On Stage (Bonus): Get your mid-week music jam on

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Selwyn Birchwood

Frequently, mid-week can be a slow time for live music.

Such is not the case this week at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) which has a high-powered blues act on Tuesday evening and a top-flight blues/rockabilly show on Wednesday.

A few weeks ago, Selwyn Birchwood released his new album “Pick Your Poison” on Alligator Records while he was on tour in France.

Now, Birchwood is back in the states – touring America in support of the new disc. The tour brings him to the area for a show on June 6 at the World Café Live.

The new album is a testament to Birchwood’s overflowing talents as a blues master – despite his young age of 32.

“We started making ‘Pick Your Poison’ in May of last year,” said Birchwood, during a phone interview last Wednesday as he travelled through Tennessee to a show in Durham, North Carolina.

“It was a real challenge for us to get in the studio because our tour schedule was so crazy. I had to do it two or three days at a time. I didn’t finish it until December. We did it at Phat Planet Studio in Orlando. It’s a great studio with a lot of great gear.

“We had already been performing half the record on the road. We finished out the rest of the tracks while working on them over a nine-month period.”

Birchwood is one of the brightest new stars to emerge in the world of blues music in recent years. In 2013, he won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge — beating out 125 other musicians from the U.S. and abroad.

He also took home the Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award. After that, it didn’t take long for Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer to offer Birchwood a contract.

“Bruce heard me play at IBC (International Blues Challenge) in Memphis,” said Birchwood.

“I gave him some of my tracks to listen to. I was just hoping to get his opinion on them. Instead, he asked me to make an album for his record label.”

His album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” which was his third overall and first for Alligator Records, received the Living Blues Critics’ Award for Best Debut Album Of 2014.

Birchwood was born in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. But the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn’t move him, and he quickly grew bored.

Then he heard Jimi Hendrix. By the time he was 17, Birchwood was deep into the blues — listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy.

“When I was young, I decided I wanted to play an instrument and landed on guitar,” said Birchwood. “I was bored with just hearing the stuff on the radio in the late 90s.

“When I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time, I was blown away. It was like a spaceship landed. Then, I started listening to Hendrix’ roots — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy.

“Buddy Guy was one of my favorites. He was coming on tour to the House of Blues in Orlando when I was 17 and living there. I went to his show and was completely floored. I said — what I’m feeling coming off this stage is what I want to do.”

Birchwood not only is a strong player, he is a very good writer.

“I’m writing all the time,” said Birchwood. “I write by myself and bring it to the band. My way to write songs is always different. It’s kind of sporadic.

“I have a lot of time on the road with these tours so I think about songs and start working on them. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters and B.B. King. So, when I’m writing, it feels like blues to me no matter what the form.

“The new album is another step in that direction. It’s blues but we’re developing a sound we can call our own. I take old blues songs that I love so much and bring our style. This is our fourth album of all original music.

“We normally like to road-test songs because they seem to develop out of improvisation. I really dig all kinds of blues – Delta, Piedmont, Chicago and Hill Country blues. Now, I’m trying to make some Florida blues.”

Video link for Selwyn Birchwood — https://youtu.be/cTtQ8H3p81U.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door.

The Skullers

Philadelphia has a long tradition of producing scullers – oarsmen who propel racing boats with oars. The name comes from “sculls,” which are light oars. Philly is known for its scull races along Boathouse Row– especially the Dad Vail Regatta.

On June 6, the World Café Live will host a group with a name that sounds identical to that of the oarsmen but has a different spelling and an entirely different meaning.

The music venue in Philly will host the Skullers — a band from Weehawken, New Jersey. The Skullers play blues-soaked, modern rock and roll with down-to-the-bone rockabilly soul.

The Skullers’ line-up features Jack Skuller – vocals, guitar, harmonica; Gabriel Scholis-Fernandez – drums; and Luigi Sardi – bass.

“I’ve been a solo artist since I was 13,” said Jack Skuller, during a phone interview last week from his home in Weehawken. “When I was 14, I recorded my first single — ‘Love Is a Drum.’

“The single came out on Bar None Records and was produced by Daniel Rey, who was the Ramones’ producer. It did well and I toured 15 cities on the Radio Disney Tour.”

More singles followed including a cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Get Rhythm.” Skuller’s song “You’ll Never Take My Holiday” premiered on Teen Vogue and was picked up by the ASPCA for a holiday campaign.

In 2014, Skuller’s songwriting was recognized by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and they awarded him the Holly Prize in tribute to the legacy of Buddy Holly.

“It was all part of the development of my career,” said Skuller. “I was 18 when I received the Holly Prize. I’ve been singing since I was eight.

“I’d perform just because I loved doing it – and I was winning talent shows. My parents encouraged me to play guitar. They said – if you’re going to do this, you have to accompany yourself. That was back when I was 10.

“Last year, I decided to form a band. I got Luigi Sardi, who is from Peru, to play bass, and Gabe Scholis-Fernandez, who is Polish-Ecuadorian, to play drums.

“We all have different influences. I grew up listening to Eddie Cochran, Little Walter, the Everly Brothers and, of course, Buddy Holly. Luigi is more into punk and Gabe’s favorite music is progressive rock.

“We’ve been working together for a year but we really broke out early in 2017. We’re focusing on building up our online presence.”

The Skullers, who were recently featured as the Jersey Rock Video Of The Week on WRAT 95.9 Radio, were in the studio this spring with four-time GRAMMY-nominated producer Joel Hamilton to record their debut EP.

“We’ve been in and out of the studio for a few months now and just finished recording a five-song EP that will be out in September on Mint 400 Records,” said Skuller.

“We recorded the EP at Studio G in Brooklyn with Joel Hamilton. He’s a great producer – a true master of finesse. He would never alter the core of what an artist wants to do. He did a great job of capturing our sound.”

Video link for the Skullers – https://youtu.be/RwbZxaFtPI8.

The show at the World Café Live, which has The Bad Larrys as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Crazy for You

Now through June 25, the highly-entertaining musical “Crazy for You” is being presented by the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org).

“Crazy for You” is a romantic comedy musical with a book by Ken Ludwig, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and music by George Gershwin. It is billed as “The New Gershwin Musical Comedy.”

The hit show is largely based on the songwriting team’s 1930 musical, “Girl Crazy,” but incorporates songs from several other productions as well. “Crazy for You” won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Musical.

“Crazy for You” is the story of Bobby Child, a well-to-do 1930s playboy whose sole dream in life is to dance. The show is a high-energy, screwball comedy with mistaken identities, plot twists galore, and fabulous dance numbers.

The production at Candlelight features Nate Golden turning in a standout performance in the lead role of Bobby Child. Golden shines with both his singing and his tap dancing.

“I learned to tap dance when I was in a show – ‘42nd Street’ – when I was in high school in West Virginia,” said Golden, during a phone interview last week from his home in Philadelphia.

“It was a dream of mine for years to be a country music singer. Then, after high school, I studied at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. I got my degree in acting with a focus on musical theater.

“I did several productions at Shenandoah, including the tap musical ‘Anything Goes.’ After I graduated from Shenandoah, I moved to Philadelphia for an acting apprenticeship with Walnut Street Theatre. Then, I decided to stay in Philly.”

In recent years, Golden has worked with a variety of area theaters — Walnut Street, Arden, Mauckingbird, Bristol Riverside, Media and Delaware Theatre Company.

“This is my second show with Candlelight,” said Golden, who is also the Artistic Director of Nightcap Cabaret. “I did “How to Succeed” a couple years ago. Candlelight is one of the nicest places I’ve ever worked.”

“Crazy for You” has become one of Broadway’s timeless classics.

It features an amazing score by George Gershwin that includes standards such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Naughty Baby,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Embraceable You,” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

In 1992, in addition to winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, “Crazy for You” also got Tony Awards for Best Costume Design (William Ivey Long) and Best Choreography (Susan Stroman). Stroman, a Delaware native, is a Candlelight alum.

“I love this show,” said Golden. “You just can’t help but smile with this show. I love playing Billy even though I never get a moment to sit down.

“There is a lot of myself in this character. I grew up wanting to be a song-and-dance man – and I like getting in disguises. Another reason I like Billy is that he’s not afraid to crack a joke even in serious situations.

“Our production of the show has really evolved. We get more comfortable every day. The show is massive – and it never slows down.”

Video link for the Candlelight Theatre – https://youtu.be/FsUwE4R4oXk.

The buffet menu for “Crazy for You” features: Salad Bar, Shrimp with cocktail sauce, Salmon Diavolo, Tricolor cheese tortellini in a roasted red pepper and basil cream sauce, Fajita strip steak with onions, red peppers with cilantro and fajita seasoning, Meatballs in a Bourbon BBQ Thai Chili sauce, Ham in a dijon mustard/honey sauce, Chicken stuffed with roasted red pepper and swiss cheese with hollandaise, Garlic mashed potatoes, Broccolli and carrots, Garlic and cilantro white rice and a Dessert bar.

“Crazy for You” is running now through June 25 with performances Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.) with additional shows on June 14 at 1 p.m. and June 22 at 6 p.m. Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $60 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

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