Friday, September 3, 2021

Selwyn Birchwood concert at Skippers Smokehouse, Tampa FL


It has been a while since I reviewed a concert on this website. I used write about all the concerts I went to. Over the last few years, I haven't done that as often. Admittedly, COVID-19 shut down the live music scene around the world and there wasn't much to write about, but even before then I wasn't documenting as I was years ago. So excuse me if I am a bit rusty.

I am relatively new to the work of Selwyn Birchwood. Although I read his name in articles and saw it on marques for much of the last 10 years, I never took the time to look him up until I saw his song "Guilty Pleasures" on YouTube. I am a blues stickler/purist and I was super impressed. He had soul, he had a groove, and he nailed the blues.

A few months later, during the pandemic, I saw Selwyn in the background in a large blues tribute show video. I think it might be the BB King Tribute in the Capital Theater, but I am not sure and the videos for that show aren't complete. Regardless of where it was, I said to myself that I better get his music before he gets super huge and too expensive to see live.

In 2020, Selwyn put out a new album, Living in a Burning House. The album contains a song called "Freaks Come Out at Night" (no, not a Whodini cover). The video for this song was filmed at the Bradfordville Blues Club, outside of Tallahassee - one of America's last remaining juke joints and one of my favorite places to see live music anywhere. If I wasn't a fan of Selwyn Birchwood before, I was definitely a fan at that point.

I finally had a chance to see Selwyn live in May 2021 at the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center in Safety Harbor, Florida. The Art & Music Center is an interesting place and the crowd was a bit subdued for my taste, sitting throughout the concert and applauding only between songs. I prefer a more active crowd.

And that is what I got at Skipper's Smokehouse.

I arrived with a few friends a few songs into Selwyn's show. Oddly, there was no opening act on the bill, only the headliner. Although I wasn't disappointed, I found the lack of opening act interesting and kinda unique. It is rare to not see an opener.

But no opener leaves more time for the headliner and that was who I was here to see.

Selwyn Birchwood and his band rocked for over 3 hours. They played a lot of his new album "Living in a Burning House", which was a lot like the time I saw him in Safety Harbor months ago, but this time he mixed in several of his older songs, such as "Guilty Pleasures" and "Hoodoo Stew".

All night long, the dance floor at Skipper's was filled with people rocking and grooving to Selwyn and his band. He is one of the few blues acts to incorporate a saxophone and it definitely makes his sound more layered and unique. Selwyn also plays a happier type of blues. Instead of wallowing in the sad things in life, his music tends to be more upbeat and celebrating positive ends through the negative.

While creating his own sound, Selwyn Birchwood did some classic blues impersonations, both in voice and in riff, covering some Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. But like he said, the reason he doesn't play like them is because they are them and he is himself, therefore there is no reason to play like them.

Overall, it was a great show. Three hours of blues, groove, soul, and dancing makes for a great time. Especially on a pleasant Florida summer night. Selwyn Birchwood is the real deal, an entertaining bluesman with a modern sound that calls back to the legends of the genre. He is one of several new artists carrying the blues on to the next generation.

On a social note, my friend's friend who joined us was a young mid-20s Black girl who wasn't used to the blues scene, but wanted to come out for some live music. While she had a great time and did quite a bit of dancing, she mentioned how it was weird how she was a minority in a show performed by a band that was 80% Black doing music her culture invented. There weren't many Black folks in the crowd. I told her my theory on how the blues was stolen from Black people in the 60s and Black culture moved on to R&B, Soul, and eventually Hip-Hop. But from my perspective as a white dude, it was interesting to see and hear her reaction to the music and to the crowd. 

Before I close, however, I want to mention the venue. Skipper's Smokehouse did a lot while closed to clean up and make the concert experience more comfortable. Outside of the always tight parking, Skippers is a great place to see a show. Everything was cleaner, from the bathrooms to the stage to the walls of the venue. 

My one complaint was with the obnoxious older couple who tried to push my friend and her friend off of their seats when they tried to find a place to sit. They got an attitude and the incident almost turned into a mess. But we avoided conflict and spent most of our time on the dance floor directly in front of them, blocking their view and rocking to Selwyn Birchwood.




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