Why a Florida music fest was a Texas-fueled success

First. Year. Festival.

Anyone attempting to launch a big-time, multi-day music festival knows those three little words are deceptively difficult to pull off, thanks in large part to high-profile 2017 fiascoes including the island nightmare Fyre Fest and the so-called "pop-up festival" in Plano that never actually occurred, Starfest.

Thankfully, after a triumphant maiden voyage, Mile 0 Fest passed the test. There wasn't an operational hiccup to be heard as two dozen acts performed on the main stage in Key West, Fla., under pastel blue skies at the four-day fest at Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater.

The D-FW artists featured on the lineup offered veteran aplomb and full-throttle performances. Pat Green on Thursday, the Old 97's on Friday and Cody Jinks on Saturday each performed to some of the fest's biggest and most excitable crowds. And that's not counting the Beatles-esque frenzy whipped up by Oklahoma's Turnpike Troubadours to close out Friday night.

Were there some Texans in the crowd? Surely. But people came from all over to hear Texas acts such as the Old 97'€™s at Mile 0 Fest in Key West, Fla.

The venue

If a first-year festival is challenging, this one had an even tougher start: Mile 0 was the amphitheater's first ever multiday festival. It opened in January, a few months after Hurricane Irma, which brought tremendous damage to most of the Florida Keys. And yet, the 3,500-person capacity venue sparkled.

A grassy incline curving around the back of the crowd provided a great spot for breezes rolling in off the ocean, as well as immaculate sight lines. The circular stage was backed by a massive digital screen which broadcast live video of the performances, although it was hardly necessary given the intimate venue.

The talent

Mile 0's lineup offered familiar names to pretty much anyone who has stepped foot in a Texas honky-tonk over the past two decades. Along with Green, accomplished stars Stoney LaRue, Wade Bowen, William Clark Green, Charlie and Bruce Robison, Jack Ingram, Cody Canada and the Departed, and the Turnpike Troubadours greeted attendees with comforting country sounds.

One bright spot was an Unleashed Live Reunion set featuring Ingram and both Robisons. In a way that only comes from a lifetime of friendship, the three goofed on one another while still singing harmonies and playing guitar. With a full band backing them, Jack, Charlie and Bruce took turns tearing their way through electrified takes on their own favored tunes including Ingram's "Biloxi" and "Mustang Burn," Charlie's "Sunset Boulevard" and "My Hometown," which was the evening's crowd favorite, and Bruce's "Wrapped."

Jamie Lin Wilson of the Trishas was welcomed on stage to perform "Angry All the Time" with Bruce Robison, where she proved why her sweet tenor was invited on stage multiple times during the fest.

Following that set, Fort Worth resident Pat Green kept the energy level high with engaging, vibrant performances of his own collection of Lone Star classics including "Carry On" and "Feels Just Like it Should." Unlike the larger music fests in Texas, the average age of the crowd skewed above the college range. Having that demographic in control of the crowd meant songs from the days of the Clinton administration such as Green's "Here We Go" and Charlie Robison's "Loving County" were welcomed with open-throated hollers and felt as fresh as they did before anyone could record either song on their phones.

The best night

Band for band, Friday's bill proved to be the strongest in terms of sheer sing-along-ability. North Texas dweller Dalton Domino and Austin's Mike and the Moonpies offered early arrivers electrified examples of how bright each of their futures are, while Cody Canada and then Jason Boland and the Stragglers delighted like the savvy vets they are. With a set almost completely comprised of tunes from his days as leader of Cross Canadian Ragweed, Canada gave a clinic on how an artist can take songs from his younger days such as "Alabama" and "Lonely Girl" and give them grizzled power and life in a later era.

The final two acts rocked Friday night: Dallas rock titans Old 97's and the current kings of Okie country, Turnpike Troubadours.

If there's a band that can make itself home in just about any environment, it's the Old 97's. Guitarist Ken Bethea's signature, reverb-intensive punk-meets-surf style is made for cutting through a sea of beer cans and whiskey cups. The rapturous energy that Rhett Miller and the 97's gang generated with songs old ("Barrier Reef," "Big Brown Eyes") and new ("Good with God," "Jesus Loves You") made it feel as though they would be impossible to follow -- and perhaps for any other band on the entire four-day schedule, they would've been.

But for a few years now, the Evan Felker-led Turnpike Troubadours have been the most impressive band populating the Texas-Oklahoma scene, combining giant crowds with critical praise to levels far above their contemporaries. As they began their headlining set on Friday night, the crowd up front grew to its thickest point of the weekend, and then into its most vocal.

As the toddler son of guitarist Ryan Engleman commanded the stage with an adorably hilarious imitation of his father's rockstar poses, the band blistered through "Shreveport" and "Every Girl" as the crowd made Felker's voice almost impossible to hear. It's a good thing, too, because performing after the Old 97's requires an electrified aura that comes from a band with this sort of buzz.

The mix

Though artists from the Texas country and Red Dirt scenes dominated the names on the main stage bill, the collection was far from formulaic. On Saturday, Red Dirt pioneers the Great Divide, followed by Tennessee's country soul outfit Black Lillies, Oklahoman folk-rock songwriter John Moreland, outlaw country heir Shooter Jennings, and Fort Worth's honky-tonk hero Cody Jinks offered a satisfying variation. Yes, each act played country music, but plenty of differences were heard.

It's also worth noting that Saturday's artists, especially Jinks, have worked outside of the commercially friendly Texas country confines to become the fan favorites they are.

A few excited fans walked around the festival grounds sporting large, black Jinks flags as superhero capes. Watching a few thousand people cheer for Jinks five states east of Texas is becoming more normal for the Haltom High School graduate, who counts Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as one of his biggest fans.

Why this Florida fest was a Texas success

As flawless as the event seemed to be on the fan side of the stage, it's difficult to imagine things were as smooth behind the scenes for an event with as many moving parts as a first year, multiday, multivenue festival. But for anyone familiar with the work and reputation of Robert Gallagher, such a pristine presentation isn't shocking. Directing traffic backstage, the longtime, former entertainment director of Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth could often be seen by the audience working his magic.

Almost without exception, each performance included some sort of shout-out to the festival's organizers for a well-run event. With deposits already being put down for next year's Mile 0 Fest even before a lineup has been announced, it seems as though the Texas country tourism calendar has a new, mandatory set of marks for years to come.

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