Mile 0 Fest Recap: By Rick Owens
Mile 0 Fest 2019
Red Dirt Island Resurrection
The pilgrimage to Key West for the annual Mile 0 Fest is quickly taking it's rightful place as both legend and lore. Legendary for those who have made the trek, and something of lore to all that have not yet been. Although we've just concluded the sophomore year for this festival, most everyone in attendance would agree that this is indeed the premiere festival to attend for any fans of Red Dirt, Shred Dirt, Texas Country, Country, Americana, Folk, or Hosty.
The reason I say that it's lore for the people who haven't been, is because the stories that come back home sometimes seem too good to be true. Key West is truly an island paradise in it's own right. I mean, c'mon, ACTUALpirates used to hang out there! But when you add a few thousand Okies, Texans, and other rabid music fans from across the country, sprinkle in fantastic weather, drinks o' plenty, and some of the best music in the world, then Key West transforms from a tropical paradise to a veritable heaven on Earth. What's not to love, right? If you haven't seen it, you wouldn't know. And as a quick aside, if you've been to Mile 0 Fest, and do not concur with this sentiment, that's on you. If you didn't have the time of your life at this festival, someone should teach you the proper etiquette of not giving a f^@k. Even though it requires no skill, and very little effort, it is indeed an art, in and of itself.
The first piece of advice for attending Mile 0 Fest, according to your humble author, is to relax. Take on an island mentality. Have a drink if you choose. Choose something else if you prefer. Relax. The rest of your entire experience depends on it. The coordinators and the staff made checking in easier than ever, with the RFID wristbands that were sent out to festival goers ahead of time. Once your wristband was registered online, you were good to go. No worries about getting in to the venues and enjoying the music that drew you to the island.
Another technology addition this year brings me to my second piece of advice for attending the festival. Get the App! Yes, indeed, there is an app for that. The contents of the app include the Schedule & Lineup, a Map, Points of Interest, News & Social Media, Tickets, and an FAQ section. This is where you'll browse the schedule, and you're able to add your favorite artists from the lineup, to your own personal calendar and schedule. This helps if there are shows that are must-sees for you. As with any festival of this size, with such an incredible lineup, there may invariably be two acts you want to see that happen to be playing at the same time on different stages. As Ragan Parkerson, the Mayor of Funtown says, "decisions have to be made."
I arrived on Monday with my co-pilot, Big Dave, after making the decision to push on through and drive overnight from Nashville. Our journey began in Stillwater, OK on Friday night when we thought that it was in our best interest to go to Tulsa to see Cale Lester and Tim Cowan open a show for Osage County at the Mercury Lounge, and a perfect way to kick off our musical vacation. Most everyone chooses to fly on cross country trips like these. I prefer the road and seeing the sights on the trip. How else would I be able to stop by and have the best ribs I've ever eaten, and visit Sun Studios in Memphis, or check out music row, and the Ryman in Nashville, or walk up and down Bourbon Street and have cafe au lait and beignets in New Orleans? It's a vacation on the way to vacation as far as I'm concerned. And on this particular vacation, it allowed me to arrive at my destination a full day ahead of time. This way I was able to get some of the "tourist" activities done that I hadn't done the year before at Mile 0 Fest. I've learned that once the festival starts, music is your top, and only real priority.
We caught up Monday with Melanie and Jeff Taylor, who are friends of mine from high school and have known for the better part of my years, and they graciously agreed to let us crash at their place since my reservation didn't start until Tuesday. T'was then that the party ensued. Mile 0 Fest is like going on vacation with 100 of your best friends. Around every corner you could run in to someone that you know, and even if you didn't know them, if they were there for the festival, you are now music family. A great example of this, I was approached by another festival patron that asked if I remembered him from last year. I politely replied that I can barely remember yesterday, and that I'm sorry I didn't. He went on to remind me that last year's festival was his honeymoon for he and his newly wedded wife, and that at the Smoking Tuna on the first night I had introduced him to Cody Canada, members of the Great Divide, BC & the Big Rig, as well as a few other acts that were playing at the festival. Holy, smokes, yes! Now I remember! He went on to tell me how much fun they had had last year and wouldn't miss it for as long as the festival ran. Music family. Brothers and sisters of the Dirt. It knows no strangers.
So Tuesday morning comes with a hangover just slight enough to remind you that you had a great time the night before. And you start your day with an island entree, and your drink of choice. For me it was fish tacos and Deep Eddy vodka (gotta support the sponsors, right!?) at Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar. After several tacos and enough libations to put me in a great mental state, it was on to hit some more of the local fare before meeting up with more friends that evening. The Hemmingway House, Harry S Truman's Little White House, and peeks inside just about every shop and bar on Duvall, all culminating in the opening of the festival at the Duvall Street Party!
The Red Dirt Rangers opened the festival on a blocked off street party right there on Duvall, open to the public, and completely packed. The Rangers were in perfect form, completely amped up for the show, and they played and performed as good as I've ever seen them. It was truly the combination of the island, the venue, and the overwhelming show of fans and onlookers that really transformed this kickoff into something truly special for the festival goers,as well as the artists. Just when you think it couldn't get any better, John Cooper tells a story of a musical influence, Doug Sahm, and invites Shinyribs' front man Kevin Russell to the stage to join them in a song. Are you kidding me? Red Dirt Rangers and Shinyribs on the same stage, at the same time! Hang up your boots, boys and girls, it doesn't get any better than this! (A sentence I found myself saying after every show at this festival, by the way.)
As the Rangers show ended, and Shinyribs whole band was winding up to bring the house down as the final act for the street party, we decided to poke our heads into our favorite watering hole on Duvall, Durty Harry's. It was there that this festival started to have a significant family reunion feel. So many friends and artists were gathering together, you just knew there was magic in the air. As my friends from high school pointed out, that this is why they love the festival so much, the artists are so accessible. You could be standing there talking to Mike McClure, Jason Eady, and Jeremy Plato, and up walks RC Edwards and Cody Canada. The whole while, you're just enjoying a laugh and a story with Kaitlin Butts, Blake Lankford, Cale Lester, and Ben McKenzie. Now, this is no different that what happens in Oklahoma, but it just has the knob turned up to eleven. As it should be in these situations.
The next several days were a blend of mind altering experiences, and some of the best live shows I've seen. The land of pirates and rum became the land of Red Dirt and whatever crossed your lips. An Okie version of Disneyland and Las Vegas all bound together by music. I've mentioned the Red Dirt Rangers and Shinyribs already, who are no strangers to the festival, and there were several others that gave encore festival performances including the Great Divide, Cody Canada and the Departed, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Bruce Robison, Kaitlin Butts, Stoney LaRue, BC & the Big Rig, Jack Ingram, Blake Lankford, Jamie Lin Wilson and many more. Newcomers to the festival this year included Tyler Childers, Todd Snider, Paul Thorn, Adam Hood, Cale Lester, Band of Heathens, Hosty, Trampled By Turtles, Flatland Cavalry, American Aquariam and many more still. If you didn't see at least ten performances for the ages, you musn't have been paying attention.
Now, while there is not enough attention span from your faux journalist, nor from his readership to cover all the shows and all of the special performances, there were a few that truly stood out for me. Not saying they were better than YOUR favorite shows, and as stated before, I didn't see them all... but these were noteworthy in my mind.
BC & the Big Rig. Hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma and the inventors of the sub-sub genre affectionately coined "Shred Dirt," BC and the boys played two sets, Thursday at Durty Harry's and Saturday at Cowboy Bill's. They are truly one of my favorite bands to watch. A little country, a whole lot rock, throw in some jam band, and a groove that won't quit, you'll certainly leave one of their shows with part of your face melted off.
The Great Divide. Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma and pioneers in the "New" Red Dirt scene in the early to mid '90s, also played two sets. One at the main stage at the Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater, and another above the ocean out on the Sunset Pier. Both shows were incredible and had the crowds singing along. There was something about seeing them on the water though that really drove home what this festival is all about. For my money, the Great Divide on the Sunset Pier IS the Mile 0 Fest, and all it stands for. After 25 years, this band is still as vibrant as it ever was.
Mike Hosty. Hailing from Norman, Oklahoma, and playing his inaugural Mile 0 Fest performance, absolutely blew his crowds away. For those of us that know Mike and see him on a regular basis, we know how talented he is and how entertaining his shows are, but what I witnessed in Key West does nothing less than solidify my opinion that his shows are simply not to be missed. I watched Hosty entertain an audience of festival goers that for the most part hadn't heard of him, much less seen him in person. He kept the crowd not only entertained, but literally on the edge of their seats (for those who could actually find seats.) He wowed the standing room only Smoking Tuna and left everyone begging for more.
Cale Lester. Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and also playing his first Mile 0 Fest performance, was joined onstage by Jordan Cox, Fairfax, Oklahoma accompanying on accordion. Yeah, accordion, no joke. You may have heard that Turnpike song about those movers and shakers? Yes, that Jordan. Anyhow, I list Cale on the list of shows that made an impression on me, because I've seen him a hundred times or more, and this one was truly special. Not only was his family there to witness it, but his biggest fan and hugest critic said that it was the best performance she'd ever seen. High praise from a spouse, I'd say!
Cody Canada & the Departed. Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma by way of New Braunfels, Texas played on the main stage, and took everyone to church. Cody said that he had learned a lot from Todd Snider about playing songs at shows that you weren't necessarily excited about playing and has since been re-energized about playing some of the old Ragweed favorites. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he belted out one of the best sets of the festival, and delivered poignant commentary between songs. He donned a hat from Uncle Bekah's Inappropriate Trucker Hats that just said "LEFTY." If you thought that is was an homage to Mr. Frizzell, it wasn't in this case during the show. He also had some very impactful words around what a music family is, and how we support each other, through thick and thin. Very powerful public statement, and more importantly, a very powerful reality. Cody went on to tell the story about losing a "battle of the bands" when he was just starting out. He lost to Kyle Carter, the brainchild of the whole Mile 0 Fest, and Cody said he wears that 2nd place like a badge of honor. And what an honor it was to get to see the Departed on this stage at this festival.
Jamie Lin Wilson. Hailing from D'Hanis, Texas and bringing the whole kit and caboodle with her to every single show. By that I mean incredibly written songs, flawless and sometimes fierce delivery, mesmerizing stage presence and an overall feeling that she is a force to be reckoned with, no matter what else you have on your plate! She's a musicians' favorite musician as well, being asked to come up and sing on several other sets, she always leaves a stage better than she found it.
American Aquarium. Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, and making their Mile 0 debut, BJ and the band played as if it were there last show ever. Incredibly high energy and audience participation perfectly dotted the I and crossed the T for putting an indelible mark on the crowd. Much like Cody and other artists spoke of supporting your music family through thick and thin, BJ did so as well. Never shy about sharing his opinions is one of his most endearing traits, and makes the stories in his songs so much more believable. American Aquarium absolutely killed it during their set, and I hope they return next year as well.
Todd Snider. Hailing from all parts of this great nation, by way of East Nashville, Tennessee. I saw Todd's performance at the San Carlos Theater on Duvall street. Just him and a guitar, a theater without an empty seat, and complete silence, save for his music. The completely full theater was silent, so much so, you could hear a pin drop. Mostly out of respect and admiration for Todd and his songs and storytelling, but also out of necessity because Todd sang about six inches off the microphone. No idea if it was planned or not, but it couldn't have been more perfect. His stories are hilarious, his songs are powerful, and he's rightfully taken his spot in the music world as the barefoot, folk singing, peace loving, pot smoking hippie that everyone loves to watch an emulate.
Chip & Ray in Paradise. Hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma by way of Ada, Oklahoma and New Braunfels, Texas, some people might not have ever heard of Chip and Ray. If that's true, it didn't stop people from showing up to the Smoking Tuna for the Cody Canada and Mike McClure acoustic show. I just love seeing these guys together. Mike is arguably my favorite songwriter ever, certainly in my top two, and Cody has been a favorite of mine ever since I got Live & Loud at the Wormy Dog back at the turn of the century. These guys' playfulness, quick wits, and musical acuity make them one of the most impressive, and fun, acoustic song swap duos in the music scene today.
Blake Lankford & Ben McKenzie. Hailing from Oklahoma City & Stillwater, Oklahoma, respectively, Blake and Ben played a song swap set at Durty Harry's that was special to see. Although Blake is a return performer to the Mile 0 Fest, this was Ben's first time playing. They traded songs and sang with the passion that defines the "Red Dirt" genre. Each of them are unique in their sound, tone, and delivery, but they are every bit as talented, and important to the scene as any other act out there. Songs that are so heartfelt, and so very revealing, these two artists know what it is to rip their chest open for a song, and then play that song FOR YOU. It is a gift, and a blessing to have these artists in our lives.
There are a many other acts that I saw that were incredible, including the Mavericks, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Reckless Kelly, Levi Parham, RC & the Ambers, Flatland Cavalry and Zane Williams. There were also many, many acts there that I didn't get to catch. Band of Heathens, Kaitlin Butts, Chance Anderson, Kevin Galloway were on the top of my list that I of misses I didn't get to see, but there were others as well. Ever since this festival has ended, I need to research the superposition phenomenon, or any other studies into quantum matter, as clearly, I'm going to need to be in more than one place at one time next year.
So now we all have approximately 1 year to plan ahead for next year's festival. I think it may take that long to come down off the high you feel at Mile 0 Fest. For some people this festival will be a bucket list show, for others it will be a right of passage. For some people like me and several of my friends, it's a fest that will be on my calendar for as many years as they put it on, and continue to have the heart and soul of Oklahoma/Texas/Americana artists to play it. Keep up the great work, Mile 0 Fest, your efforts are greatly appreciated!