Prologue: Key West Songwriter’s festival is 5 day annual gathering of writers from across America (mainly from Nashville) to perform their music. Many of these writers have placed songs with famous country artists and it’s a unique way to meet these writers. There are also new writers to showcase too. The festival involves daily live music that spread down the venues on and around Duval Street. Music generally starts a 12pm and ends 12 midnight.
My initial plan was to go from my Nashville songwriting trip straight to Key West on Thursday evening in time to check-in to my hotel and catch a few shows on Duval Street. This was a great plan. Instead, my flight from Nashville to Miami Intl was delayed 2 hours. This left a window of 10 mins to catch my connecting Key West puddle-jumper. Although I normally love airports and the useless entourage of goods I somehow think I want rather than need, I was not particularly pleased. I bought a pen with “Nashville” written on it. What sort of girl would I be if I didn’t purchase something? I did however make friends with 2 new lovely ladies at the Airport Gate also attempting to make the same seemingly impossible quest to arrive in Key West that day. These became my travel buddies and I ended up spending a good portion of my time in Key West with these 2 girls. Annoyance turned into providence.
After many catwalk-type struts back and forth over Miami Intl airport acquiring blisters and and one large bicep on my guitar-carrying arm, we tried to find anyone who who help us out of our predicament. Tried and failed, I should add. The fabled and famous 3 amigos, ended up at midnight staying at the Double tree Hotel in Miami courtesy of American Airlines, with a delightful 8am flight the next day.
Finally my trip was going to really begin. For real this time (not like that pretend time the day prior). Key West was and is, beautiful. Hot, scenic and picture-perfect. My Hotel room was adorable, and I arrived in the morning in time for continental breakfast in the company of local cats. Yes, I said “cats”. Key west has a lot of cats. Everywhere. Cats. Meow. Shower and change of clothes… and it was time for me to experience Key West and this Festival. I had a paper map and a paper version of the KWSF Guide. It had a mini map of the island and had very clear markers where each venue was and who was performing. This became my “go to” venue map.
My hotel was one street back from busy Duval street (where the “action” is). Slathered in 85+ sunscreen against my glowing white skin, oversized sunglasses and cap – off I went. Many people travel on the island by bicycle or scooter, I opted to “walk it”. I am tough like that. Tough and foolish. I ended up walking my shoes to death by the last day. I broke my sandals, which are now laid to rest in a trash can somewhere in Key West. I bought them exactly a year ago and although I miss them, I will remember the good times we shared. I digress…These are shoes and I’m in Key West. Sunshine, music and partay!
I was headed for the Southernmost Pool Party gig Friday at 12pm, and I was going to meet one of my Nashville friends there. I soon learnt that people tour from venue to venue following the music, so you do run into many of the same faces throughout the festival. I soon, arrived to see a hundred people jammed into a pool that faced a shady stage. 4 dollar beers, 6 dollar margaritas/pina coladas plus extreme heat plus swimming. That sounds like a recipe for trouble. I saw no casualties of “party”. I watched one of my friends perform and met one travel buddy there. From that point it was down to 4pm La Concha Hotel to see the next show. From there it was back to my hotel for 2 hours, then out again to Margaritaville at 9pm. Sweet tea and Fish and Chips. Hello. My venue map emerged again from my purse to display a few options of music and a few small tears on the folded edges. Heading down Duval Street, I was keeping watch on which venues were not exploding with people. It was a sign that a VERY popular artist/writer was performing. (Why did I explain that?) The Green Parrot was my next destination. This was my definition of “exploding” with people. Great example. Bicycles lined up outside. Questionable scooter drivers leaving the venue. I met some more friends outside, where there was room. Then headed down to the ASCAP late night session at Bottle Cap a few blocks from there. This started at Midnight. Great music, tired eyes and I left around 2am and walked the few long blocks back to my hotel. Funny how everything seems a long distance when you’re tired.
Today was the “ Katie Cole at the Hemingway House day”!!!. I headed down to Ernest Hemingway’s famous Key West home to take the tour. More cats. But these weren’t just any cats, they were polydactyl felines. Meaning they have more than the normal amount of digits on their paws. More than 5 on the front and more than 4 on the back. I took the tour. It was a crowded group of tourists and fans of literature alike. The tour guide gave so much history about Ernest, the history of the home itself and explained about the amount of cats (44 currently) on the premises. As the tour guide conveyed in Ernest’s words “One cat leads to another”. That didn’t really explain much to me, but it showed that he clearly liked having the cats around. Oh, and all of the cats had famous names too. As far as I could tell from that day, they were definitely the stars.
I then moved on to Southermost beach side Hotel (there were 3 hotels on the island called the Southernmost. Quickest way to confuse tipsy tourists. I used my venue map as it was very confusing at first.) It was called the Southernmost as the Southernmost point to Cuba was very nearby on the same block. My friend was performing at this one too. Yay. Dipped my feet in the pool and listened to some great music. I then went on to lunch. Best panini and salad I’ve ever eaten (in Key West). Island Dog’s gig was at 3pm so we started migrating over. It was on the opposite side of the island. Thanks. More walking with map in hand that was torn and worn and looking a little more like a scrunched napkin.
Music!!! Ok. Then it was back to my Hotel for a minute. I did stop and buy some Key Lime pie to take with me. They placed two forks in the take away bag assuming I would be sharing it. I only needed one. And it was amazing. With food guilt and a new outfit, I headed out to Margaritaville to at 9pm for the show. Met some friends including my travel buddies. We ventured on to Irish Kevin’s and got as far as the curb where a crowd of people had spilled out of the venue an onto the streets. I didn’t plan to wait, so I headed back to Wild Bill’s where I saw another friend on stage. We soon headed back over to the Bottle cap at Midnight. There was a rumour that my friend Mike Sistad (ASCAP) was planning to let me loose on stage. Saw some amazing songwriters including Jim Femino and Monty Powell, then the heaven’s parted and Katie Cole was up on the stage with members of King Billy as my backing band. It was a lively 2am and I rocked the house!! Woot Woot!!
Next morning, my last on the island, I took a stroll and that’s when I noticed my shoes were wearing thin. I headed to the last gig of the day that was literally Beach side. I bought a ginormous hat to protect me from the sun. I have a thing with hats. As I began walking, the wind picked up, and made my trying to wear a hat absolutely redundant. In fear of losing my new treasure in a gust, I took it off and carried it the rest of the day. At the venue, I was standing in the sun watching a band on stage and a stranger leaned in to say “Miss, I really hope you have sunscreen on”. I replied “Yeah, I’m from Australia it’s hot there too”. He insisted by telling me that I didn’t understand how hot the sun really was. Now, I realise that I look like a future sunburn victim, so I understand people’s innate need to rescue me from Lobster-skinitis. I’m pretty sure I just repeated what I said initially. At the Beach side cafe, I devoured the best shrimp wrap I ever eaten then soon retreated to my hotel where I began to pack my belongings, and newly acquired hat. The hotel booked me a taxi as I disposed of my broken sandals and what was once a venue map (now in 3 pieces). I sat down with one of the resident hotel cats, Sushi. She stayed with me until my taxi arrived. Waved goodbye to Key West and boarded my flight I was headed back to Miami, then onto Los Angeles. I had a great trip, met some great friends, obtained minimal Lobsterskin (sunburn), shared the stage with some songwriting icons and listened to some of the best music in the world. All in all it was worth a pair of sandals. It’s also the best reason I’ve had in a long time to go shoe shopping.
Love Katie xoox