Time is a funny thing. Less than a week removed from the fifth installment of Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Florida, it feels so far away. On the other hand, it’s also hard to believe this once dream concept has now grown into the behemoth it is today. A boutique red dirt and Americana festival at the southernmost point of the United States is a far-fetched idea on the surface, but Kyle Carter, his staff, volunteers, and locals have turned this event into one of the most impressive music festivals in the land – across all genres.
Returning to its usual late January dates after moving to April last year, Mile 0 Fest kicked off under absolutely gorgeous weather before suffering one day of Florida winter, which was still better than most attendees left in order to arrive on the island. However, fans weren’t to be deterred and they were helped by the heat bands were brining all across the island (more on that later). Overall, this year ranks among one of the best yet and, as every year does, has left both current, returning, and future attendees with a sense of excitement and anticipation for what next year has in store.
FRAMILY – FRIENDS + FAMILY
Let’s begin by stating there are no words that could possibly describe the overall experience for those in attendance. From rookies to veterans, the friendships and relationships spawned as a result of this festival is something definitely unique to this event. Many from across the country, continent, and ocean, have developed friendships and look forward to meeting up in paradise for one week a year. But the best thing may be how newcomers are just as easily welcomed into these circles as there’s space for everyone on the island. Whether you want to sleep in, be a tourist, turn in early, or party all night, there’s something for you, all while the focal point remains on each artist and their music throughout the entire week.
Only at Mile 0 Fest can you witness the many characters of Courtney Patton in action, while also hearing the Sequestered Songwriters sing Jimmy Buffett songs on a beach. The ability of this festival to continually come up with ideas for these artists to collaborate and entertain is amazing. One of the best shows this year was hosted by the Topo Chico Cowboys, Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider, who have quickly grown into fan favorites. Their ‘All Night 90’s’ country covers kicked off with Brooks and Dunn’s ‘Brand New Man‘ as many other artists took to the stage throughout the evening, keeping the crowd entertained late into the night. But well known artists weren’t the only one’s there to steal the show. Festival founder Kyle Carter hopped on stage at least twice, showcasing his talents that once defeated Cody Canada in a battle of the bands, singing ‘What Might Have Been‘ by Little Texas during the event and playing again at ‘The Last Bloody Brunch’ – alongside scheduled artists Jake Flint, John Goolsby, Blake Lankford, and Justin Clyde Williams in addition to a few other special guests.
Perhaps no other band embodies the spirit of Mile 0 Fest more than Mike and the Moonpies. Performing three sets during the week, they kicked off night one with what has quickly become a tradition – ‘Honky Tonk Tuesday’. It helped set the tone for the week ahead as these specialized experiences are something only a festival centered on showcasing its artists can deliver. Another Mile 0 Fest staple, Jamie Lin Wilson, hosted ‘The Sing-a-long’ Friday night leading to some fun combinations and multiple collaborations including Chloe Beth doing ‘9 to 5‘, Wilson, Kaitlin Butts, and Courtney Patton covering ‘Goodbye Earl‘ and the entire cast accompanying Bryon White for ‘The Road Goes On Forever.’
ROOKIES / FULL BAND PERFORMANCES
Every year, Mile 0 Fest compiles an astonishing lineup but the new additions this year really made a name for themselves. Rookies – Ryan Culwell, Grady Spencer and the Work, The Red Clay Strays, 49 Winchester, Justin Clyde Williams, Channing Wilson, and Zac Wilkerson each definitely left an impression with their individuals performances. Wilkerson kicked off the entire event, first to take the stage on Tuesday evening, setting the bar high and on Saturday both The Red Clay Strays and 49 Winchester brought the heat to a chilly Sunset Pier. Delayed by a wind advisory, fans were still out in full force braving the elements and this lineup didn’t disappoint. In perhaps the most talked about set of this year’s event, The Red Clay Strays immediately made it worth everyone’s wait ahead of 49 Winchester and the final Mike and the Moonpies performance of the week.
Alongside these rookie achievements, a few past solo acts and one collaboration, presented full band performances that also raised the bar. Lucas Jagneaux and Chance Anderson have each made prior appearances, but this year both had their backing bands in tow and it literally amped up their sets. Lucas Jagneaux and the Roadshow fired up at Dante’s Pool Bar and the Southernmost Beach Cafe, where Chance and the Takers also performed after making their Coffee Butler Amphitheater debut the night before. RC and the Ambers are also veterans, but accompanied by Lance Roark and on the verge of releasing their debut album, RC Edwards and Amber Watson continued their rise drawing big crowds at both the Smokin’ Tuna and Southernmost Beach.
The week not only featured amazing live performances, but many of the artists on hand also released new or new versions of music during the festival. Morgan Wade made her sophomore appearance at the event and really impressed during a special acoustic performance at Key West Theater before her time at the Amphitheater. The deluxe edition of her debut album, ‘Reckless‘ featured new tracks and was put out Friday.
Grady Spencer and the Work toasted fans in attendance during their festival debut over at Dante’s Pool Bar on Friday, celebrating the release of their fourth album – ‘Wait‘ – a nice blend of past and present sounds exceptionally put together around an introspective lyrical journey.
The Red Clay Strays, along with Lucas Jagneaux and the Roadshow each had singles drop while entertaining fans with their live performances. ‘Doin’ Time‘ from Alabama’s The Red Clay Strays and ‘Honky Tonk Heart‘ by Louisiana’s Jagneaux each debuted last week for everyone’s enjoyment, available on all streaming platforms, and it was fun hearing them live too.
Waves also dropped their debut EP of six original songs on January 28, instantly becoming renowned on the lineup more so than in years past. With two full band sets, mixing into the variety shows, and sitting down for a Texas Voices television interview, this group continues working hard laying the groundwork for what should be an impressive future career in the music industry.
For the first time ever, two North Carolina artists made the official lineup and each made the absolute most of their opportunities. Raleigh’s American Aquarium, led by front-man BJ Barham, is arguably the hardest working band around with lead guitar Shane Boeker and bassist, Alden Hedges routinely backing the variety shows; in which, Barham also made a few select appearances prior to their first full set out on the beach. Playing to a packed beach and batch of shrimp boats, American Aquarium brought out some deep cuts for their initial performance much to the delight of those who have been following their rise in the industry. Setting the standard for energetic performances, the band brought both vibrance and their hits to The Amp stage on Saturday night.
Justin Clyde Williams also impressed with a set alongside Oklahoma’s Raina Cobb at Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon on Thursday. Drawing a large contingent from The Old North State, it’s a safe bet Williams left the island with many new fans from all across the country. Also joining the aforementioned group for Saturday’s ‘Last Bloody Brunch’, the line down Charles St. stretching to Duval was filled with those who had been in attendance at his earlier performance and many others from North Carolina. The connection between this group, state, and the music continues to grow and seeing more artists from the area down in the keys was truly special.
HOLD MY BEER
Texas country legends Randy Rogers Band and Wade Bowen have long been staples in the scene and veterans of this festival. Bringing their ‘Hold My Beer’ collaboration, now two volumes strong to the island, for another special show, each also thoroughly impressed with their individuals performances backed by their respective bands. Bringing out hit after hit, the one-two punch of Bowen and Rogers to end Friday night at The Coffee Butler Amphitheater may have been the best all week.
In a shift from previous years, there was no true emcee of the festival but instead a group effort from many different artists and associated individuals who shared time in the spotlight introducing upcoming acts. Perhaps none was more impressive than Uncle Bekah, who has become synonymous with Mile 0 Fest, thanks to her ‘Inappropriate Trucker Hats’ which annually take over the island. From fans to artists – funny, clever, classic, and sometimes even impromptu sayings – find their way onto hats and they’re so prevalent, it’s unlikely you’ll see any recap footage or even a photo of the event without spotting at least a few. At any rate, Uncle Bekah’s introduction of The Great Divide was just another in a long list of memorable performances orchestrated by Mile 0 Fest throughout the entire week.
Other Top Performances (non-variety) and in no particular order:
- Shane Smith and the Saints – Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater
- Stoney LaRue – Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater
- Adam Hood and Jason Eady – Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon
- Jamie Lin Wilson – Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater
- Topo Chico Cowboys – Sunset Pier
- Kaitlin Butts – Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater
- John Fullbright – Southernmost Beach Cafe
- Dalton Domino – Sunset Green
- Max and Heather Stalling – Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon
- Cliff Cody – The Marker
- Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights – Dante’s Pool Bar
- Kylie Frey – Sunset Pier
- Walt and Tina Wilkins – Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon
- Chloe-Beth – Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon
Year Five of Mile 0 Fest continued to show why this event has transformed into a can’t miss week for many attendees and bucket list item for red dirt and Americana music fans everywhere. Navigating a few artists cancellations, including Ryan Bingham, and a cooler than usual Saturday, the staff and crew working this festival continually make magic happen across the island. As stated in the beginning, no amount of words can truly portray what life is like during Mile 0 Fest, but if you’d like to find out in 2023 – CLICK HERE – and a $100 deposit guarantees you a pass for next year!