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Mile 0: Worth Every Mile Getting There

by: Cody Starr

We started the week bringing you Brad’s thoughts on Mile 0 Fest and we’ll end the week with mine. As usual, they’ll be some media to add pictures to words.

Let’s start by rehashing a tweet sent the moment the festival closed on Saturday night.

Almost a week removed from Mile 0, the sentiment still holds. This thing had a lot going for it, so let’s start with the festival itself:

  • The lineup was superb, especially for a first-year festival. While there were 50+ artists that participated, only about half of those saw the big stage. The rest did gigs at a handful of bars that partnered with the festival. Not quite as copious as LJT or Steamboat, but still very ample and high quality. In fact, they probably hit a sweet spot with the number of artists. You get too many names playing in different places at the same time and you have to make difficult choices on who to see and who to skip and that can leave a bad taste in your mouth. The event scheduling was so well done that you could see pretty much catch everyone at some point. During the early afternoon, you picked from any number of shows going on Duval Street and from 3pm up until 11 you hit the main acts up at the amphitheater.
  • The venue was great, sizable but not overwhelmingly big, with room for both lawn loungers and stage swooners. Sound quality was good. It was busy but not insane and you could get around easily. While the festival had an island attitude, it didn’t run on island time as all the acts were on/off stage at their assigned times. It made planning the day a lot easier.
  • Hitches and glitches were small and mostly undetectable. The biggest issue encountered surrounding this festival was securing lodging, which took us 4 four attempts to nail down. Two of the places found were double booked thanks to some AirBnB website issues while the third place shut down because of hurricane damage. Despite having nothing to do with the festival, the folks putting on Mile 0 Fest helped us locate new accommodations, going so far as setting up a conference call with the key organizers who were familiar with the town. After some searching, we landed at The Authors’ Guesthouse, a cool little B&B in old town. Barbey, our septuagenarian host and former “Queen of The Conch Republic”, graciously peppered us with island history, stories, and most importantly…coupons for free key lime pie and cocktails at various establishments across the island.
  • As for the attendees, the demographics definitely skewed towards the 35 and up crowd; mostly established professionals looking to get away and cut loose. Didn’t see massive quantums of vomiting or fights, no obnoxious people, just good folks loving good music. That’s the way it should be.

Now for the other half; after all, festivals are a holistic experience and without the backdrop, they’d all be the same. Imagine LJT without campfire jams or Steamboat without the mountains. Here are your Key West perks:

    • The weather. While our peeps in Dallas were dealing with 30-degree temperatures and sleet, Key West hovered in low 80’s. Factoring in the humidity, it was quite warm from mid-morning up until late afternoon before the sea breeze kicked in and quickly cooled things off. From 5 o’clock on, it was phenomenal. Scoreboard – Key West.
    • Duval street. Think Bourbon Street without seeing and smelling trash and vomit. It’s lined with bars, restaurants, and eateries of all types. For every garden variety crap T-shirt and souvenir shop, there was nicer boutique shops and funky art galleries.
    • The rest of the island. Key West is more than a one-trick pony. Lot’s of historical sites, museums, beaches, dining, and every type of water sport – fishing, diving, jet skiing, boating, you name it. My wife and I tacked on an extra day to squeeze in some snorkeling and sunset sailing in the 76-degree turquoise waters.

  • Wild chickens are everywhere and a car is more trouble than it’s worth. You can bike anywhere on the island in 10 minutes or if you aren’t into that, spend $10 on an Uber and get there in about the same amount of time. Walking is more than doable and the people watching sport can be fully enjoyed here. On the first day of the festival, I saw a guy get kicked out of a bar before 1 pm. That’s impressive.
  • The attitude. Packing for Key West is easy – shorts, your best beach bum shirt, and comfortable walking shoes/flip-flops. Nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear and if you’re into the clothing optional thing, Key West can accommodate you.

Mile 0 Music Highlights

We started Mile 0 by catching a Cody Canada and Mike McClure acoustic gig at the San Carlos Theater on Duval. Chip and Ray’s on-stage chemistry was fully engaged, swapping stories and jokes in between songs. Cody’s sons, Dierks and Willie, each did a number and we even heard “Carney Man” which Cody had once vowed to never play again. Overall, both seem to be in good places in life with McClure’s The Great Divide getting back together and Canada finally at peace with what went down with Cross Canadian Ragweed. I got to talk at length with both of them and we’ll post those chats in the coming weeks.

The main stage lineups definitely ramped up as the week progressed. Jason Eady, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Stoney LaRue and Wade Bowen all did their parts to kick it off on Wednesday in good form. Wade played most of his popular stuff while mixing a few of the new songs off his new record “Solid Ground”, which happened to drop during the festival. It was a huge week for Bowen.

Thursday’s lunchtime trifecta of Jamie Lin Wilson, Tina and Walt Wilkins doing an acoustic gig at the Smokin’ Tuna was a songwriter’s dream. The legendary husband-wife duo next to an artist at the top of her game in Jamie Lin. It was church on Thursday. Kylie Rae Harris, Kaitlin Butts, and Jason Eady all looked on, mostly in wonder but with a dash of terror mixed in for KRH who had to follow up that act with her own set.

Speaking of Jamie Lin Wilson, she’s without a doubt the biggest female act in our scene right now and you could easily argue to extend that title to most popular singer-songwriter overall. I’ll again reference a tweet made during the festival that pretty much sums up her week.

Her “Jamie Lin Jamboree” shows that occurred at the local Duval establishments were big hits, with various artists jumping on stage to jam. She even made some new fans who mistakenly thought her last name was “Jamboree”.

Thursday upped the intensity as Kevin Russell and the rest of the Shinyribs clan brought their swamp rock grooves to the big stage. Watching a Shinyribs show is like trying to catch a knuckleball, you have to stay on your toes because you have no idea where it’s going. This particular adventure ended with a Russell led conga line which included a giant inflatable duck and one William Clark Green.

Following up we got one of the biggest treats of the festival, the “Unleashed” show featuring Jack Ingram, Charlie Robison, and Bruce Robison. All icons in their own right, it’s hard to imagine how the greatness of their set snuck up on me the way it did. It was fantastic to watch these “old dogs” elevate the night and energize the crowd with their classic tunes.

Thursday ended with Pat Green, our gateway drug into this scene. He played all the hits while channeling his best Kevin Russell, lots of twirling and hand gestures. People ate it up, including some of the younger artists who idolized Pat growing up and were out in the crowd losing it like everyone else. William Clark Green got so excited he derailed Pat’s set by running onstage too early to sing “Wrapped” which he’s covered on the upcoming Pat Green tribute album.

For me, the coolest part of Pat’s show was when he played Galleywinter, our namesake. It was the first time I had heard the song since joining the Galleywinter team just over a year ago and I got goosebumps. This site has been rolling for almost 20 years and although my stint here as a writer covers a fraction of that, I felt proud to be a part of something that’s been a staple in this scene for so long.

Friday’s line up was monster, starting with Dalton Domino who happily embraced the island spirit.

Mike and The Moonpies continued to awaken people to their old school honky-tonk jams. We’ve been on The Moonpie train and think “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” will likely make our Best of 2018 list in a year that’s gonna be packed with great new records. For those in the crowd who hadn’t heard of them, whipping out some Rusty Wier made them quick friends.

The Departed followed, then Jason Boland and The Stragglers. Both announced their new records coming out this year and I’m sure we’ll be covering them.

The penultimate act of the night was the Old 97’s. A little bit country and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, these guys can still bring it after 25 years.

Finally, there was Turnpike. What’s there to say about Turnpike that hasn’t been already said? They are bad ass and consummate professionals. Ryan Engleman’s son crashed the stage and gave everyone a chuckle.

Saturday closed out strong. It was my first and likely only time I’ll see Uncle Lucius since the band is soon calling it quits. The Great Divide’s new stuff is rock solid, in particular, “Spacebrain” and John Moreland’s take on “You Wreck Me” was one of many kickass homages to Tom Petty.

Shooter Jennings brought a different vibe compared to everyone else, it was like a bunch of bikers temporarily invaded the crowd and it got visibly rowdier. Nothing scary but definitely rougher.

It all ended with Cody Jinks and the more I hear him the bigger fan I become. Again, a Twitter thought to summarize:

Jinks’ final song to wrap it up: “Hippies and Cowboys” which seemed fitting for a hippie town that was invaded by a bunch of Texans and Okies.

Quick Riffs:

  • By the time this hits the web, you’ll know Jamie Lin Wilson flew straight out of Key West and into the studio to record her next record. She didn’t need a plane, she just strapped on her cape.
  • The Great Divide is officially back together and slated to put out a new record this spring. Again, keep your eyes peeled for that McClure interview.
  • Many of the artists went full Cory Morrow and played the big stage barefoot. It ended up costing Pat Green, who probably broke his toe when he stubbed it on a piece of stage equipment. He fought through it with beer and eventually limped off stage.
  • PG has traded songwriting for painting and sculpting. He told us all about his new art venture, Galleywinter Galleries. Set to open soon in Fort Worth, it’ll feature all of his work plus work from other local artists.
  • Many lamented that Brandon Jenkins, who is about to undergo major surgery to replace a genetically defective heart valve, had to back out of Mile 0. It was cool to see the artists rally around their brother.
  • There were several items auctioned to raise money for charities like The Red Dirt Relief Fund. People dropping 5-6K on signed guitars isn’t something you are going to get from a broke college crowd.
  • Ran into Stoney one morning biking along Higgs Beach. Unlike his stage appearance, he was in full uniform this time – jeans, bandana and tight shirt so you could spot him a half mile away.
  • I’ll second Brad’s comment on Frita’s Cuban burgers, you need to check out that hole in the wall when you are in KW.
  • We tried as many key lime pies as we could. Kermit’s was the worst, the best was a toss up between Blue Heaven’s meringue monster and Matthesen’s.
  • Our secret to getting into Blue Heaven without a dinner wait… get there at 5:30pm
  • My cholesterol went up 50 points just listening to hostess Elizabeth Cook’s intoxicated southern drawl. It was like eating a stick of butter and chasing it with a mess of biscuits.

Mile 0: As Good As It Gets

**Below you will find my complete story on my trip to Mile 0 Fest and Key West.  If you want to skip the prologue and jump straight to the music section, scroll to the portion titled  “MILE O FEST“.  For complete sights of the fest, check out our Instagram feed. 

Humans have been escaping to the Keys for hundreds of years dating back to Ponce De Leon’s landing of 1521.  Originally, running to opportunity before using it solely as a means of escaping responsibility.  Imperial swaps and strife swayed the historical layout of the place and it became a hotbed of Civil War activity.  Soon the railroad connected Key West to the rest of the mainland and it combined its draws into a wonderland of escapist opportunity.  A tourist hub with a devil may care attitude and eccentricity that pulled in artists and funky folks of all types.  The town became legendary due to Ernest Hemingway and its direct influence on his prose. Shel Silverstein gave it an air of stoic cool.  Then, sometime in the late 60’s, Jerry Jeff Walker ambled down US 1 in a beat-up old truck with a busking troubadour passenger named Jimmy Buffett.  They were escaping their present and chasing their street busking, bar band fronting past.  The community they stumbled upon became a beacon of inspiration and creativity.  Buffett used it to launch a lifestyle brand, Jerry Jeff used it to launch the next hangover.  And all of those tourists covered in oil haven’t stopped coming since.

Mountains and beaches each afford a different interaction with nature’s beauty, power and enchantment. They’re each not easy to reach and each require a certain mindset.  The landscape unique to each causes a staunch dedication to the obstacles of living in such a place.  The local inhabitants of each area are hard-scrabbled, determined individuals infatuated on a daily basis with the aura of the geography they inhabit.  These people begin to take on the characteristics of their locale.  Grizzled, red, weary of outsiders, leary of interlopers and begrudgingly tolerant of the tourist types that invade their homelands.  There are loads of similarities between those locals and those of us who love the type of music from this Texas/Red Dirt/Americana scene.  It’s our home.  We don’t tolerate people who don’t get it, disrespect it or are only half-in.  Artists and fans.  You can visit for sure, but if you want to move in, you better jump in feet first.  It means something to us, just as deeply as the zip codes matter to those folks in Colorado and Key West.  So it is no surprise that when our type of music does branch out of its comfort zone, it’s found a home in both the mountains and beaches.  Texas and Oklahoma guys have been touring these areas for years.  Kindred spirits between art and nature.  John Dickson had the foresight many years ago to plant the flag for the Big Ski Trip which then evolved into MusicFest.  By relocating the best of Texas into the ski resort town of Steamboat for a week each January, Dickson smartly paired artist, fan and locale.  Ski by day, show by night.  Dickson’s bar of excellence is what every other festival in this scene tries to attain.  They’re all in his wake.

For many years now, I’ve wondered when someone was going to attempt to produce a first-rate festival in a tropical locale during the winter months featuring our kind of music.  Going to Steamboat in January is a blast.  But, as someone with the preference for warm weather I’ve always wanted to escape the cold of winter.  I had heard many iterations of this idea bandied about over the years.  Often dreams clouded by barroom glass with little shred of reality or purpose.  Enter a group from Oklahoma with a few Key West ties, a great deal of Key West experience and the news that a new amphitheater was being constructed…and Mile 0 Fest was born.

Mile 0 Fest began as a simple idea and soon grew into a full-fledged legitimate, professional festival.  The organizers smartly got influential people involved from both the Red Dirt music scene and on the ground in Key West.  Thousands of hours of logistics and years of planning went into the launch.  It was a Field of Dreams ethos that proclaimed, if we just build it they will come.  We won’t delve into the details of them pulling this off on this large of scale from nothing, but it’s astounding and commendable.  Finally, it was time to launch the festival into the scene’s consciousness and start selling tickets.  Tickets moved quickly and the VIP packages sold out faster than anyone expected.  Organizers knew they had a winner on their hands and locals were ecstatic.  These crazy Oklahomans and Texans were going to pull this off.  Then Irma hit.  Construction on the amphitheater slowed and several of the hotels and landmarks on the island sustained serious damage. But, nobody blinked.  They each took that setback in stride and espoused the typical Texas/Oklahoma/Key West work ethic (delivered in different manners) and became even more determined to make it happen.

They were successful.  Key West had been the destination of my dreams from the first moment I heard Jimmy Buffett on my dad’s truck stereo in the early 80’s.  I wasn’t yet old enough to fully grasp the reason why I was innately attracted to Buffett’s music…at the time I just thought it was funny.  As I aged and began to peel back the lyrical layers of songs like “He Went to Paris” and “Son of a Sailor”, I began to understand that the idea of Key West was much more than “Margaritaville”. It was a vacation destination with a pulse.  A concrete and palm tree embodiment of escapism and survival.  This realization was coupled with a multi-year windfall into the words of Hemingway and the dream of visiting Key West was forever etched in my brain.  So, imagine my surprise when I first caught wind of Mile 0.  My worlds were colliding.  The long-held vacation dreamland paired with the music I hold so dear.  It was happening.  I was determined to be there.  So, it was on a fateful August day that I pulled out my credit card and began booking my trip and experience.

Key West is not the type of trip you can just wing from Texas.  It requires planning and finances. Much like a trip to Steamboat, it is the type of intentional destination that isn’t arrived at without careful consideration.  And, that’s how I ended up pointed north on I-35 to DFW airport in the near freezing temperatures of early February.  Fueled on adrenaline, caffeine and breakfast tacos we hit the ground running as we cleared security.  Literally.  Our flight was soon to board and parking had taken longer than I had anticipated.  The sinking feeling of missing the start of this long held Key West experience began to drag me down.  But, we cleared the gate and boarded with minutes to spare and soon enough we were off to Miami.


Upon our Miami arrival, we boarded a Key West Shuttle van.  My copious loads of Key West research had led me to believe I shouldn’t rent a car.  My research included informal, anecdotal conversations with friends that have been and pinpointed Google searching that reviewed all options.  The shuttle seemed like my best bet and so it was booked.  My driver’s name was Jerry and my traveling companions were geriatric. Jerry had no teeth and he suffered no fools.  He lives in Marathon but has been driving this Keys shuttle for a decade.  “I get to look at the ocean every day and meet interesting people…my life don’t suck,” he said between puffs on a Newport on our first break of the trip outside an oddly configured gas station advertising “Best Breakfast In Town”.  The German guys behind us retired to Key West a couple years back.  The lady riding shotgun with her unpainted toes on the dash comes from money but doesn’t flaunt it.  She moved down here to live the lifestyle and fish.  The Jamaican woman in our van occupied the back seat and did not stop talking on her phone even during restroom breaks.  Cliche shouts of  “ya mon” interspersed her delivery.  She lives in a green trailer house just outside of Key West and upon dropping her off, Jerry revealed he’s given her 30 rides and she’s yet to tip.  It was with this traveling party and the Allman Brothers blasting through my earbuds that I slinked onto island time.  By the time I exposed the entire van to Shinyribs’ “Song of Lime Juice and Despair”, it was time to check in to the hotel.

The “hotel” was actually a cluster of restored and renovated homes grouped together under a unified name and a winding white rock trail off Truman Ave and not too far from Duval.  A dessert shop boasted the title of Better Than Sex nearby and a 24 hour CVS Pharmacy had a steady stream of vacationers, vagabonds and vagrants at all hours.  Got the room key and looked at the room long enough to set the bags down before walking to the amphitheater.  One of the reasons I had chosen shuttle over renting a car was the fact that once you get to Key West, literally everything is within walking distance.  It’s a good way to save money by avoiding the rental car giants and the exorbitant parking fees associated with a tourist town.  I also wanted to use this walk to get my bearings and set my inner navigational beacons for the rest of the week.  I noted landmarks on my journey.  Denny’s, the Conch Train, the weird tree, the house with hearts drawn on it, that big Reconstruction era wrought iron fence etc. As Siri pointed us to the newly constructed Truman Amphitheater, the smells and sounds of Duval were overwhelming in the best possible way.  It was like a chilled out Bourbon Street.  Most streets like this one (Bourbon, Beale, 6th etc) are rowdy.  This was a controlled chaos with everyone ambling somewhere, but in a rushed amble more than frenzied hurry.  Island time meets drive time meets party time.  As I made my final crosswalk turn, I could hear the faint sounds of Jason Eady’s unmistakable Delta Tonk powered by the string bending of 6 string virtuoso Kevin Foster.

The lay of the land at the Truman was as you’d expect from a mid size amphitheater.  Large grassy area to lay in.  Concrete to stand on.  No permanent seating.  Pastel letters spelling out MILE O FEST adorned the ridge that led to the bay and presented breathtaking sunsets and views all week long.  White tents sprinkled the well-adorned and organized grounds.  Each designated area was clearly labeled and easily accessible (MERCH, BAR, GOLD VIP, PLATINUM VIP etc). Every wristband had a purpose and a mission. Throughout our stay at the Truman, it should be noted that security lines moved fast, the beer line was never too crowded (standard festival $5 beer), and there were ample, clean port o potty’s that even included LED lights at nighttime.  The only thing missing was a true, brick and mortar bathroom, but in my discussions with folks in charge that was only delayed by the Hurricane and will be erected permanently as the city moves forward.

As I set about making my first notes, my ears first encountered the unmistakable timbre of Elizabeth Cook on the microphone.  She was to be the week’s mainstage emcee. Her thick, layered drawl announced each set as if it was the first time she’d seen a microphone.  It was endearing and charming at times, grating at others…but always an unmistakable way to get a large herd of happy, imbibing music fans to turn their attention to the stage.  A smart move on the promoters’ part.

The first act I heard Ms. Cook bring on was the legend himself, Ray Wylie Hubbard.  Hubbard was joined by son Lucas on guitar and was ready to turn in one of his steadfast, grooving performances.  He managed to turn Key West Florida’s modern multi-million dollar facility into a dive bar in 1970’s Deep Ellum for an hour and that’s just the way everyone wanted it to be.  He hit the marks of “well that ain’t exactly kumbaya” and “Screw You, We’re From Texas” while never wavering from the groove.  By the time he arrived at “Choctaw Bingo”, there was not a foot in the place that was not tapping along (mostly) in rhythm and screaming along every epic lyric.

At festivals, sometimes the sound can be off-putting.  It varies from act to act as the front of house gets tweaked by eager artist employees trying to attain their boss’s wishes. The sound alteration between RWH and the next artist up, Stoney LaRue was astounding.  It went from dialed in to 11.  Vocals and lead guitar were way up high and loud in the mix.  The crowd didn’t mind at all and Stoney was in good spirits and voice…but it was a noticeable change.  As with other festivals such as Braun Bros, Steamboat and Red River, there is something divine about participating in a show by one (or many) of your favorite artists in a new or strange location.  When that location is Key West it’s next level stuff.  Stoney was the first artist to truly embrace the spirit of the festival and town.  He strolled onstage in his beach wear, starting a trend that many would adhere to over the coming days.  Eschewing the jeans and bandana for board shorts and no shoes was the right choice.  During his performance of “Oklahoma Breakdown”, he changed a few lyrics to describe arriving at Key West in the back of Fred’s truck and the crowd responded in kind. Stoney also gave the first of many week-long shoutouts to Brandon Jenkins who is soon to have heart valve surgery and was unable to attend.  Cody Canada joined Stoney for a jam of JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze”.  During his set, he also paid respects to two of Florida’s own Gainesville’s Tom Petty and Fort Pierce’s Gary Stewart.  This particular Petty cover was the first of many we would hear during the week, with each one being distinct and well-done.

Wade Bowen was juggling the hectic pace of album release week with the laid-back vibe of Key West and succeeding.  His band is one of the strongest in the land, even when lead guitarist Todd Lanningham must be helped onstage while hobbling due to an infamous Key West scooter accident. Scooters populate Key West like bats in south Austin.  Todd isn’t the first or last to injure themselves on one.  There’s a reason I was walking everywhere.  Even seated, he kicked out the tasty jams alongside Will Knaak.  Bowen’s new tunes resonated with the crowd, especially “Goodbye 6th Street”, but the set highlight for me was a blistering takedown of Black Crowes “Jealous Again” where Bowen’s voice sounded particularly strong.  As Bowen wound down, the downtown area of Duval was winding up and we headed that way to get our first experience.  Our destination was the Shinyribs set at Durty Harry’s, which is located directly across the street from Irish Kevin’s where Jamie Lin Wilson was hosting the first of her sets/jams.

Jamie Lin Wilson is a tour de force.  She works harder than anyone else and that was evident at Mile 0.  While other artists were lounging on the beach, bar hopping or just watching the shows, Wilson was participating in as many as she could.  Harmonies, sitting in, playing one, jamming, doing her own…she was omnipresent at each gig.  Even when she was not onstage, she was onstage such as in the form of new JLW shirts sported by William Clark Green’s guitar players Steven Marcus and Josh Serrato.  Some people can’t say no to Larry Joe, most can’t outwork Jamie Lin.  She was also a player in our Day 2 as we started our music off at Smokin’ Tuna taking in a songwriter set featuring Jamie Lin and Walt & Tina Wilkins.  Walt is one of the finest songwriters and humans on the planet.  The type of gentleman who still takes his hat off to greet women then plays the type of thoughtful love song inspired by the woman singing harmony next to him.  A Wilkins’ show is a spiritual journey of emotions…love, loss, grace, joy…it’s poetry.  Jamie Lin was suffering through this set as her previous night’s jam had admittedly gone off the rails in the best of possible ways.  She was performing on 1 hour sleep and the fresh booze of a new day.  Her set was highlighted by being joined by Jason Eady on the song she wrote with Evan Felker, “Oklahoma Stars”.  Eady stayed onstage to join all 3 artists in a closing cover of Sonny Throckmorton’s Merle Haggard hit “Way I Am”.

After some sightseeing and grub, we were off to the Amphitheater for more mainstage music.  We arrived to find Bri Bagwell mid Tom Petty “American Girl”.  Bagwell was powering through at less than 100% and doing a good job of it.  Bragwell has cultivated a career as an ambitious worker and prolific touring act that fronts a band of top-flight musicians.  She called up a friend from the audience to play harmonica on her closer and the bar was set for the day.

Shinyribs has become a force.  A powerful zenith of entertainment.  It’s must-see, can’t-miss no matter the venue, the day, the time.  Kevin Russell has grown his side project into a behemoth.  Choosing a neon yellow suit and sporting a Mile 0 cap complete with tag still on and flat bill, Russell gave the people a show, as he always does.  The addition of Kelley Mickwee as one of the backup female vocalists has been a tremendous boon to this band.  Russell took turns dancing, prancing, jamming electric guitar and ukulele. As the all-too short set for Shinyribs at “Milo” as Russell called it began to come to a close, the band tore into “Poor People’s Store”. After a couple verses, Russell bolted into the crowd as the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns blasted the melody to “Hot, Hot, Hot”.  A conga line formed and was soon joined by a joyous William Clark Green and cast of dozens who gleefully paraded around the grounds and had the early sun-soaked crowd on its feet and ready to party.

WCG left the conga line to start his set a short time later.  It should be mentioned that the production guys and gals busted their rumps.  No set started late and everyone got offstage on time or even a tad early in some instances. Shoutout to them for making the difficult look easy.  Green and company hit the stage to the strains of Warren G’s “Regulate” before launching into the title track for their next record “Herbert Island”.  Many in the crowd were already singing along and by the time the chorus came for a second attempt, everyone had joined in.  The WCG crew is as close as we have in this scene to the Stones in a sonic sense.  The twin guitars of Marcus and Serrato are full of riffs and surprises.

I owned the Unleashed VHS tape and cd.  Jack Ingram, Bruce Robison and Charlie Robison are part of the foundation of everything that has happened since.  You couldn’t find cooler dudes in 1999.  20 years later, nothing has changed.  In what was a set that I had admittedly low expectations or excitement for, I soon found it revelatory.  The band backing them was superb, featuring David Grissom on guitar and Bukka Allen on keys.  This set sounded better front of house than any others all week.  The sound was dialed in, the band was locked in and the three singers followed suit.  By the time Bruce rolled the mandolin lick that starts Ingram’s “Work This Out”, we all knew we were in for something special.  The guys played off each other well, Jamie Lin made an appearance, the crowd sang along with every song. It was magical.

Pat Green arrived to close out Day 2 barefoot, in a fishing shirt and capri shorts.  Another artist embracing the vibe of the locale.  PG was in good spirits and in one of those goofy moods he performs in from time to time that featured odd hand signals and at one point jamming out so furiously that he joked (and possibly did) broke his toe.  Green can still work a crowd and seeing him during this relaxed phase of his career it’s still cool to see him go to the intensity well when he needs it.

After hitting some Duval hotspots, we headed toward our hotel and decided to pop into that funky dessert place we’d seen upon check-in.  Better Than Sex.  High concept, low delivery.  We could not stop cracking up at how seriously this place took itself.  The menu reads like a grocery store Fabio paperback; and the waitresses devoutly believe in their mission.  If you’re in KW, check it out to say that you’ve been, get a good laugh and then eat something from Matthesen’s.

Day three began with breakfast at Blue Heaven.  If you’re ever in Key West, go.  Lobster Omelette’s, large portions, friendly staff, beautiful vibe and ibuprofen behind the bar.  Fueled up for more sightseeing, I took off musical festival purposes for a while and just became a tourist until around 3pm when we sauntered over to the Ampitheater for Dalton Domino’s set.  Domino has been fronting his band as its sole guitar player for quite a while now and has settled into this modern Sturgill style of jamming backed by keys, bass and drums that is really cool and innovative.  Rocking what he described as “Fat Buffett” wear, Domino jammed the early crowd into sun-baked happiness before returning to the beach himself.

Mike and the Moonpies have produced one of the best albums of this young year and buzz was high for the Moonpie gang.  This was the first set of the festival that sounded like traditional country music.  Some locals who stumbled in unfamiliar to most of the acts later told me “none of them were half bad…but I’d pay to see that Moonpie guy again.” When you win over the grizzled locals and cover a Rusty Wier song during your set, your time has come. Cody Canada and Jason Boland were back to back up next.  Sidenote-Cody Starr got to sit down with Cody Canada while we were in Key West and will be bringing a very cool interview to you soon.  Canada seems at peace for the first time in a while.  His set started out with a string of Ragweed favorites before giving way to Jeremy Plato dueting on a country classic with Jamie Lin before finally trying out some new stuff.  As Canada said before a song, “We’ve been doing this for 25 years…we’ve done some shit…and we’re going to keep doing shit.”  Boland brought more of that country music that the locals dug.  Boland is also in a good place and it was evident during his set.  It is still odd to not see Roger Ray up there, but the Stragglers have evolved well and are like a machine.  Hit after hit after hit.

The Old 97s are most definitely not country, and have never really belonged beyond a periphery nature to this scene.  But, Rhett Miller is one of the best songwriters of the last 25 years and the biggest rock stars.  An Old 97s show is as if the Ramones went country and added Ryan Adams.  Miller’s signature guitar strum and headbanging pulled the crowd in and had the Ampitheater more packed than it had been all week in anticipation of current kings of the scene and country music Turnpike Troubadours.

Evan Felker is intense.  He’s a true artist and over the years he’s evolved into a fantastic showman too.  One boot stomp or look does more for he and TT than all the smoke and lights of arena bands.  Ryan Engelman and Kyle Nix continue to be masters of their instruments and performance.  RC Edwards, Hank Early and Gabe Pearson ably hold down the rhythm and extras.  All combine to create a whirling dervish of honky-tonk mysticism and poetic lyricism that crowds go bonkers for.  Mile 0 was no different.  The one band that was unanimously mentioned when I polled people who they were excited to see was TT.  They delivered in a monster way.  Engelman’s son upstaged the first couple songs, then the band blistered into a groove and stayed there for the remainder of the set.  Jamie Lin made another appearance, Felker played an acoustic song during a string change session for Engelman and they encored with three tunes culminating with a raucous singalong to “Long Hot Summer Day”. I’ve heard that screamed along to next to the Guadlupe River…and let me tell you it works just as well on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

We had really enjoyed the bar staff and drinks at Smokin’ Tuna, so we sauntered back there for our after party needs to find Keith Gattis belting out covers to a sparse crowd.  Jackpot.  Over stiff whiskey, we heard him do “Hard on Me”, “The Bottom” and a couple Haggard tunes before calling it a (late) night once more.

Our last full day on the island began at Durty Harry’s for Walt Wilkins acoustic gig.  Durty Harry’s is a cool bar, but a listening room it ain’t.  Frozen upsell drinks mix with loud metal fans, lost tourists and pizza by the slice. Walt was able to transform the place into a south Texas icehouse.  He was joined by his friend Chris Berardo who looks as if he was the bassist for Night Ranger…but sings like he’s a Mystiquero.  We hustled over to the Ampitheater for one last marathon of music that would start with the soon to be retired Uncle Lucius.

The guys that make up everyone’s favorite Uncle will continue to make music in various forms, just not together and perhaps not on this scale.  Kevin Galloway’s voice is as strong as ever and Mike Carpenter has been a first rate shredder for years.  Their opening salvo echoed the best jams recorded of the Allman Brothers and their jambandy influence on this scene will be sorely missed.  The whistling of “Keep the Wolves Away” bounced off the ocean waters and put an exclamation point on perhaps the last moment I’ll get to see UL live.

No artist has done more for this scene than Mike McClure and it all started with his time in The Great Divide.  The songs he created with JJ Lester and the gang during this time will always be scene standards and the crowd received them as one would expect.  What was especially cool was the reception their first new material in 20 years received.  “Spacebrain” rolled out just as if it was an old classic and a few folks were already singing along.  Good to have TGD back in good graces with each other and their art.

When you’re at a festival such as this, hard choices must be made and I had to decide between The Black Lillies and fresh seafood for dinner.  I had not done the whole Sunset Pier thing during our trip and I was detremined to make it happen.  So, off we went in search of seafood and sunsets.  Sunset Pier/Mallory Square is kind of like Key West’s version of Venice Beach.  Artisans, performers and bums all vie for your attention with the most pristine and gorgeous of backdrops.  The restaurant was first come first serve and after waiting like vultures we pounced on one after a table of tipsy Bachelorette party attendees almost fell in the water.  Worked in our favor.  Frozen drink in hand, fresh fish on plate, bloody bright sunset in our faces, while a cover band quietly played Phil Collins in the background.  It was Key West serenity and I found it.  I can see The Black Lillies another time…I don’t know that I’ll ever recapture that moment.

We made it back in time to catch the end of John Moreland’s full band set.  I was eager to see him in that scenario as I’ve only seen him acoustic.  Moreland and band rocked out with the best of him and his songs translate to that set-up surprisingly well.  Moreland ended his set with yet another Tom Petty cover, and perhaps the best of the week with his treatment of “You Wreck Me”.  I’m all for this Petty cover phenomenon and I hope it doesn’t fade away anytime soon.

Shooter Jennings has a rabid and loyal fanbase similar to that of other generational artists like Hank 3.  There was a core group of them in attendance at Mile 0.  Whereas most of the attendees only knew a couple songs, there was a loud and passionate group of folks that cheered each song as if it was their last time to ever see a concert.  During Shooter’s set, a painter did a portrait of him performing live to be auctioned off for charity after the set.  That was an astonishing piece of art to witness.

Cody Jinks closed the festival and received the second loudest ovation of the week behind Turnpike.  The rise of this man has been astounding to watch.  From bartender at White Elephant to struggling songwriter to festival headliner.  The reason is the songs.  They’re straightforward, emotional, relatable.  All traits Jinks puts forth in his live show too.  It was a perfect capstone to our musical week.

We afterpartied on Duval for quite a while after Jinks was finished.  Cover bands, friends, shenanigans, memories.  By the time a drunk woman asked me if I was from Texas and I replied yes only to receive the “F*ck the Cowboys! We’re Eagles fans baby!” response, I knew it was time to call it a night.  Sally from South Philly was an anomaly of the week.  Everyone to a person was kind, fun, helpful, joyful and as in disbelief as the rest of us that we’d all found our way to paradise.

Anytime you see these types of bands out of state it’s special.  It’s unique to see them in a fresh environment instead of the ones you’ve seen them in dozens of times.  The artists seemed to sense that too.  Everyone was on their A game, refreshed and ready to play. It was super cool to see.  I also ran into so many people who came up to thank me for what Galleywinter does/has done.  It was invigorating and cool to know that this silly blog/website/community has helped so many people find this music, find friends, take adventures and more.  We’re working on bringing the forums back and updating the site to re-establish that communal feel.  It’s easy to lose sight of specialized digital homes in the modern Snapchat world, but this has always been a safe haven for like-minded music fans.  Mile 0 was a real life encapsulation of that.

As we shuttled out of town on Sunday morning in a crowded van full of still drunk Oklahoma songwriters, I put my earbuds in to unironically listen to Jimmy Buffett.  As I stared at the alternating Gulf and Atlantic views over the seven mile bridge, I hit the line

If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

I’ve been blessed to see a lot in my relatively short time traveling this earth.  This music has brought me to some amazing sights.  Key West and Mile 0 were simply the best.  Amazingly, the town lived up to the lofty expectations its lore had implanted within me and the festival surpassed expectations I subconsciously and jadedly harbored.

Quick hits:

-Caroline’s had my favorite brunch.

-Don’t rent a scooter or golf cart unless you have children.  Parking is expensive, you might hurt yourself and you see more when walking.

-The one time we took a pedicab, I know the guy ripped us off…but it was Key West so I didn’t haggle too much.

-Get to Sunset Pier early to ensure a spot.

-Blue Heaven is the best breakfast spot.  There’s a secret to getting seated faster than the standard 45 minute wait.  I won’t divulge it here.

-Let your cool down for a minute and soak up a couple hours in a touristy bar like Sloppy Joe’s or Willie T’s.  It’ll be more fun than you remember.

-Kevin Russell was the best entertainer I saw all week.  Rhett Miller was the biggest rock star I saw all week.  But, the fierce drag queen outside Dreams could probably take them both.

-Hemingway’s House and the Lighthouse were my favorite tourist spots.

-I would like to ironically ride the Conch Train tour next year.

-I saw a homeless guy grab a hot half-finished longneck out of the trash and chug it.

-Here’s a tip to travelers:  when sharing a confined space don’t get CornNuts.

-The best beach is at Fort Taylor.

-Get a Cuban burger at Frita’s.

-Thank God for 24 hour Walgreens and CVS.

-The weather and time stay the same in Key West 365.  Nobody knew what day it was and it was awesome.

-The Mile 0 organizers are genius and I’m so glad this all came off better than everyone expected.

“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.” – Hemingway

Gone to the Last Mile

Tomorrow, we will descend on the infamous community of Key West, Florida for an inaugural Texas/Red Dirt festival.  What happens when a bunch of Texans and Oklahomans hit the land of Buffett and Hemingway? Well, we plan to document it all. … Read the rest

Old Dogs

When I was first getting into this scene many moons ago, two of my favorite acts both live and on record were Rusty Wier and Jerry Jeff Walker.  THey were a touchstone to the past formations of the current movement and (at the time) still on their A game. … Read the rest

Good Premonitions

by:  Cody Starr

January’s kick off to 2018 is about over and music-wise, I’m pumped about what’s in store for the year. My personal trifecta of favorites – the Randy Rogers Band, Cody Canada and The Departed, and Wade Bowen are all putting out records this year.… Read the rest