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Rising blues star Selwyn Birchwood ready for spotlight

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Selwyn Birchwood

Selwyn Birchwood / COURTESY PHOTO BY PAUL NATKIN

A soulful singer, solid songwriter, award-winning guitarist and electrifying showman, Selwyn Birchwood knows how to rock a crowd. In recent months, he has packed three of the area’s top blues venues – Aces Lives, Blue Rooster and Ocean Blues – as well as numerous other clubs across the region and spent about a week last month opening for George Thorogood at Florida theaters such as Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. A rising star now on the national blues scene, Birchwood first impressed local blues fans when his band earned a spot on the 2011 Sarasota Blues Festival stage by winning our TicketSarasota.com-sponsored “Ticket to the Blues Fest” competition.

“To get our name out there then play the Sarasota Blues Festival, it helped us out a lot,” Birchwood says. “That was probably the biggest festival we had ever played.”

Tampa Bay Blues Festival Guide

Since then, Birchwood’s career has exploded, thanks, in large part, to top honors at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. The win placed his band first out of more than 240 acts from around the world. In addition, Birchwood won the Albert King Award for Best Guitarist.

“It’s still really surreal when I talk about it,” the 29-year-old says. “It’s still weird but it was such a just good feeling. I’m just very happy it went that way.”

The IBC victory helped pave the way for Birchwood to ink a deal with Chicago-based Alligator Records and play major blues festivals in the country including this weekend’s Tampa Bay Blues Festival. Birchwood opens the three-day event at Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday and then headlines its official “after show” the same day at the nearby Palladium Theatre. Attendees to both events will be able to hear Birchwood perform material from his national debut, “Don't Call No Ambulance,” set to be released by Alligator on June 10. It’s the follow-up to Birchwood’s self-released CD “Road Worn.”

Selwyn Birchwood Courtesy 1

Selwyn Birchwood / COURTESY PHOTO

“It’s 12 all new songs I wrote,” Birchwood says. “It’s definitely a better representation of what our band does live; it has a more up-tempo and funky feel.”

Bruce Iglauer founded Alligator Records in 1971 so he could release an album by his favorite band, Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers. Since then, Alligator has issued acclaimed albums by numerous blues greats including Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter and, more recently, Jacksonville-based artist JJ Grey. For blues aficionados, Alligator and Iglauer are two of the most trusted and respected names in the game.

“There’s a certain level of self-confidence the best blues musicians have and I felt that way with Selwyn from the start,” Iglauer says by phone from his Chicago office. “I’ve had a pretty good track record in finding talent and I see in Selwyn the potential for him being one of the blues greats of his generation.”

The Selwyn Birchwood Band won its spot at locally-based concert producer Barbara Strauss’ Sarasota Blues Festival following a late-night performance at the Gator Club. The tall, slender front man worked the crowd with his guitar skills, smooth vocals and sizzling stage presence – even crawling on the floor in front of the stage and into the audience.

“At the competition, he was on stage for about 20 seconds and I said, ‘There’s your winner,’” Strauss recalls. “I’m a big fan of Selwyn and it seems like he has a great career ahead of him.”

CONCERT PREVIEW
Selwyn Birchwood kicks off the Tampa Bay Blues Festival with a performance 12:30 p.m. Friday at Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; $40 (single day) and then headlines the festival’s official “after show” starting at 10:15 p.m. the same day at the Palladium Theatre, 253 5th Ave. N., St Petersburg; $20; (727) 895-6153; tampabaybluesfest.com

CONCERT PREVIEW
Selwyn Birchwood kicks off the Tampa Bay Blues Festival with a performance 12:30 p.m. Friday at Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; $40 (single day) and then headlines the festival’s official “after show” starting at 10:15 p.m. the same day at the Palladium Theatre, 253 5th Ave. N., St Petersburg; $20; (727) 895-6153; tampabaybluesfest.com

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WADE TATANGELO is the editor of TICKET + and a contributor at TicketSarasota.com. He has been an entertainment editor, reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013 and writes the weekly Bar Tab column. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: April 18, 2014
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