When the Key Western Fest kicks off Tuesday in Key West — the third music festival in as many weeks centered around the town’s Coffee Butler Amphitheater — it’ll feature a lineup that is unique among its country music peers. The bill is an all-women showcase of predominantly Nineties country stars.
“I’m so happy this festival has the balls, and ovaries, to offer a lineup like this,” Suzy Bogguss — who will share the stage with Wynonna Judd and Mickey Guyton — tells Rolling Stone. “I really cannot wait to see and hear my gal pals who have been rocking it all these years with style, work, and patience.”
The second installment of the five-day festival starts Jan. 30 and is headlined by Wynonna, Deana Carter, Tanya Tucker, Lee Ann Womack, and Jo Dee Messina. While the fest is heavy on 1990s icons, more recent artists like Guyton, Kylie Frey, and Nikki Lane are also on the bill. Such a lineup is rarely seen outside of festivals personally curated by female artists, like the Girls Just Wanna Weekend, the Brandi Carlile-led fest in Cancún that wrapped up its fifth year earlier this month.
In fact, the unfortunate truth is that women are often excluded from performing at, let alone headlining, other major country festivals.
In 2023, Key Western did feature a male-heavy mix, but organizer Kyle Carter, who also books the Eighties hard-rock Rokisland and the Red Dirt-focused Mile 0 festivals in Key West, went back to the drawing board this year and saw an opportunity to highlight country music’s roster of superstar women.
“After seeing it all on a spreadsheet, it became apparent to me that this might be the only genre of music where, over a couple of decades, you can build an entire lineup of hitmakers and people that have made a difference who are all female,” he says.
Key Western got its name after Jamie Lin Wilson started telling Mile 0 crowds to get “Key Western’ed” from the stage. Carter envisioned it as a fest of Nashville music.
“I can’t even tell you how monumental this is,” Tanya Tucker says. “To actually get to witness more than one or two girls on a stage at one show — not to mention four days — makes me proud. It’s going to be harder to decide what to wear with all these ladies on the lineup, and what songs to sing, but, really, am I dreaming?”
Carter views the lineup as a high point for the festival and its organizers, but he is quick to point out that Key Western 2024 is built around country music royalty and cautions against reducing the week to a stunt.
“If you’re just looking at this lineup and only seeing that it’s all women, I’d prefer you keep your money in your pocket,” Carter says. “This is about so much more than that. If you were to sing any of the hundreds of songs that these ladies made famous, everyone around you is going to sing along. That’s what this is about.”
Josh Crutchmer is a journalist and author of the 2020 book Red Dirt: Roots Music Born in Oklahoma, Raised in Texas, at Home Anywhere and the 2023 book The Motel Cowboy Show: On the Trail of Mountain Music from Idaho to Texas, and the Side Roads in Between.