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This Florida Man Has Turned the Punchline into Blues Gold

Florida native Selwyn Birchwood prepares to bring his award-winning blues to the Hamilton on July 19.
Selwyn Birchwood performs live on stage
Selwyn Birchwood performs live on stage - Photo by Jay Skolnick

Oh, those wacky headlines that invariably begin: “Florida Man…” And fill in the rest.

Selwyn Birchwood, a native of the Sunshine State, has set this unfortunate, longtime punchline to the blues in “Florida Man.” Indeed, his recent song features such lyrics as “Florida Man is drunk and shoots guns at hurricanes. Florida Man is high on bath salts and eats your face.”

There are headlines—and footage—to back up all of these anecdotes, which Birchwood includes in his music video for the song.

“I thought it was an interesting idea for a song. And I saw it as kind of a challenge to see if I could actually make the lyrics reflect those actual stories,” Birchwood said from the road in between tour stops. “The whole idea was [there was this] mythical creature, that could be down there, that has many forms in many headlines.”

Indeed, Birchwood combed the internet for the outlandish news stories, which he also shares in the video. Choose your favorite: “Florida couple ‘trapped’ in unlocked closet for two days”; “Bath salts blamed for face-eating attack”; “Florida man tells deputies he drank at stop signs, signals only.”

All tragically—hilariously—real.

“The people back home embrace the craziness [whereas] people outside of Florida point at the absurdity of it,” Birchwood said. “It’s like you’re allowed to talk crap about your high school, but as soon as anyone else talks crap about your high school, ‘Oh, we fighting!’”

Ergo, talk smack about his home state at your own peril when Birchwood and his ensemble drop by the Hamilton Live DC in D.C. July 19 for a fun-filled romp through Birchwood’s uptempo discography. His latest, “Exorcist” on Alligator Records—his fourth for the label—contains not only “Florida Man” but other bluesy compositions. The album debuted at number 2 on the Billboard Blues Chart and is still going strong.

Listening to the Tom Hambridge-produced album, it’s easy to discern why Birchwood has received such accolades as two Blues Music Awards and winning the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. It all reflects a love for the blues that was kindled when a teenage Birchwood saw the one and only Buddy Guy perform.

“I didn’t know anything about blues music, or hadn’t heard anything about it before. I stood in front of that stage and [thought] whatever this is, that’s what I want to learn, that’s what I want to do,” Birchwood recalled.

Selwyn Birchwood performs live on stage
Selwyn Birchwood - Press photo by Ivy Neville.

Birchwood praised his label for giving “Exorcist” a proper push. He also had words of commendation for Hambridge, the album’s producer. Hambridge is something of an elder statesman within the blues genre, including producing and co-writing Guy’s 2011 disc “Living Proof.”

“Before he produced anything, we’d become friends—and kind of shared ground on songwriting,” Birchwood said of his producer, adding that he was more interested in Hambridge’s work ethic and abilities than his roster of famous friends. “It’s not an ego thing when we’re [collaborating]. It’s what can we do to make the song better, and what can we do to make it really come across.

“I think we’re both really proud of what we did with this album.”

Performing live can be an exciting experience, even when things might not go according to the script. Birchwood giggles recalling one particularly rowdy gig when a young lady seated in the front row decided to give her older male companion—or “sugar daddy” in Birchwood’s words—a lapdance for all to behold.

“The crowd started going crazy,” he said. “And then someone else came up [with] $100 in one-dollar bills and threw them at us. So we’re standing onstage while these people [performed] a lapdance in front of the stage, and then they made it rain on the stage with dollar bills.

“It was kind of wild. I had the feeling that wasn’t the first time [the couple] had done that.”

During Birchwood’s upcoming swing through the capital, he and his group will pop by the SiriusXM studios. After that, he’ll continue on their rather ambitious five-week tour domestically before then heading off to Europe to play some dates.

And in the dreams-do-come-true department, Birchwood even got to perform onstage with his hero, Buddy Guy, last August—almost 20 years to the day he first decided he would pursue the blues after watching Guy perform.

“It was a cool thing to have it go full-circle,” Birchwood said of the unreal occasion. “It was a dream state sort of thing for me. I knew I was there because I was there, but it was still kind of a surreal moment—and very cool.”

With so many accolades and experiences already under his belt, could it be too early, perhaps, to mention the Blues Hall of Fame?

“If that’s what’s on your mind, then you’re already in the wrong spot if you’re a musician,” Birchwood said in response to such a pie-in-the-sky question. “All I’m trying to do is write the best songs that I can, record it the best way that we can, and give the best performance live that we can. And I feel that if we do that right, everything else will fall into place.”

Selwyn Birchwood performs live on stage
"Selwyn Birchwood performs live with his band - Photo by Jim Hartzell.

Birchwood says D.C. blues fans who come out to watch him jam at the Hamilton should be prepared to stand and rock out with him and his five-piece backing band. There’s no sitting on your hands at his shows, the bluesman advised.

“We like to have a shared experience and an exchange of energy [between] the crowd and the band,” he said. “We show up to party with you and try to have the crowd understand that there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing than be on that stage performing for them. It’s going to be a good time.”

Selwyn *Birchwood performs at the Hamilton Live DC July 19. Tickets are available through their website. For more from the musician, or to purchase the new album “Exorcist,” visit SelwynBirchwood.com. *

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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