The Southernmost Coconut Castaways hosted their 10th Annual Meet me in the Keys in Key West, Florida from June 8 -11 with an all-star line-up of musicians and raised $70,000 for KOA Care Camps. These are summer camps throughout North America where children with cancer can attend along with their siblings and enjoy getting to be a kid while still receiving their necessary medical treatments.
Although this event raises an amazing amount of money, Coconut Castaways are raising money year-round. The Coconut Castaways are a “Friend” club of Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band. There are three Castaway Clubs, the Original Club which started in Iowa, the Coconut Castaways of SWFL and the Southernmost Coconut Castaways located in the Florida Keys.
Meet me in the Keys is a smaller and more intimate fund-raising event than some other Trop Rock events and yet raises a substantial amount of money for their charity. This year with under 300 people, they raised $70,000 in less than a week. Mark and Tammy Hollander along with a dedicated team of volunteers organize this event every year.
Some of the fund-raising events that take place are 50/50 draws, blue toe-nail painting and a fund-raising walk. Plus, the most anticipated event is the Papa’s Pilar “Rum-rita” made with “Howard’s Johnson” boat motor converted into a margarita-making machine. The making of this fun concoction happens at the Saturday night event and this year it brought in $31,500 for charity!
This year’s host hotel was the Doubletree by Hilton where some Castaways stayed on site but others drove in from other hotels, guest houses, and campgrounds. Meet Me in the Keys (MMITK) is officially a 4 day event but there are two pre-parties.
The first pre-party was at the Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island with Roger Jokela and John Frinzi performing. As with all the entertainment throughout the week, Howard Livingston joins in at the end of the evening to sing with all the musicians. It’s like icing on the cake to complete the evening. The crowd raised $700 to have John Frinzi have his toe nails painted “Howard” turquoise blue.
On Wednesday morning, I arrived with other volunteers to stuff the gift bags for all the registered participants and musicians. Merchants throughout Key West and the Florida Keys contributed goodies and coupons.
We were supposed to meet at the Smokin’ Tuna (the Official Home Bar of the Southernmost Coconut Castaways) for our second pre-party but Mother Nature had different plans. The event was re-located to the Ballroom at the Double Tree where Rob Mehl and Michael Miller performed and shared the stories that accompanied their songs.
On Thursday, I had the pleasure of greeting and putting on attendee’s event wristbands when Castaways arrived to pick up their MMITK Credentials, T-shirts and goodie bags. Due to the threat of rain, the registration was held indoors but outside by the pool, Cory Young performed.
Cory is a relatively new artist in the Trop Rock world and I believe he’s going to take it by storm! He and his family purchased a motor home to live in and are now on the road chasing his dream. We were happy to be host his new CD Release Party and would encourage anyone with a house concert venue to host Cory. He is a very talented singer-songwriter.
Along with many volunteers, each event at MMITK has a sponsor to help with the cost of that particular event. Howie’s Happy Hour is an invitation only, Sponsor Appreciation Party that happens before the big Costume Kick-off party on Thursday evening.
The theme of the costume event this year was dress as your favorite Castaway. One of my favorites was the Hospitality Group who each dressed as a character from Gilligan’s Island. My husband and I dressed up as our favorite Castaways, Howard and Cyndy Livingston.
This year, Southern Drawl Band performed at the Kick-off party event. As always, Mike Nash and the band had everyone up dancing all night long. Howard was called up on stage to sing “Living on Island Time.” There is a verse in the song that refers to Howie’s song “Living on Key West Time,” so it was the perfect time to have him join in.
It was during this Kick-off party that Howard and Cyndy Livingston were presented with the highest Key West honor, Honorary Conch Status by the Mayor of Key West, Craig Cates accompanied by his wife.
The Annual “Hangover Classic Walk” was a bit of a mystery this year. Castaways collect pledges and pay to attend the Walk each year and receive the Hangover Classic Walk T-shirt. We don’t normally walk very far but this year, we didn’t have to walk at all. This year, the Key West Conch Tour Train arrived at the Doubletree to pick up all the walkers, and we had a fun ride to Salute!
It was a big surprise to end up at a beachfront venue where we were entertained by Capt. Josh Ramsteck with guest appearances by Howard Livingston and Ronald Baum.
Howard and many of the other Hangover Classic Walkers have made it a ritual to wear a tutu for the walk. This year, there was a tutu photo as well as the large group photo. Photographer, Bruce Kudick had to get up on a ladder to squeeze everyone into the photo.
The Conch Train returned us to the hotel where Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe were ready to start performing poolside. It was so hot that they jumped in the pool after their performance! Castaways enjoyed favorites from inside the pool and it finished just in time to beat another rainfall. Howard announced that there were record rainfalls during this week’s MMITK’s but it didn’t damper our spirits.
We had some free time to enjoy some beach time or see other musicians visiting Key West before the biggest event of the week at the San Carlos Institute where Howard Livingston performed with The Mile Marker 24 Band. All the drinks were free at the event donated by local merchants, including the ice. Castaways were encouraged to donate for their drinks as well as to the biggest fund-raising event of the evening, the Margarita-making Johnson motor.
Since it was the 10th Anniversary, there were many background videos highlighting the 10 years of Meet Me in the Keys. The videos also represented some of Howard’s songs and showed photos of Coconut Castaways past and present. My favorite video is the one with Castaway members and their dogs, as Howard sings the song, “Sell Your Stuff, Keep the Dog, Live on an Island.”
As a thank you to Tammy and Mark Hollander for all their work over the past 10 years, Howard presented them with his mandolin.
The last day of Meet me in the Keys ended with the “Tired of Leaving” Bloody Mary Bon Voyage Breakfast at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill. This year, the new trio “Tropicool” with Sunny Jim, Jimi Pappas and John Patti performed.
Next year, MMITK will be held June 5 – 10, 2018. The musical lineup includes Matt Hoggatt, Don Middlebrook, Donny Brewer Band, Captain Josh Ramsteck, Drop Dead Dangerous (Kitty Steadman and Melanie Howe), Howard Livingston and the MM24 Band, plus special guests Aaron Scherz, John Frinzi, and Keith Sykes! If available they hope to get Doyle Grisham!
Meet Me in the Keys is the best excuse to head to Key West. Relaxing, fun, amazing music, the friendliest people and a chance to help kids with cancer. Who’s in for next year?
Thank you to for lending your photos! Photo credits: Bruce Kudik, Mickey-Hippie Paparzzi, and Geri Salitsky