Changing of the Guard

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Changing of the Guard – a melting pot of talent

Miles Mancuso. Tony Baltimore, Ross Brown are part of the change.

During the early years of rock ‘n’ roll, music artists became overnight sensations and made money beyond their wildest dreams. Today, that doesn’t seem to be happen as often.

Turner Harrison and Nick Brownell doing their part.

Thankfully, one area of the music business that is alive and well is live music. Live performances in clubs, theaters, or large venues is healthy, fresh, and attracting new blood. The musicians and vocalists always get paid. Maybe not ‘beyond their wildest dreams’ but many are able to make a good living doing what they love.

The award winning Cantina Band are bringing a new vibe to Key West.

Not every town or city has the benefit of a thriving live music scene. Few other cities can boast but one of the best kept live music secrets in the country -Key West. A tiny four-mile-long island in the American Caribbean that hosts over 50 venues for live music and over 17,000 live performances annually. The number is very conservative as many venues do not even publish a music schedule to count. The number does not include private parties and weddings.

Musicians of all stripes can make a living playing music for an audience that includes a million tourists annually. There are second and third generations of musicians living in Key West. Music thrives in Key West.

A reunion of sorts of Les Greene and Patrick Stecher at the Green Parrot

Over the past decade many of our Key West musicians have moved on or passed away. A new group of musicians have moved into town, and some of the others have moved up in stature to fill the voids.

For the past four decades, names like Coffee Butler, Bill Blue, Mike Gillis, Harry Chipchase, Edwar Weech, Buddy Chavez, Richard Crooks, Franko Richmond, Paul Cotton, have been the music leaders but all have passed on. Other Key West pillars of the music scene like Dan Simpson and Melody Cooper, Din Allen, Barry Cuda, Michael McCloud, Deb Hudson, Harry Schroeder, Vicki Roush, Chris Case, Bobby Nesbitt, Laura Black and Russ Scavelli, Richie Ciavolino, Terry Cassidy, the Carter Brothers, Chris Burchard, and others have either left Key West, or retired.

A group of newer players help celebrate the famous Bill Blue Soundchecks

These music artists have left a gaping hole in the Key West entertainment repertoire. Coffee’s magic is no longer. Bill Blue’s soundchecks are sorely missed. George Victory’s booming vocals are no longer heard, no one sees Cuda pushing a 400-lb. piano down the streets. Bobby Nesbitt’s isn’t playing old jazz standards with Leonard Bernstein sitting on his piano bench. Terry Cassidy’s banjo is missed. Recently Michael McCloud’s unique vocals and music blends are no more.

The Sweet Petronias laying down some Gypsy Swing.

Kristen McNamara in that zone.

There are many young and talented musicians that have made Key West there home. They are trying to fill the huge void. A few have stepped up to music leadership roles. Younger players that are now the avant guard of the music scene. Many are following in the path of their former Key West brethren. They take their inspirations and use the music magic that the former players gained from their music mentors.


Many of the old timers in Key West make comments like “you should have been here in the 70s” or “the music in Key West was much better in the 80s” (full disclosure: I’m old but don’t consider myself an old timer). Barry Cuda once told me during a break at the iconic BO’s Fish Wagon, “Key West music hasn’t peaked yet.” That was ten years ago. I like to tell folks the Key West live music scene is stronger than it has ever been. New and younger musicians are bringing new ideas and new energy to Key West.

The great Key West guitarist Mike Gillis once said: “People are dying for good music, even if it’s not world class. If it’s just organized, they’ll love it.” There has been a changing of the guard of the Key West music scene. There will be a few, of the hundreds of Key West musicians that stand out more than others. New licks and riffs will be played. New music will be produced and recorded. There will be new stars that will shine brightly. There will be new songs that become frequent requests.

Music permeates Key West right down to the coral rock. The soul of Key West is a combination of its music core and the One Human Family juju that charms the spirit of Key West life. A melting pot of talent blends the harmony of the soul of Key West.

Time for group. A reunion of older members of the Bubba System and newer Key West performers sharing the same stage.


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