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Last summer when Mile 0 Fest announced its intentions to hold a Texas music festival in Key West, Florida, and then announced a lineup that seemed almost too good to be true, there was an awful lot of concern and trepidation about what could happen. First year festivals can be perilous enough. Putting one on in paradise creates an entirely new set of difficult circumstances. Amassing such an incredible talent budget that it could bankrupt a small Caribbean nation made it seem especially risky, for the promoters, fans, artists, vendors, and sponsors alike. And remember, this was mere months after the now notorious debacle that was Fyre Fest.
But what few budgeted for was the resolve the recently-formed Oh Wook! Productions had to do a Texas music destination festival in the Florida Keys, and to do it right, whatever the cost. Their desire wasn’t just to not lose their shirts and be rendered laughing stocks, they have a deep belief in the potential of Texas music to be a rising power that can not only support such an event, but arguably requires it as the music continues to grow, and needs new enclaves within the United States from which to build more tour routes and infrastructure around.
There were additional adversities that presented themselves in the run up to the inaugural Mile 0 Fest. A major hurricane hit the island chain just months before. The main venue for the event—the Truman Waterfront Park Ampitheater——was still finishing construction, and was delayed by the hurricane even further. The already-limited amount of hotel accommodations on the small island tightened up even more as certain properties closed down for repairs.
Yet as the logistical issues kept arising, the promoters kept stepping up, continuing to bring on people and resources, eventually swelling to some 200 people who in some capacity helped to put the festival on. Even if they took a bath behind the scenes, the Mile 0 Fest experience was not going to be a wash out.
Down to a man, the performers and attendees of the inaugural Mile 0 Fest had nothing but praise for event, aside from maybe a few minor suggestions moving forward. Mile 0 Fest wasn’t just a success logistically for a first year festival, you could count it as the envy of many festivals that have been around for years and are still trying to figure out certain issues such as long lines for entry and beer, and just not thinking of simple creature comforts that make the festival-going experience a breeze where the focus is on the music, not everything else. And despite no real major lines, Mile 0 Fest was well-attended. There was room to grow, but during the headliner sets on the respective nights, it was packed in front of the stage, but still some room behind if you wanted to hang back.
One of the biggest concerns from many was how similar Mile 0 Fest is to another mainstay Texas music event each year—Music Fest in Steamboat Springs, CO just a few weeks before on the calendar. Music Fest has been the established destination festival for Texas music for many years. Let’s face it, Mile 0 Fest was at least inspired by Steamboat. But aside from the obvious differences in climate and geography, Mile 0 Fest feels a bit more like a traditional festival with a main stage being the centerpiece, and the side stages at local venues being there for the more dedicated before and after crowd. Acoustic performances are certainly a part of Mile 0 Fest, but they’re not the primary element.
One similarity between Music Fest in Steamboat and Mile 0 Fest is the incredible opportunity for collaboration between the artists, which they take advantage of to the point where the musical experience is unparalleled, for both the crowds and performers. Even without scheduling certain artists to perform together, they just do, because they’re looking for a good time as well. And as you’re wide-eyed and ecstatic to see some of your favorite musicians playing together on stage, it was not uncommon during Mile 0 Fest to look beside you at some of Duval St.’s famous venues and see some of your other favorite musicians watching along.
The talent lineup was hard to go wrong with regardless, and all the performers appeared to bring their ‘A’ game and actually mean it when they talked about how thrilled they were to be there as opposed to the lip service they normally pay about local stops from the stage. But when talking about collaborations and the talent that made its way to the island for the week, the first name that needs to be broached is that of Jamie Lin Wilson.
Jamie Lin Wilson was the Queen of Mile 0 Fest. No other artist received more respect from her peers, or worked harder to make each performance by herself and others something magical. From her solo slots, to singing harmonies with the Turnpike Troubadours, Wade Bowen, Courtney Patton and many more, she was the glue that bound it all together. Every festival has that artist or two who becomes a mainstay of the roster, and that should be Jamie Lin Wilson for Mile 0 Fest.
Mile 0 Fest also felt very much like a family affair, with Cody Canada’s son Dierks playing guitar with his father’s band The Departed, as well as with Ray Wylie Hubbard, who already has his own son Lucas Hubbard in his band. And one of the coolest moments of the festival was when the son of Ryan Engleman of the Turnpike Troubadours crashed the stage and had everyone laughing.
Shinyribs was also responsible for one of the more entertaining moments of the fest when he leaped off the stage near the end of his set and started a conga line that snaked across the festival grounds. Though it was hard to know what to expect from the “Unleashed” set from stalwarts Jack Ingram, Charlie Robison, and Bruce Robison if you hadn’t seen them together before (stools at center stage and story time?), they put on one of the best, and most energetic and entertaining sets of the festival.
Mile 0 Fest also made sure to pay respects to the founders of the music by booking the Red Dirt Rangers, and Mike McClure’s The Great Divide. There were also up-and-coming songwriters like Kaitlin Butts who had their opportunities to play on side stages to give the audience something to discover. Though Mile 0 Fest did a better job than other festivals in Texas music representing women, it still could have been more, and it could have made more room for them on the main stage since the sets from Jamie Lin Wilson and Sunny Sweeney were so in demand, it created difficulty seeing them at the smaller venues. Bri Bagwell and Carter Sampson both made the best of their main stage opening sets.
Mike and the Moonpies may have been the biggest takeaway from the weekend, at least on the true country side, but of course closing headliner Cody Jinks showed why he is poised to blow up in 2018. John Moreland’s full band electric set was an entertaining affair for those maybe a little trepidatious to see him not sitting on a stool and singing his songs acoustically. The new band perhaps could have tightened up their performances a little bit between songs, but that probably became more evident as one of the primary Americana bands at the fest as opposed to the performance-savvy Texas Music stalwarts like Wade Bowen and William Clark Green. However when Moreland and Co. were tearing into a song like their cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” everything was right in the world.
The Black Lillies—who are sporting a revamped lineup of their own—also did not disappoint. Perhaps they’re a little more hard charging these days, but still the heart of the song is well-represented. And Shooter Jennings—despite needing to ax “The Gunslinger” from his set list due to the mostly family-friendly nature of the crowd—put on a great show, playing mostly his country rock and well-recognized material to a great reception from the crowd, and was given that much more legitimacy by the presence of his new badass fiddle player, Aubrey Richmond.
There were a few small issues with the festival, like maybe figuring out how to shuttle people back and forth from the main amphitheater to the cluster of venues on nearby Duval St. a little better, to simplifying the #hashtag the festival chose to make it more intuitive so folks can connect on social media. And certainly the biggest challenge for all festivals is the second year, which will assuredly see a much bigger turnout now they everyone knows it won’t be another Fyre Fest.
But Mile 0 Fest pulled it off, and with flying colors. Obviously with the price points for tickets and the cost of simply getting to Key West, it will always be something of a splurge, or an impossibility for many to attend. But there is no reason Mile 0 Fest couldn’t and shouldn’t be another hub for Texoma music in the annual calendar, and on the touring map.
If we learned anything from Mile 0 Fest 2018, it’s that the power of Texas music is surging, and it can dream big and overcome adversity. It is truly the healthy alternative to the mainstream, and it’s worth any extra effort to find the bands, and attend the shows.
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