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Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival takes over Coachman Park
JJ Grey, Walter Trout to headline music festival; Birchwood returns to Clearwater
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The Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival is Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, at Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., Clearwater.
CLEARWATER - The Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival will be presented Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, at Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., Clearwater.

Coachman Park is located just behind the city’s main library on the waterfront overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

Since its inception, this annual festival has become one of Clearwater’s most beloved signature events, appealing to thousands of residents and seasonal visitors. The annual event may not have as long and storied a history as the city’s other signature music event – the Clearwater Jazz Holiday – but it has become a fixture in the Tampa Bay area as it continues to attract top blues artists. The very first Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival was presented in February 2007. That year’s lineup featured headliners Johnny Winter and Eric Sardinas.

This year’s lineup boasts a variety of both internationally known and emerging artists.

Saturday’s performers include JJ Grey & Mofro, The Record Company, The Sheepdogs, The Congress, The Ries Brothers and Bear & Robert. Sunday’s performers include Walter Trout, Sonny Landreth, Mike Zito, Selwyn Birchwood, The Betty Fox Band and Souliz. Schedule and artists subject to change.

General admission to the festival is free. Reserved seating starts at $25 with two-day passes available. VIP packages start at $70 and includes a reserved seat, dinner, two drink tickets, access to the VIP bar and executive restrooms. All prices are subject to taxes and fees. For more information, visit clear­water­seabl­ues.c­om or Faceb­ook.c­om/Cl­earwa­terSe­aBlue­s.

Birchwood – Florida’s own rising young blues star is heading back for a second appearance at the festival. He first performed at Sea-Blues in 2012 – just before he took his first steps toward stardom. Things have changed quite a bit since then.

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” Birchwood said. “We went and competed in the International Blues Challenge shortly after that and we got first place out of over 150 bands.”

With that win, Birchwood and his outfit began touring heavily – and they haven’t stopped since.

“We were signed to Alligator Records about a year after that,” he said. “Our first record for Alligator received multiple awards including the Blues Music Award for Best Debut Album, Living Blues Magazine’s Best New Artist, and Blues Blast Magazine’s Sean Costello Rising Star Award.”

Touring has been a way of life since success found Birchwood.

“Our show schedule has been nonstop and we’ve played 15 countries since last time we were in Clearwater Sea-Blues,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being able to perform there again.”

Born in 1985 in Orlando, Birchwood picked up his first guitar at age 13. Before long, he was doing better than average just mimicking what he heard on the radio. When he realized that the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn’t truly inspire him, he found himself looking for a different sound.

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

As Birchwood’s proficiency grew, he learned that one of his neighbors was a blues guitarist – and had a band. That’s when Texas-born blues legend Sonny Rhodes came into the picture. Rhodes welcomed the 19-year-old and started jamming with him. About a month later, Rhodes told Birchwood to pack his bags and join him on the road. Taking the youngster under his wing, Rhodes not only taught Birchwood guitar and lap steel, but also how to conduct business, how to run a band and how to reach an audience.

When it came time, Rhodes insisted Birchwood go to college; but he held the guitar spot in his band open for him whenever he was available. Birchwood, through hard work and scholarships, earned his MBA from The University of Tampa.

Fortunately, Birchwood manages to get back to his old stomping grounds often, playing shows several times a year in and around the Tampa Bay area.

“It’s nice because it feels like home,” he said. “It’s different when we perform and lookout into the crowd and see people we have been knowing for years. Everybody really seems to dig the music and really claim us over here, so we always feel very welcome and I’m thankful for that.”

Keep in mind music is only half of the fun at the Sea-Blues Festival. Attendees also will be able to experience some of the best and freshest seafood in the area.

Smokin’ blues weekend

This year’s festival lineup features a variety of internationally-known performers and local blues artists.

Following is a summary of this year’s anticipated performance schedule:

Saturday, Feb. 18

Noon – Gates open

12:30 p.m. – Bear & Robert
1:30 p.m. – The Ries Brothers
2:45 p.m. – The Congress
4:15 p.m. – The Sheepdogs
5:45 p.m. – The Record Company
7:30 p.m. – JJ Grey & Mofro

Sunday, Feb. 19

Noon – Gates open
12:30 p.m. – Souliz
1:30 p.m. – The Betty Ford Band
2:45 p.m. – Selwyn Birchwood
4:15 p.m. – Mike Zito
5:45 p.m. – Sonny Landreth
7:30 p.m. – Walter Trout

Headliner JJ Grey & Mofro will take the stage Saturday evening, hitting the stage at 7:30 p.m.

The celebrated soulful ensemble is touring in support of their most recent album “Ol’ Glory.” The album marked their debut on Provogue Records, which is part of the Mascot Label Group. “Ol’ Glory” contains 12 new songs that feature the deep, soulful blend of blues, rock, folk, funk, gospel, gritty R&B and personal, Southern-inspired narratives that have become synonymous with JJ Grey & Mofro. A true Southern renaissance man, JJ Grey’s intensely charismatic live performances, combined with the incredible musicianship of Mofro, have connected with audiences all over the world.

JJ Grey & Mofro have captivated audiences at some of the largest festivals worldwide, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits Festival, Glastonbury, North Sea Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival and Fuji Rock in Japan.

American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Walter Trout still recalls the day in 1965 when his brother brought the first album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band into his family’s New Jersey home. The event set Trout on a musical path: The magic of the twin guitars of Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s gut-deep harmonica and vocal performances ensnared him.

Trout’s practical schooling in blues started when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1973 and got gigs behind John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Finis Tasby, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulsom, Percy Mayfield and Joe Tex. In 1981, he joined the remaining original members of Canned Heat. Then, beginning in 1984, Trout began his tenure with British blues giant John Mayall. Trout became part of the Bluesbreakers’ lineage of great guitarists along with Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Sharing six-string duties with Coco Montoya in Mayall’s band, Trout helped to create a flexible guitar dynamic that sparked a renaissance for the Bluesbreakers.

In 1989, Trout established his own group, cutting his debut album “Life In the Jungle,” which launched him into the limelight in Europe. In 1998, his eponymous album ensured that he would remain a fixture in the American blues-rock scene for the foreseeable future.

Trout’s passionate “Blues for the Modern Daze,” released in 2012, cuts right to the core of his art and his heart. His 21st album returns the contemporary guitar legend to his hard-core blues roots and finds his songwriting at a creative and personal zenith.

His newest studio album, “Battle Scars,” was released in October 2015. In June 2017, Trout released “ALIVE in Amsterdam,” recorded live in Amsterdam on the blues legend’s comeback tour.

Hailing from Clearwater, The Ries Brothers have toured extensively across the country, opening for Chicago. Daughtry, Los Lonely Boys, REO Speedwagon and Little River Band, among others. Older brother Charlie handles the lead vocals while simultaneously playing the drums and keyboard bass. Kevin plays guitar, provides background vocals and is the co-writer on many of their original songs.

In the summer of 2013, the boys participated in the exclusive Los Angeles Grammy Museum Music Revolution Project at Ruth Eckerd Hall. The Ries Brothers were named by The Tampa Bay Times as one of the favorite artists of 2014.

The Congress is a band that shows reverence for their roots through both cohesion and creativity.

“It’s hard to pigeonhole us one way or the other,” said guitarist/vocalist Scott Lane in a biographical sketch provided by Red Boot PR. “We do what comes naturally, with a lot of focus on song and arrangement, and very little on genre. We’re not great at putting ourselves in one box.”

With the 2016 release of “The Game,” the band’s sophomore album on American Paradox, The Congress progressed further along a career path that’s taken them from Denver, Colorado, where they first formed, back to their hometown of Richmond, Virginia. They’ve followed a circuitous route – one that’s found them touring with high profile bands like Lake Street Dive, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and Hard Working Americans, and performing at major festivals like Wakarusa and High Sierra. They remain focused on their singular sound, a dynamic mix of riveting rock ’n’ roll, old school soul, classic country, and searing psychedelia.

According to Listen Harder Music Publicity, The Sheepdogs’ 2015 album “Future Nostalgia” is firmly rooted in the rock tradition that listeners have come to expect from the band. The Sheepdogs remain steadfast in their commitment to rock ’n’ roll excellence. Since their inception, the band has always sought to play the kind of music they themselves love.

“Pure, simple, good-time music,” said singer/guitarist Ewan Currie, describing their most recent studio release – their fifth to date.

The album was recorded in a rented house in the remote, idyllic setting of Stony Lake, Ontario.

“We wanted to cut out all the noise and get back to a place where we could just fully immerse ourselves in music,” said Currie in a press release promoting the album. Currie took on production duties for the album. “We worked hard, but we also made sure to keep it loose and have ourselves a good time.”

“Future Nostalgia” builds upon The Sheepdogs’ foundation of feel-good vocal harmonizing and nasty guitar jamming.

“Our musical journey has been about trying to find how we sound our best,” Currie said.

Formed in Los Angeles, The Record Company released its debut album “Give It Back to You” in 2016.

The Record Company has garnered a reputation as a dynamic live band. Their performance at last year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival prompting Rolling Stone Country to name the trio’s set among the event’s 5 Best Country and Americana Moments.

Founded in 2011 by Chris Vos (guitar, lead vocals, harmonica), Alex Stiff (bass, guitar, vocals) and Marc Cazorla (drums, piano, vocals), The Record Company immediately took their hometown by storm, hailed by LA Weekly for “making bluesy music that would sound more at home in a sweaty, backwoods Mississippi juke joint.”

Equally inspired by early electric blues as they are proto-punk and Americana, The Record Company hewed their contemporary take on classic rock ’n’ roll by hanging some vintage mics in Stiff’s Los Feliz, California, living room, then as now the site of all of the trio’s writing, rehearsing, recording and mixing.

Sixth annual Blues Walk

The Sea-Blues Festival will kick off with a pre-celebration on Friday, Feb. 17, with the sixth annual Blues Walk in Clearwater’s Cleveland Street District.

Blues Walk festivities will begin at 6 p.m. on Cleveland Street. Visitors will enjoy food and drink specials, contests and prizes and entertainment. Top local blues musicians The Blond and Blue Band will perform from 6 to 8 p.m. in the 600 Block at Station Square Park. The Alex Lopez Express will play from 7 to 9 p.m., on the 500 Block of Cleveland. RJ Howson will perform from 8 to 10 p.m., on the 400 block of Cleveland.

New this year is the #SeaClues Scavenger Hunt. Those attending will want to be on the lookout for stuffed blue fish around the Downtown District and Coachman Park. When a blue fish is spotted, guests will snap a picture; upload it to their social media accounts with #SeaClues. Each post is an entry to win a two-night stay at Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.

Attendees also may fill out entry forms for a chance to win the Friends of Downtown prize package at downtown Clearwater businesses such as Chiang Mai Thai & Sushi Bar, Café Milano, Tony’s Pizzeria, Studio Six One Seven and the Tampa Bay Escape Room. This package includes a $50 gift card to Tony’s Pizzeria, $50 credit to Capital Theatre and four passes to Tampa Bay Escape Room.

For information, visit clear­water­seabl­ues.c­om.
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