Mile 0 Fest 2021: The Return

Live Music is Back…

photo: Brad Coolidge

One year ago during the final week of April, thirty-one different artists featured on this Mile 0 Fest lineup played to empty rooms as they fought to keep their music and life somewhat intact with virtual performances. Uncertainty loomed and many, entertainers and fans alike, wondered when (or even if) live music would return. A full calendar year later, those same songwriters and musicians finally got to gather with a reduced capacity crowd in Key West, Florida for what has become arguably the best festival in the country after only just four years in existence.

Every year various attempts are made to detail the soul of this festival with written reviews, still images, videos, and stories that only seem fathomable in tall tales but once you attend, you immediately understand that while these are all great – the true spirit of Mile 0 Fest cannot be captured. Many attendees have begun to describe it as a musical family reunion, not just for the countless acts collaborating on stages all across the four-mile island but also opposite the rail, as so many have grown to become close friends using the festival as an ultimate backdrop for their gathering.

North Carolina’s BJ Barham performs at Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Florida. Photo by Brad Coolidge (@bradfordcoolidgephotography)

Many scheduled events across the country missed their target dates, some twice, but the Mile 0 Fest crew took advantage of their surroundings and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. An abundance of open air venues led the festival to postpone for just three months and although uncertainty surrounded their initial revelation, the dates stuck and this past week may have provided the best festival experience ever. The absence of live music for the past 14 months combined with performers finally getting an opportunity to feed off the energy of a crowd led to an occurrence unlike any other.

It also seemed to elevate the performance of certain acts, especially at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater, where Shane Smith and the Saints received extended time due to some last minute cancellations and took full advantage w/ an impressive high-energy performance. Maybe it was the layoff, maybe not, but their set resonated with the sold out crowd, immediately becoming a high point among a really impressive lineup and North Carolina’s American Aquarium continued building on the momentum two nights later with a memorable set of their own. Before setting the amphitheater stage on fire, lead singer BJ Barham and his band entertained at the newly added Sunset Green stage where Barham couldn’t help but crack a smile when someone in the audience yelled, “I Saw A Tiger” between songs in reference to some of his virtual “Tiger King” related content released during lockdown.

Other memorable performances included Chance Anderson, Chloe-Beth, Lucas Jagneaux, Holly Beth, and Amber Watson all looking right at home on the amphitheater stage during their featured ‘Duets’ alongside Jamie Lin Wilson. Anderson and Chloe-Beth nailed ‘Because the Night‘, Jagneaux and Beth entertained with ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart‘, and Watson teamed up alongside Wilson for ‘Does He Love You‘. The backing band, featuring Shane Boeker (lead guitar), Alden Hedges (bass), Zachary Moulton (steel), John Henry Trinko (keys), and Giovanni ‘Nooch’ Carnuccio III (drums) also deserve a ton of credit for putting their own spin on each of these classics. Another gem included Drew Kennedy teaming up with Courtney Patton on ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life‘, but it was Mike ‘Moonpie’ Harmier who stole the show by leaping into the arms of Kennedy to end the evening.

First time invitees Max and Heather Stalling, Morgan Wade, and Roger Creager also each made quite the positive impression on their respective crowds around the island and periodic returnee Pat Green dialed up a fun set before the late night show on Wednesday. Mike and the Moonpies, alongside Courtney Patton, have also both become staples of the event continually pumping out quality performances no matter which stage they’re playing. Patton, joined by Kaitlin Butts, Jamie Lin Wilson, and Tina Wilkins created a truly memorable experience poolside singing ‘Waited‘ by the late Kylie Rae Harris. Both Courtney and Jamie Lin also shared an excellent new song, ‘Hard Time Lately‘, co-written during quarantine which Patton teased may be on an upcoming new album. The Moonpies initially played as part of ‘Honky Tonk Tuesday‘, a perfect match and hopefully annual event, while both of their regular full band sets rocked as always.

The Topo Chico Cowboys, Kennedy and Josh Grider, are made for this festival. Initially debuting armed with ‘Dollar on the Wall‘ and ‘Here’s to Friends‘ in 2020, everyone left the island this year as honorary members of the ‘West Texas Cloud Appreciation Society‘. Both truly capitalized on quarantine as each performed almost weekly as part of the Sequestered Songwriters, with Kennedy’s ‘Live From My Backyard’ and the ‘Grider Family Happy Hour‘ which happened live when wife Kristi joined Josh for ‘Islands in the Stream‘ at the amphitheater during ‘Duets‘.

Josh and Kristi Grider perform ‘Islands in the Stream’ at Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Florida. Photo by Brad Coolidge (@bradfordcoolidgephotography)

It’s literally impossible to witness each and every set available at Mile 0 Fest, even in a reduced capacity environment, but there are certain settings and lineup combinations you know will be extra special. It may be the artist, it could be the landscape, but there definitely are situations only Key West can create – including John Fullbright playing guitar, keys, and harp on the beach with the ocean serving as a natural backdrop – unforgettable.

As with any event, there were obvious highlights but the fact music was being played in front of appreciative and jovial fans was undoubtedly the best thing witnessed all week. For that, the entire Mile 0 Fest staff, from the very top to the army of volunteers, including the city of Key West and Monroe County, should all be commended for their efforts in being a part of helping to bring live music back. Yes, there are still precautions to take and no doubt the pandemic has changed a lot of how things used to be handled in the past, but the sheer joy this festival induced over the past week could not be ignored and 2022 should offer another opportunity to highlight the best (artists, bands, staff, and fans) in this industry right back to paradise.

CLICK HERE to reserve your spot and come find out for yourself what the fuss is all about. Also, make sure you check the RedDirtNC calendar for a full slate of events, including multiple acts from this festival, who have upcoming dates in North Carolina.

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