Key West is going country this May, as Nashville’s finest artists embark on their annual pilgrimage to the "Southernmost City" for the Key West Songwriter's Festival. Trading in its usual tropical tunes, the island will host more than 180 songwriters from "Music City," who will take to the stage for over 50 shows in May.
Crowds gather on Duval Street for the main stage shows during the 18th Annual Key West Songwriter's Festival. — Photo courtesy of Nick Doll / BMI
Presented by international performing rights organization BMI, the lineup is stronger than ever this year. Big names like Sara Evans, Anders Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, Robert Earl Keen, Kree Harrison, Matraca Berg, Tony Joe White, Dean Dillon and many more round out a packed schedule. Shows run May 7-11 this year. Bonus: Most of them are free.
Sun-soaked pool parties, sandy beaches, waterfront properties and popular bars provide the perfect stages for the five-day festival. You get to experience artists normally only seen in large concert venues in a smaller, more intimate setting.
The casual atmosphere allows these musicians to share the stories behind each song and mingle with the audience. You can even take a cruise aboard the Fury Catamaran, enjoying the songwriters’ stylings during Key West’s iconic sunset. You can catch as many shows as you want from noon until 2 a.m. each day.
Jeffrey Steele, Big Al Anderson and Bob DiPiero perform at Smokin' Tuna during the 18th Annual Key West Songwriter's Festival. — Photo courtesy of Nick Doll / BMI
The festival showcases Nashville’s signature in-the-round settings, where three or four songwriters are on the stage at the same time. One artist will start, sharing the story behind each song as they perform, and then they will move down the line. Since it's a close-knit music community in Nashville, the artists usually sing harmonies and play accompaniment for each other.
The kickoff is Wednesday evening, May 7, with an outdoor concert starring visionary performer Anders Osborne, famed for his soulful vocals and raw, passionate guitar work. With a backdrop of Ocean Key Resort's Sunset Pier, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana blues singer will perform songs from his 13 albums. He'll also share chart-topping hits like "Watch the Wind Blow By,” which was recorded by country musician Tim McGraw.
The highlight of the weekend will be the free concert Saturday night, May 10. Award-winning country artist Sara Evans will rock the 200 block of Duval Street with songs like “Slow Me Down.” Her most recent single, it was named one of 2013's 10 Best by Billboard Magazine.
Evans has scored five No. 1 hits, including “Suds in the Bucket,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” “No Place That Far” and “A Little Bit Stronger” - the title track of her chart-topping 2011 album Stronger.
The San Carlos Institute and Tropic Cinema will host ticketed shows featuring performances by some of the top names like Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, Marti Frederiksen, James Slater, Rhett Akins and more. Musgraves performed her chart-topping “Follow Your Arrow” at the Grammys in January and went on to win the Best Country Album Grammy for Same Trailer Different Park.
The Key West Songwriter's Festival has grown considerably since its modest debut in 1995. When BMI stepped in as a partner and sponsor the following year, the event began to blossom.
In 2003, the Great American Country Channel began covering the performances, giving the festival well-received exposure. The past few years, the long weekend has taken on a South by Southwest air, drawing key industry people like record labels and publishers. The festival is now the largest of its kind in the world, with up to 10,000 audience members each year.
The 2014 Key West Songwriter's Festival runs from Wednesday, May 7, through Sunday, May 11. For more information, visit the official event website.