Fantastic Negrito returns to perform at the fifth annual Safety Harbor SongFest

Fantastic Negrito, who returns to the Safety Harbor SongFest for the second year in a row, won a Grammy award last year for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

SAFETY HARBOR – The Safety Harbor Art & Music Center will present the fifth annual Safety Harbor SongFest Saturday, April 7, noon to 10 p.m., at Safety Harbor Waterfront Park, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane, Safety Harbor.

Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. Visit

The festival will feature performances by Fantastic Negrito, Josh Ritter, Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root, Larkin Poe, Selwyn Birchwood, Meiko, Daniel Mohr, Betty Fox, Mountain Holler, Kristopher James, Ari Chi, The Urban Gypsies of Florida, Jonnie Morgan, and Ezra Huleatt of Black Taxi.

Fantastic Negrito, who returns for the second year in a row, won a Grammy award last year for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

“Safety Harbor is becoming my second home,” said Negrito in a press release. “I was first introduced to this community through Chris Cornell. I feel the truest vibration of love from these good people.”

Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz, Negrito’s musical style is self-described as “black roots music for everyone,” blending old school blues with modernized loops, slide guitar and drums.

“We are so happy Xavier and the band are coming back,” said Todd Ramquist, SHAMc co-founder and festival organizer. “He truly embodies the spirit of our festival and his talent is limitless.”

Negrito recently unveiled plans for “Please Don’t Be Dead,” his next album due to be released June 15 on the Cooking Vinyl and Blackball Universe label.

“I wrote this album because I fear for the life of my black son,” said Negrito in a press release from Big Hassle. “I fear for the lives of my daughters. I am uncertain about what kind of future they will face. Will someone shoot up their school? Will they become addicted to prescription pills? Will they wind up on the street, sleeping under freeways and overpasses? Will the police murder my son? I came up with the name ‘Please Don’t Be Dead’ because I felt like we’d lost our way as a society – and I know what happens when you chase the wrong things. It’s the story of my life.”

“Please Don’t Be Dead” is heralded by “Plastic Hamburgers,” the lead track.

“With ‘Plastic Hamburgers’ I wanted to come out swinging,” added Negrito. “With everything happening in the world, I wanted to take it head on. Addiction, guns, censorship, overconsumption. I wanted people to feel like this is our song, our rallying cry: Let’s tear down the walls that separate us and face who we really are.”

Negrito is truly an artist for these times: a multi-talented, genre-agnostic original whose life and work embody the struggle, energy, truth and creativity of black music. Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household, the eighth of 14 children of a deeply religious Somali-Caribbean immigrant.

The family moved from western Massachusetts to Oakland, California, when Negrito was just 12 years old. His new hometown’s vibrant black community provided a massive culture shock after what was an extremely conservative childhood. Raised by the streets of Oakland, Negrito discovered a passion for music and by the time he was 20, he had taught himself a range of instruments. Sensing that he was on the wrong path and fearing for his life, he knew he had to make a change so, armed with only his demo on cassette, he moved to Los Angeles where he eventually signed a million-dollar major record label deal.

But Negrito’s soulful music was not made for those times. His debut album – released under his own name – went largely unnoticed. His confidence shattered, he pondered his next move.

Before making any decisions, fate intervened. In 2000, Negrito suffered a near-fatal car accident. The event left him in a coma for three weeks and caused permanent damage to his playing hand. Determined, he fought hard, enduring hours of painful physical therapy.

The birth of his son would provide the inspiration Negrito sought to return to music. Once again, he picked up his guitar. Encouraged by his childhood friend, co-founder/co-owner of artist collective Blackball Universe, and Empire writer/producer Malcolm Spellman, Negrito began exploring the roots of black music, ultimately winding back to the original source, the DNA of all American music: the blues.

Rather than simply updating the delta blues, Negrito created something altogether new and unique, building bridges to the 21st century by weaving the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip James with loops and samples of his own live instruments.

Josh Ritter was named one of the Top 100 Songwriters Alive Today by Paste Magazine. Ritter has collaborated with Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), recently toured with Jason Isbell, is a prolific painter whose works adorn his album covers, and a New York Times bestselling author.

He has appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” was featured on CBS News This Morning, and most recently performed on “Austin City Limits.” One of his biggest fans of his songwriting is novelist Stephen King.

Selwyn Birchwood released “Pick Your Poison,” his forward-looking new CD on Alligator Records, in May 2017.

On the new album, Birchwood – along with his band-saxophonist Regi Oliver, bassist Huff Wright and drummer Courtney “Big Love” Girlie – takes a major step forward, crafting visionary blues for a new generation of forward-looking fans.

With his fiery guitar and lap steel playing; his trailblazing, instantly memorable songs; and his gritty, unvarnished vocals, Birchwood is one of the most remarkable young stars in the blues. According to a biographical sketch provided by Alligator Records, Birchwood possesses a deep familiarity with blues tradition, which allows him to bust the genre wide open, bringing innovative new sounds, colors and textures. He delivers these with a distinctive style that blends a revival tent preacher’s fervor and a natural storyteller’s charisma.

Since the 2014 release “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” Birchwood’s Alligator Records debut, the powerhouse guitarist’s journey from playing small Florida clubs to headlining international festival stages can be described as phenomenal. “Don’t Call No Ambulance” received the Blues Music Award and Living Blues Critics’ Award for Best Debut Album Of 2014. Birchwood also walked away with the 2015 Blues Blast Rising Star Award.

Over the last few years, Birchwood and his band have crisscrossed the United States and Europe repeatedly, delivering unforgettable live performances. Now, with “Pick Your Poison,” Birchwood, along with his band – saxophonist Regi Oliver, bassist Huff Wright and drummer Courtney “Big Love” Girlie – is taking another major step forward, crafting visionary blues for a new generation of forward-looking fans.

Birchwood wrote and produced all 13 songs on “Pick Your Poison.” His richly detailed, hard-hitting originals run the emotional gamut from the humorously personal “My Whiskey Loves My Ex” to the gospel-inflected “Even the Saved Need Saving” to the hard truths of the topical “Corporate Drone” and “Police State” to the existential choice of the title track. The cutting-edge songs are made all the more impactful by Birchwood’s gruff vocals, his untamed musicianship and his band’s seemingly telepathic accompaniment.

“I write and sing what I know,” said Birchwood in a press release. “This album has a broad reach. It’s for young, old and everyone in between.”

Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer signed Birchwood to the label shortly after the bluesman won the 2013 International Blues Challenge as well as the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award at the same event,

“Selwyn writes smart, infectious, fresh songs and delivers them with a warm, conversational vocal style and a fun-loving attitude,” Iglauer said. “He’s a killer guitarist, switching between a regular six-string and lap steel. Live, he’s a ball of energy, interacting with the audience like they were in his living room.”  

Birchwood was born in 1985 in Orlando. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. He quickly grew tired of the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s.

Then he heard some classic Jimi Hendrix.

“He was larger than life,” Birchwood said. “What he did was mind-blowing. When I realized Hendrix was influenced by the blues, I found my path.”

By 17, Birchwood was deep into the blues, listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy.

Birchwood announced his arrival on the international blues stage with 2014’s “Don’t Call No Ambulance.”

The album is a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. Between his uninhibited sense of fun and adventure and his serious-as-a-heart-attack musicianship, “Don’t Call No Ambulance” opened a door into a bright future for the blues.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing the blues,” Birchwood said. “And I try to convey that with every song and with every performance.”

Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root also will be performing at Safety Harbor Songfest.

According to a press release from Devious Planet, Glabicki's solo project – aptly titled Uprooted featuring Michael Glabicki – will introduce new material at the event.

In the 1990s, Glabicki had a vision he was driven to pursue. He left college, started a band despite the fact that he had no idea where the journey would deliver him. He spent two years developing this vision while learning the craft of songwriting. That vision grew into Rusted Root, the multiplatinum band out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Glabicki became one of music’s most unique voices.

While Rusted Root is on hiatus, Glabicki has been devoting his time to creating an entirely new soundscape. His solo project promises to bring back parts of the Rusted Root of old, but will also include more percussion and female vocals. Collectively, the band hopes that the new material will deliver it to a special place. Glabicki will continue to play Rusted Root’s entire catalogue but promises to deliver fresh inspired versions, as well as introducing new and exciting music under the moniker of Uprooted

Uprooted will feature members from the most recent Rusted Root touring band, including electric guitarist Dirk Miller, drummer Zil Fessler, bassist Bobby Schneck and Daisie Ghosts Flower singing back-ups.

The Safety Harbor SongFest is presented by the Safety Harbor Music and Art Center.

SHAMc is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is to promote education in fine art, visual arts, and performing arts. Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda created this art and music center to benefit their community. SHAMc is located in downtown Safety Harbor. The founders are both local artists who are globally renowned for their art house, Whimzeyland.

For information about the center, visit For information about the Safety Harbor SongFest, visit