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Carter Brothers Fan Club Blog

Top Ten Memories (Jan. 2014 in Key West)

Created: Sunday, 02 February 2014

As promised, here are my top ten memories from last week’s Carter Brothers performances and the larger reunion of Carter Brothers Nation in Key West. 

1. Seeing Danny sober and playing great, night after night!danny and tim jan 25 2014sm

2. The successful author talk and book signing featuring Diane Jackman, who gave a great talk about her book Nine Months Ago Was Yesterday, supplemented by brief remarks by other authors who are friends of the Carter Brothers – Kevin May, Ralph DePalma, and myself.  Sally Galbraith did a great job moderating the event, and the Hog’s Breath generously donated space while letting us bring our own food (thanks Emalyn and Rich for supplying so much of it!).

Fellowship, and Great Music Featuring A Special Guest

Created: Monday, 27 January 2014

Another week with the Carter Brothers and their fans is coming to an end, and what a week it was.  In this blog I’ll share about Friday and Saturday, and follow that up with my “top ten memories” next week.danny and tim jan 25 2014sm

Friday began with a traditional BBQ luncheon hosted by friends of the Carter Brothers who winter in Key West and are music lovers and, well, just great people period.  They have the band and a handful of friends over to their condo each January, and it is always a relaxed time of fellowship, laughter, and this year in particular, reflecting on the great music and how well Danny was playing.

Another Night for the Ages

Created: Tuesday, 21 January 2014

It’s always exciting to arrive in Key West when the Carter Brothers are starting a week of shows here, but it is a little unpredictable too.  Some fans cancel last minute, and some show up unexpected.  A few are delayed (including, occasionally, the band itself), due to the vagaries of air travel today.  Especially when the band has a new member (new/old bass player Mark Vernon, who occupied that roll permanently in a much-earlier incarnation of the band but does not play regularly with them now despite his talent, especially as a singer), there are often some kinks to get worked out in the first set.  Throw in that my mother and stepfather were joining me in Key West for the first time in years, and you have a lot of wild cards in the deck! 

Loving the Music & Dancing Till You Drop

Created: Friday, 24 January 2014

Yesterday had all the hallmarks of a letdown day in Key West with the Carter Brothers, especially since the night before ended on such an extraordinary high note with Danny playing the heck out of the “Red Rooster Blues.”  Well, it was not to be.  But I am getting ahead of myself.Jan 2014 3 004sm

After taking care of some work-related responsibilities, as is inevitable for people like us who spend so much time in Key West and with the Carter Brothers Band, we headed over to the Inn at Key West where my mother and stepfather are staying.  That hotel used to be a real dump but it has been remodeled and has a great pool and much more.  We spent a couple of hours there and then went to hear three bands play as a warm-up to the Carter Brothers.  Our friends Peg and Andy Walton from Washington joined us for most of it, and a big group including Tim Carter and his finance Cindy Butler joined for some of the time.  There’s nothing quite like music-surfing in Key West!

Right before the Carter Brothers took the stage – a bit early, I might add, and with no loss of guitar/banjo strings during sound-check for once – Danny told me he felt his energy was low and he could not really follow up with a performance like the last three nights.  I told him I thought that was understandable. Jan 2014 3 001sm

Next thing I know, he’s playing one of the most incredible sets of songs to dance to I have ever heard them play, even surpassing Monday night’s second set.  They were playing very tight while Danny shredded his guitar and the dancers went wild.  I’d forgotten how adaptable Cindy Butler is on the dance floor – she can find an appropriate response to my craziest dance moves, and leave me searching for something even more fun and bizarre!  Welcome back to Key West, Cindy! 

Towards the end of the second set, Danny was asked to play “Red Rooster Blues” again from someone who heard about the “moment in time” performance of it the night before.  Many of us thought a let-down was in order, but Danny nearly matched his playing of the previous night and the crowd – still quite large at 12:50am – went wild all over again.Jan 2014 3 003sm

For the first time all week there was a true third set from 1:30am-2:00am, despite threats earlier in the week from some disgruntled advocates of noise reduction.  Danny, who had every right to be bushed and “phone it in” for this set, played great.  The second to last song was “The Waiting” which elicited a mildly provocative and very fun solo “dance” performed by Cindy in front of Tim, who couldn’t help cracking a smile.  Then we were down to our last song and the band were toying with the idea of playing “Shacktown Road” (never a bad choice) but also asked for suggestions.

Sometimes I have asked for songs that do not work well – hey, I’m not a professional like Danny is, after all – but this time I got it right.  I yelled out “”Jerusalem Moan” and the band played a great version of it and the dance floor filled up one final time for a joyous sing-along and some wild circle dancing, led by our inspirational dance leader, Gay Dougherty. 

It might not have been another “night for the ages,” but it was nonetheless one of the best nights of during the last few years with the band. Jan 2014 3 007sm

Thanks for all of you tuning on the HogCam.  Keep send messages and enjoying from afar as we have the time of our lives with the Carter Brothers and their friends and fans.

-Alex Counts, President, Carter Brothers Fan Club



Alex Counts’ Woefully Incomplete (But Hopefully Still Helpful) Guide to Key West

Created: Monday, 30 December 2013

My wife Emily and I have been going to Key West off and on since we took a day trip there during our 1994 honeymoon.  However, our true love affair with the “Conch Republic” (as many call Key West) began simultaneously with our love affairs with the Carter Brothers Band and live music generally – in January 2007.  We’ve been there a lot since then.    gail sunrise image

Most of our friends realize how important Key West has become to us.  Quite a few have taken trips there and have asked our advice for how to enjoy this 8 square mile slice of paradise.  So I thought it would be a good idea to write down, in one place and in the public domain, my observations and recommendations.  I welcome comments and will update this periodically based on feedback and new insights from future visits. This was first published in late December 2013 and significantly revised in February 2016.

Many have remarked that the island is “gay friendly” and this is true.  But I find it just to be generally “friendly” and tolerant, perhaps because it is populated mainly by people who dropped out of the rat race in other parts of the country and opted for a more bohemian, warm weather, small town existence, often after experiencing Key West on a vacation.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Emily and I move there someday.  The other thing you should know about Key West is that there is more than meets the eye, and when you look closely there are resources and attractions that work well for all generations (e.g., kids, adults and seniors).         

Where to Stay

We have sampled only a small percentage of the places to stay on the island.  In recent years, we have almost always stayed with local friends, taking advantage of the impossibly hospitable nature of most Key West residents.  (Don’t be surprised if you meet locals on your trip and after a return visit or two are invited to stay with your new friends – though it’s always good to take them out to dinner or buy them some wine, a small price to pay compared to even a few days of hotel charges.)

We have stayed at La Concha, the historic Crowne Plaza franchise on Duval Street, and liked it very much.  However, our favorite place is the Pier House with its great location, “Chart Room” bar, waterfront Harbourview Café overlooking a small private beach and a pool, full service “Caribbean Spa”, and more.  Both places can be pricey, especially at any time other than the low season, but it’s great to be downtown (except during spring break, which runs from early March to mid-April, which especially impacts La Concha).  The Pier House recently had a staff shakeup so not sure what the future holds; probably it will remain a great choice for those who can afford it. 

There are many bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) in Key West.  We have stayed at the Andrews Inn a few times and it is a good value for the money.  Friends have recommended the Mango Tree Inn.  My brother stayed at Azul, a boutique hotel that includes a free breakfast not far from downtown, and loved it.  There are quite a few gay friendly B&Bs but I have never heard of straight people ending up at one of them and having a bad experience. As my Key West friends would say, One Human Family, Y'all!

House rentals by the week can be a good choice for a family or group of friends, and there are lots of options in the Truman Annex, which feels intimate and self-contained but is still walking distance from downtown and also the Fort Zachary beach area.  The Gardens Hotel has a good location but is also set apart from the main strip.  D’Vine is its space age wine bar and there is live jazz 5-8pm on Sundays. (You do not have to be a guest to enjoy the wine bar and/or the jazz). 

If you end up on the other side of the island (the area closer to the airport which is generally called “newtown”), where there are some chain hotels of varying quality (the lower end chains can be a bit ragged so check online reviews), you’ll want to rent a bike as an optional way to get around.  Some hotels have shuttles to downtown but they don’t run at all hours.  Cabs are not that expensive in Key West and most of the drivers are quite friendly.

Where To Eat

Key West has lots of restaurants and we have not sampled them all by any means.  We often end up eating “bar food” while listening to music.  Often the best option in such cases is to stick to the quite affordable raw bar selections (at least compared to up north) to go with drinks. 

For a nice meal, excellent options include Louie’s Backyard, where reservations are recommended.  But one can have a drink (anytime up till 1am) and even a meal (at lunchtime) at their picturesque Afterdeck bar.  (They also have an upstairs wine bar serving tapas called the Upper Deck open 5-10pm Tuesday through Sunday.)  Louie's main restaurant is a much better value for money for lunch (compared to dinner) and you get to see (not just hear) the ocean.  Try the Asian Chicken Salad, it's great!  

Michaels Restaurant is another top flight option, with both indoor and outdoor seating, not to mention a frequent diner's program.  Try their meatloaf.  It's a great place to go for a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary.  

Then there’s Santiago’s Bodega with its great tapas, homemade sangria, and impressive wine list, and La Trattoria on Duval Street (the best Italian restaurant on the island – try the bruschetta as an appetizer, the finest I’ve ever had).  Also, Virgilio’s is a music venue connected to La Trattoria.   If you sit at the Virgilio’s bar you can get a full meal off the same menu as the main restaurant (convenient when you show up at “La Trat” and there aren’t tables available, you just want a quick meal, or you feel underdressed for the main restaurant).  But if you want to eat the Virgilio's bar, get there close to 7pm when it opens or you might have to wait for a seat.  

For martini lovers, “Martini Mondays” with live music at Virgilios are very popular (in fact, they have live music every night of the week).  The Roof Top Café is terrific and some say it has the best key lime pie (perhaps Key West’s signature dish) on the island.  I would avoid Bagatelle on Duval Street despite its good food and excellent location because service is almost always lacking; if you do eat there, sit at the bar and it might work out OK.  Alonzo’s, which is part of the A & B Lobster House, has good food and great half price appetizers during happy hour (4:00-6:30pm daily) – locals flock there.  (Best to get to Alonzo’s right at 4pm if you want a table outside overlooking the harbor.)    

A classic eatery with a great island vibe is Blue Heaven.  Sunday brunch is a specialty.  The service can be hit or miss but it’s a place one almost has to visit once.  B.O.’s Fishwagon is a funky, no frills place to eat seafood that sometimes has live music – Friday evenings are especially good for enjoying fried fish and great tunes.  A friend with high standards for food says this about B.O.’s: “Perfectly tacky island decor, great people watching seating, best fish sandwich on the island, as well as the best cheeseburger, and also the best coleslaw (very fresh!).”

The Sunday brunch buffet at the Westin Hotel’s Bistro 245 is pricey but I think you get a lot of great food (and drink) for what you pay.  For more modest budgets, Harpoon Harry’s is a terrific way to get things going in the morning.  Sarabeth’s is excellent and in between the Westin and Harpoon Harry’s, price-wise.  

Speaking of breakfast options, Camille's, located at 1202 Simonton Street, is known to serve a great morning meal and as a result gets crowded early in the day.  For lunch and dinner, I have had more mixed experiences, though on one occasion when a boat captain friend brought fresh catch and asked the cooks to "indulge themselves" I had one of my best meals ever in Key West, so consider that if you go fishing.  

A nice place to get a drink and an appetizer in the afternoon is at the Ocean Key Resort’s  Sunset Pier at the foot of Duval Street, on the Gulf of Mexico.  It is across the street from the Pier House and has live music at sunset every night. 

The best desserts in Key West, and perhaps anywhere, can be found at the provocatively-named Better Than Sex – reservations are essential.  

A good way to save money on drinks and meals at about a dozen local establishments is to buy the Key West Bar Card and Restaurant Card.  They can be purchased online in advance (allow time for it to be shipped to you) or I believe you can still buy it in many local liquor stores.   

 

 The Live Music Scene

Some say there are 50 live music venues in Key West, while others cite a figure more like 35.  Well, for an island this size it’s a big number, with no cover charges anywhere and the quality of the musicians generally excellent.  Some places like the Hog’s Breath Saloon have three shifts of music per day, starting at 1pm and concluding at 2am.  That amounts to more than one thousand performances per year at a single venue!  Other places tend to have one or two musicians per day.  Some like the Green Parrot have music a few nights during the week and then two shows on weekends including their immensely popular “soundchecks” that feature great bands playing 5:30pm-7:00pm, something locals who can’t stay up late especially appreciate. 

green-parrot-bar-in-key-west-susanne-van-hulstHere is a rundown of my favorite music venues.   Full disclosure: I appreciate places that play a lot of music, regularly bring in out of town bands while also featuring the best local talent, are intimate and ideally open air, have good sound systems, have bands that play a lot of original songs, and have attentive bartenders, waitstaff and bouncers.  Most of the places listed below post who is playing up to two months in advance on their websites, and they keep those schedules pretty well updated.

For anyone going to Key West at least in part to enjoy the music, buying the book The Soul of Key West by Ralph De Palma before you go or once you arrive is a wise investment.  It tells the story of the music scene there, including profiles of some of the best local musicians and venues, better than I have ever seen.  (In early 2016, Ralph came out with a second book in his "Soul" series that covers dozens of artists not featured in his first book.  Both are must-reads for those interested in the Key West music scene.)

Hog’s Breath Saloon:  Some of my friends seem a little down on “the Hog” (though some call it “the Breath”), but it’s still the first place I go if I end up in Key West randomly with no knowledge of who is playing where, and just want the best chance of hearing great music, dancing, and meeting up with music-loving friends and making new ones.  It’s intimate, with the stage only slightly elevated so the musicians are right there with you.  There is usually a nice mixture of tourists, locals, wedding parties, and assorted music lovers and not a few staff who just completed their shifts and move to the other side of the bar (always a good sign).  Art Levin and before him, the legendary Charlie Bauer, book great bands consistently.  If the area near the stage is too crowded, you can enjoy the music from the parking lot and the staff don’t hassle you if you bring a drink from home or another bar.  They have recently upgraded the bathrooms, barstools and wiring for the stage – long overdue but certainly important improvements appreciated by customers.hog logo

During the day (i.e., 1-5pm) I love to grab one of the two tables in front of the stage and sit for hours while musicians such as Joel Nelson and Barry Cuda play.  If you are going to a late shift and want a barstool for prime viewing, get there by 9:45pm.  Then don’t be surprised if you end up dancing with a friend or stranger, perhaps even with me!  Speaking to both the funky nature of “the Hog” and the island in general, I have seen this place’s small dance floor populated by a group including a couple of German tourists, a harmless local homeless guy who happens to love music, an elegant and successful Key West real estate saleslady, some die-hard fans of the band that was playing, a guy in his 80s, a smattering of 20 and 30-somethings, and my wife.  

Green Parrot: The Parrot (or the “Dirty Bird” as some locals affectionately call it) is a great place for a late-night drink after playing or watching music, as it is open until 4am and is the quintessential locals bar in Key West.  It’s own music offerings are regularly exceptional.  While the Parrot has fewer bands playing in any given week compared to the Hog’s Breath and several other venues, the quality and variety of local and visiting bands playing at the Parrot is unmatched on the island.  The dance floor is a bit nebulous – where exactly does it start and  end? – but functional (and often quite fun).  The bands are a little more separated from the crowd than at the Hog, but not by much. 

Bands playing at the Parrot start at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and occasionally on Sundays too.  But that’s not all.  Except in the slowest part of the year, the Parrot has Sunday jazz with bartenders serving custom-made Bloody Mary’s in the afternoon.  There’s an always-fun Ukulele night at least one Wednesday per month. sept 2012 key west 006sm

Last but certainly not least, several years ago Green Parrot Managing Partner John Vagnoni started a tradition of “soundchecks” which take place on every Friday and Saturday from 5:30pm to about 7:00pm.  (Occasionally he throws in a soundcheck on Thursday or Sunday, too.)  For locals who can’t stay up late to hear some of the great bands that pass through the Parrot, soundchecks are extremely popular.  Sometimes they feature the same bands playing at 10pm, other times popular local groups like Bill Blue’s band.  It’s always packed with people spilling out onto the sidewalk, so get there early.   

Sloppy Joe’s: This famous and historic bar, which the locals tend to call “Sloppy’s”, books some great local performers during the day and early evening, catering mostly to tourists.  The bands play a mixture of original, classic old-time and crowd-pleasing music and sometimes people create an impromptu dance floor between the dining tables.  The late bands tend to feature young groups playing loud modern music that seems to thrill the 20-something set but that’s not my kind of thing.  More power to them, but you won’t find me there after 9:30pm. 

Schooner Wharf: Schooner’s is a great place to enjoy a drink and the raw bar offerings.  The bar food is a bit better than its competition.  (Friends rave about the ahi tuna nachos, for example.)  Breakfast is also served there daily.  Schooner’s books three performers a day.  Some of their midshift (late afternoon to 8pm or so) and late (8pm-1am) performers are quite good, regularly featuring the Paul Cotton Band as he is now a local.  (Paul was the lead singer-songwriter for the band Poco that was hugely popular in the 70s and still has many fans around the world today.)  During one of our pre-2007 trips to Key West we wandered by Schooners and heard some Latin fusion music by a nine-piece band from Colorado called Cabaret Diosa and danced all night long.  We still listen to their CD “Voodoo Piñata” today! (Though the group has sadly disbanded.)  Unfortunately, even the best venues like Schooners are getting a little stingier with what they pay bands, so such big groups are a rarity today, but Key West still pays musicians better than most towns (especially among those without a culture of cover charges).    

Smokin Tuna Saloon: Some years ago, what is now the Smokin’ Tuna was called El Alamo and catered mostly to a young (even, perish the thought, underage) crowd that went for $1 PBR specials.  But when Charlie Bauer, the genius who made the Hog’s Breath what it is today, left there he took over this venue and the Smokin Tuna Saloon was born.  It has excellent music, usually two shifts per day (and sometimes three), and is spacious with great staff.  (On the occasion of my 19th wedding anniversary, the band and staff conspired with our friends to throw a hugely fun surprise party for us, and amazingly allowed champagne to be brought in from outside!)  The food is more or less what you get at the Hog's Breath -- good bar food and a raw bar.  The only downside is that in the warmest months, air does not circulate that well, so it can get quite hot, but they have found ways to manage this to some degree. 

Conch Republic Seafood Company: The restaurant serves traditional bar food, plus some nicer higher end items that are quite tasty.  Where the music is played is essentially an open-air sports bar, but the performers are often some of the town’s best.  It is located on Harborwalk, a short distance from Schooner’s.  

Island Dogs: This is a bar around the corner from the Hog’s Breath that has a single shift of live music most nights, some of it excellent. 

Rum Barrel: Check out the roof on this restaurant/bar themed around Philadelphia area sports teams and, you guessed it, rum.  There is live music nightly on the roof.

Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon Resort:  They are currently putting the finishing touches on a full renovation of the Sunset Tiki Bar, which has always been a pleasant place to have a drink and listen to music.  The regulars have renamed it Sunset Tiki 2.0. Located on Front Street, atop the water, they have bar food and a daily happy hour, and have recently added more music shifts. Various local musicians play each evening and now some afternoons. It is a local gem with a sunset view, unmatched on the Gulf.  (Friends of mine stay at the Galleon on some kind of time-share thing every winter and love the condos they get, though they complain a bit about the music which is probably too loud given the proximity.)  

In recent times I have come to enjoy the music at Grunts (though the small space for the band and audience gives new meaning to the term "intimate venue" but they have live bands every night but Monday), and the Porch (especially Saturday nights featuring the amazing rockabilly band Patrick and the Swayzees), and the Little Room Jazz Club, which is under new management that has vastly improved the experience of going there and has developed a great following of music lovers.  Grunts has a burrito food cart on site (in the back) that serves up very tasty food until 9pm each night -- I had the shrimp burrito the other night and it was outstanding.    

Also check out McConnells Irish Pub for live music Friday night.  

The local musicians I try hardest to see when I am in town are Ericson Holt (the island's best keyboardist, who plays solo or as part of Holt-McAdam), Jeff Clark (solo, with various sidemen, or as part of the band Key Limie Pirates), Barry Cuda (often playing with Kenny Fradley), “Caffeine Carl” Wagoner (a gentle giant of a man and also the island's best guitar player), Deb Hudson, Bill Blue, Larry Baeder, the Paul Cotton Band, The Bubba System (which plays great classic rock on Fridays and Saturdays at Grunts) and Joel Nelson (who has a regular gig at the Hog’s Breath 1-5pm, Tuesday-Thursday).  The out of town bands I try to see besides the Carter Brothers are the Stacy Brooks Band from Washington, DC and the Mike Veal Band (which plays only covers but does them so well!) from Atlanta.  There are lots of other great local and visiting musicians.  

And as mentioned above, the hottest new band to start playing on the island (and, increasingly, beyond it) in 2015 was Patrick and the Swayzees and their funky rockabilly vibe that is playful and fun, and incredible to dance to.  Check them out and bring dancing shoes for sure!

Let me review a few of the things I do and don’t do when listening to music in Key West (or anywhere).  I pay attention to the performer if they are giving any kind of effort whatsoever, and make sure to put some money in the tip jar before I leave (especially if I request a song and they play it).  (While Key West pays musicians better than many places, it is no king’s ransom and some of these people are scraping together money to put their children through school on an island where livings costs are high.)  I almost never leave (even to the bathroom) during a song and try to stay seated for each entire set (which usually lasts 40-60 minutes).  Don’t pick up any of the musicians' instruments to play with while they are performing or on break.  I buy CDs if I like the music and thank the band when they are on breaks (and if they seem open to conversation, I usually take the opportunity, and if not, I let them get a mental rest).  If I am alone or my wife doesn’t want to dance, I look for women “toe-tappers” (to use a term I learned from my friend Joan Robbins pictured below on the right with my wife and me) and ask them onto the dance floor, which sometimes prompts others to throw their inhibitions aside and jump into the action.  (For more on my views about how to appreciate, support and otherwise "consume" live music, check out this blog post.)      

em alex and joan ross rocks smIf you are looking for a place to go for a drink other than the Green Parrot between 2am and 4am, try Don’s Place, a classic Key West dive bar.  (I’ve also seen Don’s open past 4am, though on its website it says closing time is 4am.)  But first get a slice of pizza at Mr. Z’s, about a block from the Parrot, just off Duval Street.  Yum! – and an excellent way to replenish after a night of dancing.  And if you are visiting from Europe or just want to see where the European expats go to dance, visit the Groove Lounge which is part of the Bottlecap, a good locals bar where my friend Steve Mellette slings drinks every Monday night.

Getting There and Getting Around

Flying into Key West is easiest and the airport has been upgraded but still has small-town charm.  Cabs from the airport to downtown hotels are reasonable and rarely is there much of a wait. 

Flying into Miami or Fort Lauderdale (which is often the cheapest) and renting a car is fun and can save a fair amount of money, especially for a group.  Another option is flying into Fort Myers and taking a high speed ferry which makes the trip in 3 ½ hours (though sometimes the ferry is grounded for a day or two at a time due to weather and high seas). 

Once you are there, renting a car in Key West is more or less unnecessary.  If you want to go up the Keys to see the Seven Mile Bridge or Bahia Honda State Park, just rent a car for the day.  Parking downtown is a hassle or costly.  Consider renting a bike or taking cabs.  A friend who owns the Red Door Gallery on 812 Caroline Street also rents bikes for reasonable prices, but there are many other places to rent on the island.  At night, it is best to use a headlight and rear light when on bikes to avoid accidents and tickets from the police. 

Beaches

For years I heard that Key West’s one flaw was that it did not have great beaches.  Unless your standard is absurdly high, I think this criticism is unwarranted.  Check out Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, which has a terrific beach with a concession stand, picnic tables, barbeque grills, friendly park rangers, and various gear for playing in the water which is loaned out for free.  Higgs State Beach can be found between the Casa Marina Resort and White Street Pier, where there is a great three-walled restaurant called Salute at the Beach (also referenced above) that opens onto the beach and from which one can see the beach and the ocean, and sometimes excellent amateur beach volleyball.  Salute has live music most evenings.  

Activities

There are several companies, including Fury Water Adventures, which have boats that take you out for a day on the water or for a sunset cruise with live music.  Then there are day trips up the Keys or to the Dry Tortugas.  If you want to learn about catching trophy fish from a kayak, contact Randy Morrow, kayak fishing guide, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit his Facebook page Lower Keys Kayak Fishing. Randy is also a verty busy performing drummer in the Keys; in fact, I think he is one of the best drummers I have seen play anywhere.

There are some cool tourist things to do but I haven’t done them in years.  One that I recall fondly was the tour of the Little White House where President Truman took vacations during his terms as president.  There is the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, the Key West Lighthouse, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (that just now have a couple of beautiful Flamingos), the Hemingway Home and Museum, the Customs House and the Martello Towers.  The Conch Tour Train is a good way to get to know the island and especially good for those with mobility issues; another option is the Old Town Trolleyconch train image

Of course the daily Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square with all manner of performer and vendor is something every visitor should do at least once.  Adjacent to Mallory Square is El Meson de Pepe with an ample bar and restaurant. There is music there by Caribe, Key West's best salsa band.

Rich Houde, a friend, is one of the most experienced fishing boat captains on the island and can take people out for a day or half day on the ocean.  If interested, contact him at Southbound Sportfishing.  Some restaurants will cook what you catch if you bring it to them. Rich can advise on where that is possible.

There are public tennis and bocce ball courts, and lots of options for jogging. 

My wife loves to get together with some of her girlfriends and head to “Nailtini” once per trip for, you guessed it – getting their nails done while sipping martinis.  I have yet to be invited but hope springs eternal! 

On a rainy or very hot day, you can check out a movie at the Tropic Cinema, which has been rated the “best cinema in Florida.” 

Of course, no trip would be complete without attending a drag show. After all, it is Key West. You have your choice between Aqua (where we went once and had a blast), the 801 Bourbon Bar or La Te Da, all located on Duval St. and all top notch entertainment.  

While not quite as numerous as bars, there are many places to worship in Key West.  I have joined Peace Covenant Presbyterian Church as an affiliate member, and it's a welcoming congregration.  Friends of mine, when they lived on the island, were members of the local Unitarian Church and had a good experience.  

 

Special Events

Lots of people come to Key West for spring break (though not a great time for people well removed from their teens and 20s) and New Year’s Eve (hotels are quite expensive, and good luck finding a cab at 3am!).  Better choices are the annual Songwriter’s Festival in the spring and Fantasy Fest, Key West’s rather outrageous version of carnival/mardi gras that takes place during the days immediately before Halloween.  There are weddings year round – in fact, Key West is the said to be the second most popular “destination wedding” location in the country. 

Other Notable Resources

My friend Donna Nelson (Joel’s wife) owns the best toy store in town, Imagination Station.  (She also opens up an adult costume shop called “Fantasy Costumes” in advance of Fantasy Fest.)    While there are chain grocery stores like Publix and Winn Dixie a couple of miles from downtown, more convenient for many is Faustos, which has two downtown locations and has most of what tourists will need, including a surprisingly good wine selection.  If you need your clothes cleaned, try Hilltop Laundry at 629 Eaton Street – they have coin-operated machines and also a wash & fold service.  If you need clothes dry cleaned … you came to the wrong city!  (Seriously, though, I have used Spotless Dry Cleaners a few times and they are good, and even open for a few hours on Sunday.)  There are a few gyms in town that sell day passes, including Old Town Fitness, Island Gym and (more towards the airport) Paradise Health and Fitness (for each, day passes go for $15).  If you want to buy or send flowers, try Mama Flowers and Love in Bloom.  If you want to learn to dance (swing, salsa, you name it), try Lucy Carleton, who taught Emily and me.  She offers private lessons and classes for groups at very reasonable prices.

I am not a big shopper or art lover, but there are some great studios on the upper end of Duval Street, on the opposite end from where the Pier House is.  Also, there are some nice shops on Lazy Way, down the road from Schooner’s towards Duval Street, including one selling incredible photography by my immensely talented friend Alicia Renner

Please send feedback or additions to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or post it on this blog in the comments section.  Thank you!  (And a special thanks to friends who reviewed a draft of this, including Gail Hardy, Randy Morrow, Donna Nelson, Alicia Renner, Carolyn Fox, Emily Counts, Peg Walton and especially Pati Wilson-Crimmins.)

The Triumphant Return of the "Red Rooster Blues" (and the DRC)

Created: Thursday, 23 January 2014

Two more days and nights have passed since my first blog about this incredible week in Key West with the Carter Brothers Band.  So much has happened, it’s hard to know where to start.  In the early evening on Tuesday, many of us attended an author talk and book signing featuring Diane Jackman and her book of loss and healing, Nine Months Ago Was Yesterday, and four other authors who are friends of the Carter Brothers: Sally Galbraith, Kevin May, Ralph De Palma, and myself.  There was a great turnout and thanks especially to Emalyn Mercer, who supplied most of the food despite being under the weather, and the Hog’s Breath Saloon that hosted us for free.  Sally was our MC and did a fabulous job, and Danny, Tim and Dann Sherrill all came to listen and show support for their author-fans.  (By the way, all the Facebook messages from fans around the world who could not be here but are tuning in are great to get -- keep them coming!  I saw Danny reading one commenting on his playing of "Red Rooster" at 1:45am last night as he relaxed near the band closet -- more on the performance of "Red Rooster" below. )diane jan 2014sm

For several fans, we began our music-loving odyssey on Tuesday by taking in Ericson Holt and Mike McAdam, friends of the Carter Brothers who are doing a midshift Holt-McAdam duo as a terrific warm-up for our heroes.  They play a great blues/folk rock type of fusion music, much of it original off of their own CDs.  It’s certainly a great way to pass a few hours in the early evening in Key West.  That was followed by another longer-than-usual and very vigorous first set by the Carter Brothers.

During that set, there were moments when the dance floor was full, and others when the large crowd sat back and listened intently to the mostly original music the Carter Brothers were playing.  By the end, even the crowd seemed to need a break, so when they played “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder,” I thought Gail Hardy, my tireless dancing buddy, and I would have the dance floor to ourselves.  Suddenly, people were coming out of the woodwork to take in the unique and almost entrancing version of this John Hiatt song and the dance floor was as full as it had been all night.  (Danny talked about how they love to cover that song in an interview I did with him and Tim last year.)  Jan 2014 2 011sm

The second set featured a lot of the best Carter Brothers songs, played nearly flawlessly to a crowd that remained large until the band took a short break at 1:20am.  At that point, the Hog’s Breath and our heroes got caught up in a current Key West political drama about permissible noise levels so there was no third set.  This dispute erupted because of a conflict between a church and its penchant for loud singing on Sunday mornings and their neighbors, but is now leading to consideration of some draconian measures that would severely limit what could be played on Duval Street.  Hopefully this great live music town will find some solution that makes sense.

Wednesday included taking in some music at Sloppy Joe’s, where local talent Jeff Clark was playing with Wayne Hammonds and Randy Morrow, and then the final set and a half by Holt-McAdam.  Then the Carter Brothers took the stage. 

One thing I noticed is that when they played Shelby Street to start off the night, the dance floor was populated by people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and at least one person in his 70s.  Talk about music that speaks to people across generations!  They went from there to Green River, Shacktown Road and Woman and the Well.  Yikes – they were barely 25 minutes into their set and we had heard four of the greatest songs they have ever written! 

The second set was one I will remember for a long time.  There are too many highlights to pack into my blog, but at one point towards the end, Danny mentioned that a friend had requested the song “The Red Rooster Blues” (also known as “Red Rooster”).  This is the song that hooked me on the band 7 years ago, and I wondered how it would turn out since I am not sure they had played it since early August. Jan 2014 2 006sm

Well, Danny played and sang incredibly well, giving a virtuoso performance that people were still talking about at 3am (and it wasn’t just me, and it included the entire rest of the band, who like me were flabbergasted at Danny’s performance and continuing to talk about it as they ate late night pizza).  Among other things, he improvised guitar licks and lyrics on the fly that fit in beautifully.  Danny simply played as well as I have ever seen him play.  There were amazing guitar solos that had Tim working hard just to keep up (and that's saying something!). 

The band followed that up with an incredible version of “Midnight Moonlight” that my wife never dances to (she loves to stand back and watch the banjo and guitar solos) – except for last night.  Too much fun! 

It’s great to see Danny Carter playing and singing as well, and as joyfully, as he has in years, perhaps ever.  With the weather warming up after the temperatures dipped into the upper 50s last night, the amazing music we’ve heard so far this week portends well for what is to follow.

(All photo credits to the blog author, Alex Counts, except the first photo of Diane Jackman, which was taken by Rhonda Skains.)

Interview with Danny and Tim (part 2)

Created: Sunday, 08 December 2013

This is part two of an interview conducted by Carter Brothers Fan Club President Alex Counts earlier this year in the Carter Brothers studio outside Nashville, TN.  Part one was published on this blog earlier.  

AC: How do you describe the concept of your concept record, “Road to Roosky”?Danny and Tim Feb 09sm

DC: We wanted to delve more into the blues.  Pretty simple.  But we didn’t want it to be a strictly blues record either.  We wanted it to sound like us.  All of the songs fit together really well on that album.  We really had some direction.  Having our own studio is a real advantage, it allows us to talk about an album a lot and take our time recording.  It seems like our past really came together in that one record.  It was frustrating because in the past people would ask us, “What do you call this kind of music you play?”

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