It’s obvious what makes Mile 0 Fest a little different than other music festivals — location. Sure, several festivals happen in sunny places but not many allow fans a chance to escape to a tropical locale in late January. The Outlaw Cruise is another and, this year, the festival at sea actually combined with Mile 0. They combined for an afternoon as it docked in Key West and allowed festival-goers from both to intermingle at Elizabeth Cook’s pool party. The party also featured Mike and the Moonpies and Bri Bagwell.
Those are the types of events that make both additionally unique — events where the audience can see the artists having fun with each other. One of Mile 0’s most successful such events this year was Friday’s ’80s Ladies event hosted by Jamie Lin Wilson and Courtney Patton. The properly costumed duo led a collective of women covering the music of female stars from the ’80s. They also had some male contemporaries join for the duets. The event happened indoors at the end of the event’s most rain-soaked day, a welcomed respite from the amphitheater when Mother Nature took control.
While the festival has long had deep roots in red dirt country, this year’s biggest national name was Nashville-based Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. They delivered a flawless show to many that may have been crossover fans. Opening on Wednesday at the amphitheater for the band was American Aquarium which, while based in Raleigh, is a band that has seamlessly blended in with the red dirt crowd for years.
The more dedicated red dirt fans seemed most excited about Randy Rogers Band, who unfortunately had to cut their set short on Friday when the rain came. But the band forged through the rain as long as they could, with one band member even sacrificing a violin to the harsh coastal weather.
An additional, unexpected highlight was Wade Bowen’s set at the amphitheater. During the set, he invited several artists on stage (including Jamie Lin Wilson, Mike and the Moonpies and Cody Canada) to share some covers. A particularly memorable collaboration was a version of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.”
The festival caps at 4,000 people so it never feels claustrophobic. And its audience is a bit older so the party never feels intimidating. It’s indoors and out. It’s in one of America’s most beautiful locations. Even when the unpredictable happens at a coastal festival, like the heavy rains of Friday, it’s still a better place to be watching music than most other places.