 'n' roll," Flora said. "Not only do we musically perform, but I insert little historical nuggets between numbers that provide context regarding the songs and their performers."