Bubba Mac Dies, South Jersey Loses a Music IconLast Edited:
Hearts across South Jersey are breaking as the news is starting to spread that Herb “Bubba” Birch, the iconic musician and fixture of Ocean City’s summer seasons for decades, has passed away.
He was 73.
Birch, who continued to perform with his Bubba Mac Blues Band up until this spring had been suffering from a series of chronic ailments over the past several months. He died early Tuesday, May 16th.
Birch’s Bubba Mac Blues Band, which featured some of the best of the best South Jersey musicians (including Lew London, Danny Eyer, and many others) over its impressive run, last performed at the Ocean City Spring Block Party on May 6.
It was the 15th year Bubba and his band played the event.
Although Birch's health had been forcing him in and out of the hospital, requiring him to use an oxygen tank while he performed, he pressed on booking and playing gigs over the past year or so and sounded as good as ever.
All "Bubba" wanted to do was to play music in his later years (and spend time with his family). Wherever there were people and a dance floor, he'd put together a band and present his style of what he called the "Happy Blues."Birch opened and ran the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point, N.J.,with his son Mac Birch for a monumental stretch around the turn of the millennium (2000-2007) and cultivated a strong local fan base especially in the years following the close of that business.
In October 2007, Birch put on the Mid-Atlantic Blues & Music Festival at the former Bernie Robbins / Sandcastle Stadium in Atlantic City. The two-day event featured blues heavyweights such as Bobby Rush, Tab Benoit, Legends of Chicago Blues (featuring the late Hubert Sumlin) and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among others.
During his time running the Shack in Somers Point, he booked music stars such as Levon Helm and the Barnburners, James Cotton and many others.
One couldn’t sit with Birch on the Ocean City Boardwalk without dozens of people walking past and saying, “Hey Bub!” For years he would ride his bicycle daily on the Ocean City Boardwalk, and, with his band, appeared regularly at city-wide events.
Birch had a smaller version of the Bubba Mac Shack on the Ocean City Boardwalk for about a year, following the closing of the original location on Bay Avenue (which has since been turned into condos).
Over the course of his life at the Jersey Shore - Birch moved to New Jersey permanently from Maryland during his adulthood - Birch put smiles on countless faces of all ages, and got people dancing wherever he played.
A dance floor, an electric guitar, a crack band, and his bulging binder of songs - which included selections from Paul Simon and J.J. Cale to Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters, in addition to dozens of his own songs - is all it took for Birch to get the party started, which he did gig after gig, and season after season, for the past 15 years.
Although it sometimes felt like "Bubba Mac'" had been a part of South Jersey's musical fabric for longer, due to his overwhelming popularity and gargantuan presence, it's guaranteed he always will be.
The entire SNJ Today and South Jersey music community sends prayers and condolences to his family and army of loved ones across the Garden State and throughout the country.
A celebration of Birch's life is being planned for Memorial Day Weekend in Ocean City. The band was slated to perform next at Ventnor Coffee in Ventnor Heights on June 16th. The owners there are trying to put together a tribute to Birch on that date.
BELOW: Watch the last public performance the Bubba Mac Band gave, this past May 6th, at the Ocean City Spring Block party. Here's a clip of one of Bubba's most popular songs, "Flip Flops." (Footage by Jason Penza):
(Editor's Note: The author of this article, Jeff Schwachter, was a proud member of the Bubba Mac Blues Band)
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