Mile 0 Fest 2021 Moves Forward Amid Challenges

photo: Brad Coolidge

Held January 28th through February 1st in 2020, Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Florida was one of the last major events to transpire in country and roots music before the COVID-19 pandemic. And by most accounts, Mile 0 Fest will be one of the first events back when it goes down on April 27th to May 1st, 2021 with a limited capacity, and new provisions in place.

Not exactly one of the big field festivals with tens of thousands of attendees that are likely still months away from returning, Mile 0 Fest is more of a boutique and curated experience of Texas music, Red Dirt, and Americana, with headliners in 2021 that include Lucinda Williams, Blackberry Smoke, Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Mike and the Moonpies, and others (see full lineup at bottom). Nonetheless, the event is planning to take numerous precautions to make sure it’s safe for everyone.

Along with limiting the crowd size, increasing sanitation stations, and other provisions you would expect, organizers are also moving most of the performances to outdoor venues and bigger areas for 2021. The Mile 0 Fest team also includes Robert Gallagher of Billy Bob’s Texas, who has been one of the leaders in the safe return of live music by utilizing the “Biggest Honky Tonk in the World” to bring in some of the biggest names in country music who’ve been sidelined for the last year.

Promoting a festival on a small tropical island at the tip of Florida is tough enough. Trying to do it these trying times makes it even tougher. Co-owner Kyle Carter talks below about some of the challenges they’ve faced to pull off Mile 0 Fest 2021, and the precautions they’re taking to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

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Florida seems to be one of the most open states for events at the moment. How confident are you that Mile 0 Fest 2021 will happen, and have you received assurances from local authorities? 

As of today, we are extremely confident that the festival is going to happen in late April. The last few months have been a challenge, and there have been and continue to be a lot of unknowns, but each new day brings positive news and we’re ready to face those challenges head-on. We have been approved by the city and venue manager at 75% capacity, which is what we initially set out to sell this year. When we announced the show, we said we would cut 1,000 tickets from previous years capacity, knowing that distancing, sanitation and other safety protocols were more than likely still going to exist. We are as confident as anyone can be in this new environment we find ourselves in. 

What precautions are you putting in place to make sure it’s a safe event for everyone? 

The obvious precautions are going to be implemented. If there is a mask mandate you’re going to have to wear a mask. If there are social distancing requirements, we will follow those recommendations. We are going to be asking people to be aware of their surroundings, and to be cognizant of keeping their distance from each other, washing their hands, you know, all the best-practices we have grown accustomed to. Utilizing sanitation stations at each venue, spraying disinfectant on all hard surfaces each day, these are just a few examples of the basic, precautionary measures we’ll be taking. 
At the end of the day, it comes back to the people who run the show and how well we communicate with attendees. The people that work for this particular festival are very familiar with the Key West protocols that have been in place since June 2020. We know what the city wants, what code compliance requires and we do it every single day in our current on-island operations.

Additionally, we have Robert Gallagher who runs the world’s largest Honky Tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. He is a big part of our team on-island during the week of festivals. He’s no stranger to operating a safe event. We have Larry Hovick who manages a mid-size facility in Kansas City. They’ve executed 30 + live shows in this Covid restricted world. We have an entire team of people that have been through nearly every scenario that could play out at a live event and we’re highly confident in our plan and the Teams’ ability to execute it. 

Previously, we’ve packed the indoor bars on Duval St. This year, the majority of performances will take place in the outdoor venues including The Waterfront Park Amphitheater, Ocean Key Sunset Pier, the Sunset Green Event Lawn, Southernmost Beach, Dante’s, Smokin’ Tuna, Hank’s and more.

What have been some of the challenges to putting together Mile 0 Fest 2021? 

How much time do you have? (hahaha). There is no shortage of challenges. The one thing I will say is that the really important folks (the fans and the artists) have been spectacular.  They are on-board and ready to go. Clearly, the City of Key West, many of our service providers, and even our sponsors have been reticent to jump right in. They want to be very, very careful. We understand that large corporations are probably the last people who are going to jump in with gatherings. They simply can’t afford the PR risk of associating with a medium or large gathering. So, we get it. We have all been shaken and affected by this. I do think there is a silver lining here. I think we will find that some of the protocols that have been put in place during COVID will be kept in place indefinitely because they are excellent guidelines for having a safe event. 

Do you feel fortunate that unlike many events, you won’t have to skip a year, or two? 

We have been incredibly lucky and are counting our blessings. Mile 0 Fest 2020 took place in January before the world went wacky. Of course, this year we had to move it back to April but many of our attendees have said that we were the last event they attended in 2020 and we’ll be the first event they get to attend in 2021; I’d say that’s a bit of Irish luck!

Next year do you plan to return to Jan/Feb?  

No doubt about it. We have fans scattered all over the US and beyond, and the weather is not fantastic in most of those places during January/February. We have many differentiating factors with this Fest but that’s for sure one major feather in our cap. There are some other benefits to us having it that time of year. We don’t have a lot of competition with other festivals and other shows. The fans and the bands are ready to rock and roll in the winter while enjoying 70-80 degree weather.

What are some of the unique things you have planned for Mile 0 Fest 2021? 

It’s going to look significantly different because we will have almost everything outside. Some people love being shoulder-to-shoulder in a bar with everyone singing along to their favorite songs, but then again many people don’t like the packed bar setting. I think overall the attendees will be pleased with the changes this year. 

We do have a brand new venue, Sunset Green Event Lawn, and our focus as we move forward in the future is that it will become our secondary main-stage. It’s a fantastic space, beautifully positioned in between two really nice resorts at the top of the island. It’s easy to spread out, grab food and an adult beverage and enjoy a show. I got to see the Beach Boys and George Thorogood there and we are excited to add it to this year’s festival and many more years to come. Key West has had some huge acts in that facility and it just lends itself to a fantastic concert experience.  

Additionally, each year we set the stage for some really creative artistic experiences. Our team works with some of the artists that create these once in a lifetime moments. Last year it was 80’s Ladies, this year it will be Duets, Wade Bowen and Cody Canada are planning on doing a ‘Brother n’ Laws’ Show, etc.. We have thrown in some new stuff and shows like that typically end up being fan favorites. Mike & the Moonpies playing a set with Jamie Lin Wilson on a Tuesday night after party has become one of those things that each year becomes an even bigger show. It’s not just the same ole shtick, you’ve just got to come and see it!

Mile 0 Fest 2021 Lineup

• Lucinda Williams • Randy Rogers Band • Wade Bowen • Blackberry Smoke Shovels & Rope • American Aquarium • Shane Smith & The Saints • Cody Canada and the Departed • Pat Green • John Fullbright • Mike and the Moonpies • Jamie Lin Wilson • Courtney Patton • Jason Eady • Adam Hood • Jaime Wyatt • Kelly Willis • Bruce Robison • Jack Ingram • Kaitlin Butts • Ray Wylie Hubbard Kyle Nix • RC & The Ambers • Roger Creager • The Dirty River Boys • Hayes Carll • Band of Heathens • Parker Millsap • Bri Bagwell • Walt and Tina Wilkins • Micky and the Motorcars • Morgan Wade • Brent Cobb • Johnny Chops • Nicky James • Chance Anderson • Waves • Cliff Cody • Jesse Lynn Madera • Jason Scott • Jake Flint • Blake Lankford • Quaker City Nighthawks • Copper Chief • John Goolsby William Clark Green

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