Maybe it all started with Jimmy Buffett. After all, who can deny his influence on Key West songwriting and artistry? Yet long after Key West’s most recognized music royalty transformed into a national deity, the island that shaped a Trop Rock God has witnessed a musical renaissance in the past decade — boasting more national acts and large-scale concerts than ever before.
Before we digress, make no mistake: the island’s melodic renaissance began with local musicians. Before the amphitheater and other venues offered seating for national acts, it was local talent that did, and continues to, brand Key West with a musical note much like Austin, Texas in the early 2000s.
Ralph De Palma, who stamped his place in Key West music lore by photographing notable local and national talents around the island, claimed “if Nashville is ‘Music City,’ then Key West is definitely ‘Music Land.’” And as more and more acts land on the rock, here is a look back at some of the notable contributors and performances during the last five years of Key West’s music movement.
11.Jake Owen | 2016 | Songwriters Festival | Duval Street main stage:
Charlie Bauer and his team have heavily contributed to the influx of household musical names in Key West. Partnering with BMI, Bauer and company have made the Key West Songwriters Festival a “can’t miss” week of live music. Names like Rhett Akins, Old Dominion and Chris Young have all performed, but one of our favorites was Jake Owen in ’16.
10.G Love (& Special Sauce) | 2015 | Coast
Billy Kearins of Coast Productions has turned the rustic jam sessions of a Stock Island boat yard into one of the trendiest spots for big names in music, including the likes of Langhorne Slim, Mason Jennings, Yonder Mountain String Band, Todd Snider and Rorey Carroll. But it was G Love (& Special Sauce) in October of 2015 that put Coast on the national map … not to mention the show sold out in 24 hours.
9.Turnpike Troubadours | 2018 | Mile 0 Fest | Key West Amphitheater
The Mile 0 Fest was hatched in 2018 and the festival’s early success over the course of three days already indicates bigger things to come. This year, names like Cody Jinks, Pate Green and Wade Bowen tore up the stage. But Turnpike Troubadours threw down on a memorable Saturday night, proving that up-and-coming bands can, and will, be stopping in Key West. (Nnote: Turnpike Troubadours will be headlining Red Rocks in a few short months.)
8.Michael McDonald | 2018 | Sunset Green Event Lawn at 24 North
Another recent event space has already contributed to a big concert in 2018. The Keys Collection and 24 North Hotel (Keys Collection) partnered with Ramshead Group to bring Michael McDonald to an open air lawn that provided an incredible sound and vibe. The result was an amazing performance by the legendary Michael McDonald.
7.Vince Gill & Lyle Lovett | 2016 | Tennessee Williams Theatre
The Tennessee Williams Theatre has quietly showcased some of Key West’s biggest shows over the past several years. Spearheaded by Dr. Frank Wood, names like Chubby Checker, Art Garfunkel, Wynonna Judd, Clint Black, The Temptations and Four Tops have performed. But one of the coolest moments was back in 2016 when Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett took the stage.
6.Kenny Chesney | 2013 | Hogs Breath Saloon
If you live in Key West, odds are you’ve bumped into one of music’s biggest names. Kenny Chesney is no stranger to the town and he’s put on some of the most memorable shows in recent memory. Who can forget recent performances at Sloppy Joe’s where everyone from Eric Church to Peyton Manning joined him on stage? But it was his legendary show at Hog’s Breath that we love. And you can still watch the “No Shoes” documentary today.
5.JOHNNYSWIM | 2016 | Key West Theater
You can’t really just pick one show from the Key West Theater, which has been bussing in talent to Key West for the past five years. Rams Head Group and Kelly Norman have been booking acts such as Here Come the Mummies, Big Head Todd, Marc Broussard, Citizen Cope, Jake Shimabukuro, Edwin McCain and Dina Carter. But it was JOHNNYSWIM that electrified the house back in early ’16.
4.The Revivalists | 2014 | Sunset Pier & Ocean Key Resort
Turn on the television and you’ll likely hear or see David Shaw and the Revivalists on commercials or interviews. But Rodger Levering at Ocean Key, along with John Vagnoni and the Green Parrot caught on to the Revivalists long before the mainstream. The group has played the Parrot and Sunset Pier on and off for years (along with a VIP acoustic show by front man David Shaw in ’16), but there was just something about that moment in 2014 when the band played “Criminal” at Sunset Pier that makes goose bumps.
3.Green Parrot Bar
When it comes to music pioneers in Key West, John Vagnoni at the Green Parrot Bar has been discovering and showcasing premier music acts for years. The town should be indebted for his mark on Key West’s music scene and to show our respects we simply couldn’t list just one performance. Over the years members of the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Blues Brothers have all performed on the Parrot stage. But up and coming acts like Bonerama, The Revivalists, Eric Lindell, Mia Borders, The California Honeydrops, The Marcus King Band, Honey Island Swamp Band and Wild Magnolias can be seen for the price of a beer and some damn good popcorn.
2.Huey Lewis and the News | 2015 | Keystock | Truman Annex
When tracing Key West’s recent musical movement, one can look no further than Joe Cleghorn and his team at Lazy Lakes, which kick-started the Keystock concert series at Lazy Lakes RV park almost a decade ago. Not only do the shows donate funds to local veterans, they have also boasted bands like 3 Dog Night, The Doobie Brothers and Eric Burdon & The Animals. But it was 2015 when Cleghorn partnered up with Danny Hughes (Two Friends Patio) to bring Huey Lewis and the News to town. And it is that show that many still talk about today.
1.Jimmy Buffett | 2017 | Margaritaville Key West
If you thought we would have a list without Jimmy Buffett, well, you’re insane. Key West music is the house that Jimmy built and the holy grail of concerts is when the king of parrots and fins pops in for an impromptu show. And that’s exactly what happened in late December 2017 at his Maragritaville restaurant along Duval Street. The walls and outside street were packed and the performance quickly made waves (pun intended) across the country. Sure, there are legendary shows and tales of Buffett in Key West, but we chose this one because each one just seems to get sweeter as he goes.