Skipper's celebrates the life of Michael Baldwin

A free memorial tonight will pay tribute to the musician instrumental in bringing music to Skipper's Smokehouse

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Skipper’s Smokehouse has been Tampa’s staple spot for live folk, funk, reggae, rockabilly, bluegrass and blues for over 30 years. The Skipper’s stage has been graced by the likes of The Black Keys and The Avett Brothers, and is a mecca for local musicians/music lovers.

Tampa musician Michael Baldwin had a pivotal role in bringing music to Skipper’s in the mid-'70s. Tonight at 7 p.m., a memorial of Michael’s life will take place at Skipper’s, fittingly featuring live music and the sharing of stories among family and friends. The beloved local died May 14 of heart complications.

Baldwin, writing and performing music for most of his life, was discovered by record executives singing on the streets of New York in the early 1970s. He and Richard Leps released music on the iconic folk label Vanguard Records. Baldwin also worked closely with Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Charlie Rich.

Although he lived in Tarpon Springs as a teenager and attended the University of South Florida, Baldwin spent much of his life traveling and playing music on his 12-string guitar. According to Barbara Baldwin, who was married to Michael for 18 years, he always kept the company of other creatives, even becoming close drinking buddies with Jack Kerouac.

It was when Baldwin was in his thirties that he helped turn Skipper’s into a beloved hangout for local musicians.

“George and Maryann Myers owned Skipper’s back then,” Barbara said. “It was a little restaurant/bar place, and it didn’t have music. Michael and Richard Leps suggested that they should do a music jam on Sundays. It was just on Sundays back then, and it started in the early afternoon and went until closing.”

The weekly jam sessions garnered a dedicated following, and undoubtedly contributed to Skipper’s legacy as a sacred space for live music. According to Barbara, tonight’s free celebration will honor Baldwin in typical Skipper’s fashion.

“We’re not gonna do the whole stage and PA system thing,” she said. “We're just gathering at the back deck of Skipper’s with the people who have known and loved Michael for 50 years or more – a sort of old-time jam sessions.”

Celebration of Life for Michael Baldwin, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m., Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa, 33613. 813-971-0666. skipperssmokehouse.com.

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