What happens in Key West doesn’t stay in Key West during the annual five-day Mile 0 Fest. As one of the first country music events on the calendar each year, it helps set the table for everything else that will transpire in the coming months, from up-and-comers who will break in the coming year, to previous up-and-comers exploding in popularity, to established artists cementing their legacies.
This was never more true than in 2024. As Mike and the Moonpies were making the announcement that they were changing their name to Silverada on one side of the tiny Key West island, the Josh Abbott Band was holding a release party for their new album Somewhere Down The Road on a beach near the southermost point of the United States.
You had the 16-year-old Jake Kohn from Virginia appearing as an artist many expect to be the next Appalachia star, as well as Lance Roark from Oklahoma who after getting a cut on the new Turnpike Troubadours album with bassist RC Edwards, is one of the most buzzed about names in Red Dirt. Meanwhile Taylor Hunnicutt and her band of Alabama boys is the talk of live music, putting on one of the most high energy shows around.
When Morgan Wade took the stage to headline Mile 0 Fest on Thursday night (1-25), she spoke in-depth about how the festival was the first major event to take a chance on her, and even if she didn’t fit in perfectly with the Texas/Red Dirt world, she appreciated the opportunity. The Red Clay Strays have a similar Mile 0 Fest story after appearing two years ago for the first time, and like Morgan Wade (or perhaps even more), they are skyrocketing in popularity to the point of recently selling out the Ryman Auditorium for three straight nights.
Of course you also had the big headliners of the Texas/Red Dirt genre such as The Randy Rogers Band, Josh Abbott Band, Wade Bowen, and Shane Smith and the Saints all perform. But one of the cool things about Mile 0 Fest is every performer feels on equal footing, and the songwriters are perhaps just as revered as the headliners, if not more.
Jamie Lin Wilson, Courtney Patton, Jason Eady, and Adam Hood made up the nucleus of what happened at Mile 0 Fest in 2024. The Topo Chico Cowboys of Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider were also seen all over Key West during the week. They all took turns hosting afterparties at the Truman Waterfront Amphitheater in Key West after the big headlining sets, singing cover songs, or in the case of Adam Hood, taking an opportunity to sing songs he’s wrote or co-wrote with folks like Wade Bowen, Courtney Patton, Taylor Hunnicutt, and Josh Abbott’s “I’ll Sing About Mine,” which was nominated for Saving Country Music’s 2013 Song of the Year.
This year, if there was any single songwriter or performer whose name kept coming up, it was Charlie Robison. He may have passed away in on September 10th, 2023, but his spirit was most certainly still alive at Mile 0 Fest. Wade Bowen and Jamie Lin Wilson hosted a tribute to Charlie and songwriter/performer/producer Keith Gattis Tuesday night at Key West’s open air Smokin’ Tuna bar. Throughout the weekend, Robison songs were played, and they usually drew a crowd of performers coming on stage to sing along.
Key West is not easy to get to, and it’s very expensive to stay at. For some fans, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime splurge. For others, it’s an annual pilgrimage. For still others, it’s an impossibility. But what’s true for everyone that makes the trek is they’re the most hardcore of independent Texas and Red Dirt country music fans. This makes everyone who attends the festival not just a patron, but an active participant. These are the word-of-mouth taste makers and influencers who share their experiences online, supporter these bands when they roll through town, travel to support them elsewhere, and create the grassroots that the music grows from.
After seven years now, Mile 0 Fest is quickly going from the scrappy new festival on the calendar to one with it’s own mystique, its own traditions, and the event that all fans want to go and artists want to play because of the unique setting, the community that has been built, and things like the explosion of the Red Clay Strays or Morgan Wade, or the Silverada announcement. You never know what’s going to happen, or who you’re going to discover next.
It was one line in one song that perhaps struck the deepest tone at Mile 0 Fest 2024. The song “Maritime Moon” was written by Jamie Lin Wilson and Jason Eady the previous year at Mile 0 Fest, and Wilson released a studio version of the song right before this year’s festival.
Perhaps you have to experience Mile 0 Fest or Key West specifically to fully appreciate the the song. But there is a reason that songwriters such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, Shel Silverstein, and David Allan Coe all found inspiration on the island, not to mention other titans of letters such as Ernest Hemingway and Judy Blume that called Key West home.
The worst part about Key West and Mile 0 Fest is you never want to go home. As Jamie Lin Wilson sings in “Martimine Moon,” “If we stay awake, it’ll stay yesterday.” This embodies how each moment is precious and cherished in Key West, and you never want them to end.
But they do, and they eventually did. Yet as the fans and participants of Mile 0 Fest 2024 fall back into the normal rhythms of life, they’ll carry with them lifelong memories made via music in paradise.
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All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. Sincere apologies to performers either not mentioned or pictured. There were just too many performances to capture them all. For more photos and media, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram.