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Trip Report Key West Weekend

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Key West long weekend…
So here’s the setup … the big Christmas present for DH this year was 4 days in Key West, scheduled around the annual Conch Republic Days celebration (bed races, ship to ship food fights, street festivals, pirate balls… who could ask for more?). Although we normally prefer to stay in one of the wonderful guest house complexes there, we got a killer deal at the Hyatt on Front Street that was too good to pass up. So, hop on a plane at 6 am, dash through a quick and painless connection in MIA, and we were in KW by 10:30. When we landed we found out that we were there on a double bonus weekend, since the annual Songwriters Festival was also going on (usually the two events are NOT on the same weekend). Sensory overload! Plans were thrown out the window as groups of amazing songwriters were doing 4 and even 5 hour sets at little bars all through Old Town, seemingly all day and all night.

So… let the festivities begin. Check in, drop bags, then lunch at the Raw Bar and a quick afternoon swim in the pool before heading to Duval Street for a little meandering. Headed for the Green Parrot, and were very disappointed to see that the Meteor (the barbecue place that was next to the Parrot) had closed, replaced by a pizza place. Very sad. The main regret of the trip (thinking back on it later) was missing the songwriter gig at Blue Heaven that afternoon – no excuse except that a 4 am alarm clock made a nap sound really good, so it was back to the hotel. Sunset walking through Mallory (which seemed especially crowded for a Thursday, btw) we were sad to see that our favorite performer – the highwire dog – was no longer there. Damn but a lot of things have changed in 2 years! Sunset was spectacular though, with the slightest hint of a flash.

After sunset, we managed to get a table at Bagatelle for a spectacular dinner, then wandered up Duval for a songwriter show at Irish Kevin’s at 10. Stayed for a couple of hours, then went to the top of La Concha to try to see the Southern Cross. This was the other reason for booking KW for this time of year – it is one of the few times that the Southern Cross is visible in the KW sky, low on the southern horizon at about midnight. Alas, there is too much ambient light to see anything from La Concha, but then we went to the pier at the end of Duval (you know, the one where they lock the gate but you can still walk out if you walk through the beach?), and from the end of the pier it was dark enough. Yes, I can cross The Cross off of my list of things to see. Back to the hotel and bed.

Friday. Breakfast at Southernmost Beach Café (I love breakfast here on the quiet end of Duval, looking out at the water), then a few quiet hours at Fort Zachary Beach, swimming and relaxing under the pine trees – quite possibly my favorite place in KW. Late lunch of grouper sammiches at B.O.’s, then back to Duval for the 4pm show at Sloppy Joe’s. Normally I never set foot in Sloppy’s, but this show is too good to pass up – 6 or 7 songwriters, including Robert Earl Keen, ended up playing for more than 4 hours. Between sets I ran down to the harbor to catch a glimpse of one of the main attractions of the weekend – the harbor Bloody Battle (think ship to ship food fight). If I had known what the schedule really was at the Sloppy show I could have planned better, but I did manage to see the biplanes drop toilet paper bombs and didn’t miss any of Robert Earl. Afterwards, we migrated over to the Schooner Wharf to catch the official Surrender Ceremony and jam to a great jazz band.

Saturday. Breakfast at Southernmost again, then decided to spend the day on Duval, wandering through all of the great art shops on Upper Duval (Gingerbread Gallery is still my favorite) and sipping an obligatory Pain in the Ass at the Flying Monkey, before settling in near 801 to watch the Bed Races. Where else in the world will the police shut down the main street in town for bed races in the middle of the day? I love this town. Late afternoon – hotel, back to the pool for a quick dip, and then to Alonzo’s to catch the last 30 minutes of their legendary happy hour before wandering back to Mallory for sunset. As we were walking past the Island Dog Bar we found that the songwriter show that started at 3 pm was still going on (it is now after 6:30). We listened for a while, then made it to Mallory in time for one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. So clear in front of the setting sun that it puddled into the water and sent a beam across the water all the way back to the pier, and then next to it, just over a couple of the mangrove islands, was a huge thunderhead with a waterspout coming out of it. Insane. After sunset, we wandered back toward the Island Dog and the show was still going, but they have reached the point that they are just playing because they are having fun… imagine some of the most talented songwriters and musicians in the country sitting around playing Steve Miller Band covers. The guitar bridge in The Joker has never sounded so good! Finally, we drag ourselves around the Bight to see the setup for the big Robert Earl Keen concert that evening, and lo and behold they have decided NOT to put up the tent they had been threatening to (I guess someone finally convinced them that it would be 110 degrees inside), so even the uninvited (or unticketed) will be able to hear and see the big concert just fine under the stars. The show hasn’t started yet, so we made it over to the Schooner for the Pirate Ball, and watched the pirate and wench competitions before heading back to take in the Robert Earl show (with his full band, and Raul Malo even came on with him for an encore – score!). It was a perfect night. Although it is still only midnight, we wander back the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday. Last day, but we have managed to score a late checkout so we aren’t worried about packing up yet. Breakfast at Blue Heaven for an absolutely heavenly lobster omelet, then a leisurely couple of hours at the pool, before checking out and heading over to the Schooner for a last long lunch before heading for the airport. Once again the airplane gods were kind, and we managed to make our connections just in time. All in all, a terrific trip!

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