Bob Dylan loves Key West. In fact, the legendary singer-songwriter immortalizes it as “the enchanted land” and “land of light” in “Key West (Philosopher Pirate),” a ballad on his new album “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” And a bar stool with his name on it can still be found at Capt. Tony’s Saloon.
Many books about the Florida Keys are so well crafted that they seemingly transport readers to the island chain — portraying it so vividly that it’s almost possible to feel the humidity and smell the salt air. During this time of COVID-19 travel restrictions, what books provide the best “virtual visit” to the Keys?
Authors, playwrights, composers and poets have been lured to Key West by its one-of-a-kind environment of creativity, natural beauty and sometimes eccentric qualities — making it the muse for some of their most acclaimed career accomplishments. Those entranced by the island have included Tennessee Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Terrence McNally and Jerry Herman.
While travel and socialization are largely at a standstill nationwide, one aspect of Florida Keys residents’ lives continues to flourish: their creativity. The Keys are home to artisan sandal makers, jewelry designers, producers of island-inspired beers and spirits, beekeepers and confectioners, and people whose passion is ceramics, woodcarving, metalwork, fine crafts and more.
Key West’s sunset is famed for its spectacular colors over the Gulf of Mexico, and for the nightly Mallory Square celebration that salutes it. Sunday, March 8, the South Florida Symphony presents a full-scale musical tribute to the colorful phenomenon: the Key West world premiere of John Gottsch’s orchestral symphonic poem titled “Sunset.”
Artists are drawn to the Florida Keys because of the islands’ deeply-hued, richly colorful natural scenery and an intensively creative spirit that infuses the local culture. Artistry flourishes throughout the island chain, and the winter season brings unusual new ways for aficionados to enjoy it — including enticing art strolls, classes and intriguing experiences.
Among the “stewards” who safeguard the Keys’ natural world are scores of local artists working in oils, watercolors, photography, mixed media, sculpture and other disciplines. By using their talent to depict and call attention to the Keys’ unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna, they subtly inspire viewers to become passionate about protecting them.
The seafaring spirit, vibrant marinas, renegade arts emporiums and inviting waterfront bars and restaurants of Stock Island will be showcased Dec. 13-15 during the I Love Stock Island Festival. The festival celebrates Stock Island’s culture and heritage with yummy culinary offerings, art studio tours, a holiday boat parade, live music and much more.
Incredible as it may seem, the 2019 holidays are sneaking up fast. And in the Florida Keys, they’re celebrated with festivities that range from traditional to eccentric — with, of course, a unique island twist. Throughout November and December, visitors can find events designed to jingle their bells all around the holiday-loving Keys communities.
Fantasy Fest, Key West’s internationally renowned masking and costuming festival, offers both outrageous revelry and a unique showcase for artists — illustrators who create vivid poster and T-shirt designs, body painters who use the human form as their canvas and a local talent exhibiting immersive graffiti-inspired images. There’s even a self-guided art and bar stroll.