On the drive, over concrete bridges, past fences strung along Highway 1 to protect the Key deer, you feel it, the gradual change from the real world to the end of it. I can’t say if that’s true if you fly in. I suspect not. You might see the way the water changes color, from one to another kind of blue, but I doubt you’d feel it. Distance tends to dull, hits a mute button just at the solo you should be listening to.
The collision of the road and the sky in Key West leaves no distance. That might be why the locals communicate the way they do, direct and close. Before I could set down my laptop bag, a boat captain at the diner counter asked if I was in town for the Songwriter’s Festival. When I told him I’d be writing about it, he opened the local paper, The Citizen, and showed me a letter he’d written. He ordered a Cuban ham-and-egg sandwich but only ate half, and spoke in a language of water, of masts and sails and how the wind would affect the money he could make today. The waitress showed me a silver coin she wears on a chain around her neck, given to her in appreciation for allowing a man to run out on his bar tab for twenty-five years. They both said they might see me down on Ocean Key Sunset Pier. The hippie in a gauze shirt and Birkenstocks ordered egg whites and wheat toast and said he liked that guitar man who’d be kicking off the festival.
I first heard of Gary Clark, Jr. while watching the Kennedy Center Honors. Tonight, I heard him live. What looked to a Carolina mountain girl to be a pirate ship dropped anchor to hear him play on the pier. I wondered if he gets tired of the comparisons to Hendrix, to Clapton. Musicians in town, who’ll play on stages of their own in the days to come, nodded their heads in appreciation for “Please Come Home.” A songwriter said, “He needs to do a couple of my songs.” Two girls near me wondered aloud if Gary had a girlfriend but a third told them he did, that she was a jewelry designer and beautiful. She knew because she had seen it on Facebook.
The World Famous Headliners are playing below the office where I write. I can see the crowd through the windows of The Smokin’ Tuna, their shoulders keeping time to the music, glasses in hand. Michael Rhodes is the bass player. We talked about literature this afternoon. Cormac McCarthy is his favorite. I am bound to disappoint him.
From a diner to a pier to a saloon on my first day of the Key West Songwriter’s Festival. I looked for the captain, the waitress and the hippie on the pier, but never did see them. Maybe tomorrow