(CLERMONT, FL) — Selwyn Birchwood has been on a roll for the last eighteen months. In January 2013, he won the International Blues Challenge for Best Band, beating out over 120 top acts from around the world. He also won Best Guitarist. Since then, he and his band mates have been touring furiously. In March, Selwyn was signed to the Alligator Records label and just last month they released his Alligator debut, Don’t Call No Ambulance.
Last week, Selwyn and the band thrilled fans at the Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, Florida. The winery’s outdoor setting is cozy, and allows for a lot of interaction with the crowd, which is normally as many as five hundred people.
It was a perfect afternoon for some blues in the open air. Amazing cloudscapes, along with the vineyards, provided a beautiful scenic backdrop, and the band began setting up their equipment. Normally, they would do this with the help of the winery’s sound person, who alas, was on vacation. As Selwyn stepped down from the stage and stopped at different points in the crowd to check the sound from the PA, he stopped to meet and greet numerous fans, many of whom have known and followed him for years.
As the band took to the stage, Selwyn joked about using his “rickety” old sound system, and the crowd ate it up. After getting the day wrong, he laughed and told the crowd, “Come on y’all, we have been on the road so much, I’m lucky if I get the city right.” Then he smiled that winning smile of his and the crowd ate that up too. Then it was time to get down with some blues. The band started off with a blues shuffle in G, and then moved on, playing another couple of numbers before holding court with a deep, bluesy version of Tab Benoit’s “Lost In Your Lovin’.”
Then the band played material from their new album, Don’t Call No Ambulance, starting with a funky “Queen of Hearts.” After a thrilling version of the Ivory Joe Hunter classic “Since I Met You Baby,” they launched into the title track of the new album, and that’s when the fun started. The rhythm section that is Curtis Nutall on skins and Donald “Huff” Wright on bass was laying down a monster groove that was uprooting everything in it’s path. Then, like a divine wind, in swoops Regi Oliver and Selwyn, riding that groove, making everything right again. Now mind you, while all that is happening, Selwyn is actually soloing, and between the groove, and Regi, we were shaken to our very core. It was beautiful thing. If that had been the end of the show, it would have been well worth coming out for.
Friends, that was only the first set! The band came out swinging after the break with a powerful, funk infused rendering of “Addicted” off the new album that had the hairs on the backs of our necks standing at attention. This was followed by “The River Turned Red,” which included a thrilling solo, and the slower, smokey “Love Me Again,” both also off the new disc. After playing Kenny Neal’s “Let Life Flow,” Selwyn sat down with his lap steel and did a rough and tumble version of “Tell Me Why,” with scorching lead lines. After “Hoodoo Stew,” Selwyn strapped on his Gibson again, and the band did a Detroit blues version of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” that was intense. He followed this with two crowd requests from his album, Florida Boy, “Found Love Today,” and the swampy blues title track. The band closed out the set with the slow, soulful “Falling From The Sky.”
Selwyn is fortunate to have a rhythm section that is so tight, so powerful, and so together, working the groove with him. On sax, Regi Oliver is an orchestra of depth and soul, always adding that extra layer of love to the proceedings. He also laid down lead runs that would make King Curtis proud. It speaks volumes that the band played two sets, back to back, for the same crowd, and left them wanting more. Remember all those girls screaming at the Beatles Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl? That’s how Selwyn and company left the audience feeling on the inside. Catch them soon at a venue near you.