Powerhouse guitarist and vocalist Selwyn Birchwood once again will bring his brand of soulful blues to West Orange as headliner for the fourth annual Winter Garden Blues & BBQ Festival.
The free festival, which takes place from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at the downtown Lakeview Avenue pavilion, is a fundraiser for the city of Winter Garden Relay for Life Team and the American Cancer Society.
Birchwood, who performed at the event a few years ago, said he is excited for his return to West Orange.
“It was really well received (the last time), and they (festival organizers) said they would have us back sometime,” he said. “They keep their word.”
The 29-year-old Orlando native was the winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge. Born in 1985, the Lake Howell High School graduate was playing guitar by the time he was a teenager. While other people his age were listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden and other Seattle grunge-rock bands of the ’90s, Birchwood was drawn to blues.
When a friend told him that his neighbor was a blues guitarist and had a band, Birchwood made contact and was soon jamming with Texas-born blues legend Sonny Rhodes. By 19, Birchwood was asked to tour with Rhodes.
“(That) opened up an entire world of music and lifestyle that I didn’t know existed,” he said.
But Rhodes insisted the young musician get a college degree and said his place in the touring band would remain his. Birchwood obtained his master’s degree business administration at the private University of Tampa.
Now living in Tampa, music remains his focus.
“I feel that I can relate and connect with blues music because it tells the truth,” he said. “I don’t feel many other genres can effectively translate emotion quite as well. You can really get insight into someone’s life and entire state of being through his music.”
Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is fun. His mission is to spread his music far and wide, to share his joy, to play his heart out and to push the blues into the future.
“If I can play my music, travel the world, bring happiness to people, then I’m blessed and happy,” he said.
Joining Birchwood on this year’s bill will be The Pitbull of Blues Band and J.P. Soars & The Red Hots.
The Pitbull of Blues Band comprises Josh Rowand (guitarist and lead vocalist), Deny Rowand (bass player and backup vocalist) and drummer Richie Corricelli. This trio has played together for more than 15 years and has won multiple blues competitions, including the 2014 Orange Blossom Blues Society’s Central Florida Blues Challenge and the 2013 South West Florida Blues Society’s Blues Challenge.
J.P. Soars, who is bringing his own trio, The Red Hots, started his recording career as a blues artist in 2008. The following year, they won the annual International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee. Together, they have produced multiple CDs since then, including a live album to document their first European tour.