If you grew up in South Florida, you have, without a doubt, made countless trips to Orlando. Long weekends meant trips to Universal, your favorite band's U.S. tour meant taking that four-hour trip to the world of the other Holy Land, Mickey Mouse, and as we've discovered, some kickass blues shows.
Selwyn Birchwood is one of many Orlando natives who cleverly utilized the accessibility of the House of Blues to create his own identity in the genre. Now, at just 29-years-old, he beat out over 240 bands at the International Blues Challenge. Friday night, he takes his talents to the Nectar Lounge stage at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, carrying his crown with him, and the promise of a new Alligator Records distributed album, Don't Call No Ambulance.
The rising blues star and Albert King Guitarist of the Year first picked up the guitar at age 12 when his parents bought him a guitar for Christmas. He uncovered his interest in music from listening to cartoon jingles and television scores. "I started off playing whatever radio stuff was out, but I got bored with it just because it was kind of the same way it is today -- a lot of the same sounds and a lot of the same chords."
But it wasn't long until, like many young guitarists, he got into Jimi Hendrix. From then on, the door for musical exploration was wide open. "I didn't know what it was I was listening to, I had never heard anything like it. I wanted to know where he got his sounds from, and back in his bio you'll find Buddy Guy and Elmore James and all the older blues guys."
In an act of fate, or merely really good timing, Buddy Guy himself performed at the House of Blues just a week after Birchwood found out he existed. "When I saw it live, I was completely floored by it. I knew right then that that was what I wanted to do."
But Birchwood isn't necessarily a blues purist, per se, noting influences from reggae and country, Toots and the Maytals to Junior Brown.
Soon, Birchwood discovered that it was hard out there for a blues guy, facing a hackneyed stereotype of a blues musician. "It's kind of challenging, because you're always fighting that stigma of what people have in their mind of what they think blues music is."
This didn't scare him off though, and as his blues career flourished, he found that there is support as long as you go looking for it in the right places. Offering the Black Keys and White Stripes as notable examples of blues being relevant in today's music industry, he explained that people's preconceived notions of blues music are limited to an outdated stereotype of the genre. Nevertheless, he agrees that its core values are timeless.
"It's relatable. It's eternal because people are putting their real emotions and real feelings into it, and people pick up on that."
Selwyn Birchwood, 8:30 p.m., Friday, May 16, at Nectar Lounge stage, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, 5550 NW 40th St., Coconut Creek. Free show. Visit seminolecoconutcreekcasino.com.