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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016 4 years ago

PREVIEW: Winter Garden Blues and BBQ Festival

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Three Florida blues artists will take the stage at the Winter Garden Blues and BBQ Festival, which will feature barbecue, beer, wine and, of course, plenty of soulful sounds.
by: Jennifer Nesslar Reporter

Bring your lawn chairs to the Downtown Pavilion in Winter Garden for the fifth annual Blues and BBQ Festival in the style of a backyard barbecue. 

Local barbecue vendors will be selling their fare, and three Florida blues artists will take the stage. Beer and wine will be on sale as well. Admission is free, but bring some cash for barbecue, beer and wine.

SELWYN BIRCHWOOD BAND 

Selwyn Birchwood returns this year to the Winter Garden Blues and BBQ Festival after a positive experience in years past.

Selwyn Birchwood describes his music in four words: “electric funk swamp blues.”

The 30-year-old artist returns with his band to play at the Winter Garden Blues and BBQ festival. Birchwood, who plays both the guitar and lap steel, is known for his signature afro and performing barefoot, which he said is just a comfortable way to be on stage. He plays in a four-piece band with a bass player, drummer and baritone saxophone player. 

He has also been told that he performs with a “revival tent preacher’s fervor.” 

“We try to have everyone included,” he said. “I hate going to shows, and you get so excited to go and you show up and the band is just standing there, staring at their feet, playing. We like to be more interactive than that.” 

Birchwood began to play guitar in his early teenage years, but quickly grew tired of playing what he heard on the radio. It wasn’t until he got a Jimi Hendrix record that he realized his passion was in blues.

“The blues have such a breadth of sounds and styles,” Birchwood said. “I think a lot of people try to pigeon-hole a particular sound and say that anything outside of that isn’t blues, but I think that what people get drawn to about this music is just the realness of it, the storytelling, the raw emotion of it, and we try to incorporate that into our music, and incorporate a lot of energy into our live shows, and I think that’s what people seem to gravitate to.”

Birchwood moved around as a child throughout the Orlando area. He started performing around the area when he was 17. During that time, he discovered a friend was a neighbor of Sonny Rhodes, and as soon as Birchwood heard his music, he asked if he could be introduced to Rhodes. It took about six months until he could meet up and play music with him, but the meeting was greater than Birchwood expected.

“(Rhodes) looked over to his bass player who was listening too and smiled and just kind of stopped me halfway through and asked if I had a passport,” Birchwood said. “And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to take you on the road with me.’” 

He started touring all over the United States and Canada with Rhodes and his band and also began playing his signature instrument, the lap steel guitar.

Birchwood now travels extensively with his own band, the Selwyn Birchwood Band. For the past two years, Birchwood has been under the Alligator Records label. The band won the 2015 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. 

DAMON FOWLER GROUP

Damon Fowler grew up at his grandparents’ house, where they ran the family business, Fowler

Damon Fowler’s interest in music started at family backyard barbecues he attended as a child.

Septic Tank. His aunts and uncles worked for the business, and every Sunday they threw a barbecue. It was at those barbecues where Fowler listened to his uncles play guitar. 

“Some people throw ball,” Fowler said. “We played guitar.”

An only child who suffered from asthma, Fowler took a liking to music. 

When the family business had a good year, his grandparents bought Fowler’s uncles new guitars. Fowler got one, too. 

“To get me out of their hair, here’s a cheap acoustic guitar,” Fowler said. “Which was cool. I wanted one.”

At 14, Fowler picked up lap steel guitar. As he entered his years at Brandon High School, he began to play at bars. He never had a day job, but his gigs paved the way. 

When he was 17, he met Rick Derringer at a show at Mr. Pub in Bellview, Florida. Derringer was a member of The McCoys and later went on to produce Weird Al Yankovic and Cyndi Lauper albums, among others. Fowler was added to that list when he was 18. Derringer produced Fowler’s first album, “Riverview Drive,” in 1999. 

“Working with Rick was awesome,” Fowler said. 

Since then, Fowler self released “Roots and Branches,” in 2000, and “Live at Skipper’s Smokehouse,” in 2003. 

Fowler was signed to Blind Pig Records, an American blues independent label, in 2007. 

From there, he released three more records. The most recent is the 2014 “Sounds of Home.”

Damon chose swamp blues master Tab Benoit to produce and record him at Benoit’s Louisiana home. 

BETTY FOX BAND

Betty Fox’s first album “Too Far Gone” earned her recognition in the blues world.

Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Betty Fox’s family gathered around the piano to sing southern gospel music and tight harmonies. It was the place where Fox’s love of music was born. Her uncle would play the piano as the large family sang four and five-part harmonies to “It is Well with my Soul” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” 

Fox became recognized in the blues world with her debut album “Too Far Gone.” In June 2015, she released a second album “Slow Burn.” 

In 2015, she was a representative of the Suncoast Blues Society. She was also a two-time winner of Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay awards, an award given to talent in the Tampa Bay area, and a finalist in the International Blues Challenge.

Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected]

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