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Key West Songwriters 2023

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Highlighting the Songwriters Behind the Music 

The 27th Annual Key West Songwriters Festival, May 3-7, pays tribute to the songwriters who work tirelessly behind the scenes writing awesome songs that music industry stars perform. The five-day festival puts the spotlight on these musicians who perform their work at venues small and large across Key West. Below we highlight three of these brilliant musicians and their work. These are just three of the many artists who have composed the chart-topping hits we have enjoyed over the past few decades. 

Earl Bud Lee

You may not know him but you certainly know his work. He co-wrote the song “Friends in Low Places” with Dwayne Blackwell, performed by Garth Brooks and released in 1990. After eight weeks, “Friends in Low Places” topped the charts, and it stayed there for four more weeks… no Garth Brooks concert is complete without a rendition of it. 

Earl Bud Lee

Photo credit –

The idea for the song came when Earl Bud Lee and some of his songwriting friends were having lunch in a Nashville restaurant. The check came and Earl realized he forgot his money. One of his buddies asked how he was going to pay for the food, and he replied, “Don’t worry, I have friends in low places. I know the cook.”

Later Earl and Blackwell were at a party and began to discuss the “low places” idea again.  They started working on it at the party, writing their ideas on a paper napkin. They pitched the idea to Garth Brooks and, well, the rest is history. 

Earl is not a one-hit-wonder, he co-wrote “One Night at a Time” recorded by country legend George Strait; co-wrote “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking”, recorded by George Strait; and other hits for The Oak Ridge Boys, Loretta Lynn, Tracy Byrd, among so many others.

Earl is performing: Thursday, May 4, 5:30 pm at Blue Heaven; Friday, May 5, 10:30 am at Key West Theatre – Bloody Mary Bash; Saturday, May 6, 4 pm at Curry Mansion; Sunday, May 7, 10 pm at Key West Theatre – All-Star Encore!


Rivers Rutherford 

Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, he began playing music at the ripe young age of seven. Rivers started playing the piano and guitar at that time. He got hired to play the piano on the Memphis Queen riverboat when he was just 15 years old, his first step. From there he went on to play a string of nightclubs and later attended Ole Miss on a piano scholarship.

Rivers Rutherford

Photo credit - Wikipedia

In 1993 he moved to, where else, Nashville, Tennessee. It was here that his songwriting talents exploded. Soon he garnered a staff songwriting deal and from there, a string of hits soon followed.  Rivers co-wrote songs for some of the biggest names in country music including Kenny Chesney, Trace Adkins, Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Brooks and Dunn, and the list goes on and on. 

Just a few of his number-one country songs include “Living Fast Forward” recorded by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton; “Real Good Man” by Tim McGraw; “Living Fast Forward” by Kenny Chesney; and “Ain’t Nothing ‘bout You” by Brooks and Dunn, which was named the 2002 ASCAP Country Song of the Year.

His work has not gone unnoticed. In 2006 Rivers was named the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year. And in 2019 he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Rivers is performing: Friday, May 5, 8 pm at San Carlos Institute-Theatre; Saturday, May 6, 9:30 pm at Key West Theatre; 


Lori McKenna

Born in Boston, Lori lived in a musical family and started out writing songs when she was a teenager. As a singer she started creating folk music and as she got older, progressed into pop/rock and country music.

Lori McKenna

Photo credit – Shawn St. Jean - from the

She burst into notoriety in her songwriting career in 2005 when she wrote for country stars like Faith Hill, Keith Urban, and Carrie Underwood. Faith Hill covered three of Lori’s songs on the album “Fireflies” and that heightened her exposure, resulting in a record deal with Warner Brothers. While that deal only lasted a year, she soon got a songwriting publishing deal with Universal Music. 

With Universal Music,  several of the songs Lori composed became major hits, including Keith Urban’s “I Want Crazy”, which went to number one on the Billboard’s pop chart, and Little Big Town’s country hit, “Girl Crush” which won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Country Song. And she followed that up with Tim McGraw’s  “Humble and Kind” as the Best Country Song in 2016.

Lori has a notable collection of solo albums. Her first Grammy-nominated album was “The Bird and the Rifle”, one of the many albums she created with producer David Cobb. 

Lori is Performing: Thursday, May 4, 9:30 pm at Key West Theatre; Friday, May 5, 2 pm at Hyatt Centric Key West Resort Blue Mojito; Friday, May 5, 9:30 pm at San Carlos Institute-Theatre;


For a complete list of performers, venues and times check out the link to the 27th Annual Key West Songwriters Festival. Check the KWSF app for the most up-to-date schedule. Some shows require advance ticket purchases. 

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