Florida Keys

Key West may rename its amphitheater to honor a local music great

Key West to consider naming amphitheater after local music great Coffee Butler

Coffee Butler has performed in Key West for 70 years, including for notables like President Harry Truman and the Beatles.
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Coffee Butler has performed in Key West for 70 years, including for notables like President Harry Truman and the Beatles.

He’s not exactly a household name, even in his native Key West.

But 90-year-old Lofton “Coffee” Butler, a revered musical giant to those in Key West who know their history, may end up with his name gracing the island’s 3,500-seat amphitheater.

The Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater would become the Coffee Butler Amphitheater, if Key West City Commissioners approve the proposal by Commissioner Greg Davila.

“We’ve had that conversation at one point but we never voted on anything,” said Commissioner Clayton Lopez. “There are so many ways we can make it work.”

At 90, Lofton “Coffee” Butler is still performing in his native Key West and has a show planned for Sept. 2019. Ralph DePalma

Lopez supports naming the amphitheater after Butler, who is his mother’s first cousin. He said the city can still add a corporate sponsor name to the venue in some configuration.

The commission is expected to vote on the measure at its first meeting in August, said Davila.

As for Butler’s limited fame, Lopez said: “Any longtime local or resident knows the name Coffee Butler, even if you haven’t heard his music,” said Lopez, who played guitar with Butler when he was a kid, and in recent years has joined a cluster of local musicians playing special shows at the Key West Theater.

Lopez believes in naming locations after people while they’re still living.

“Don’t wait until they’re gone,” he said.

It’s not always easy to name a place after a well-known local, though.

Last year, Lopez proposed naming the City Commissioner Chambers after former mayor Craig Cates, who served nearly 10 years.

But the commission didn’t go for it. Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said the chambers belongs to all citizens, not just one elected official.

The city’s new City Hall at 1300 White St. ultimately had to share names on its facade to honor a former city clerk and an educator. Though known colloquially as City Hall, the building was formally christened the Josephine Parker City Hall At Historic Glynn R. Archer School.

Butler, who lives on Stock Island, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.

Butler, Cliff Sawyer and their musician friends will perform Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Key West Theater, 512 Eaton St.

The show is presented by the theater and by local photographer Ralph DePalma, who has been chronicling Butler and other homegrown musicians in a series of books called “The Soul of Key West.” DePalma loves the idea of Butler’s name imprinted on the amphitheater.

With an open-air covered stage measuring 60 by 40 feet, the amphitheater is located near Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. It has held concerts since late 2017.

In the past year, the waterfront venue has hosted The Avett Brothers, the Revivalists and Slightly Stoopid, and was also a stop for the Key West Songwriters Festival and the Mile 0 Fest.

While larger venues like AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami score deals with corporate sponsors for naming rights, smaller venues don’t always carry brand names.

St. Augustine went the local route by naming its amphitheatre after the city and earlier this year renamed the 4,700-seat venue “The Amp.” The Orlando Amphitheater, a 10,000-seat venue, is privately owned.

In Palm Beach County, the Coral Sky Amphitheatre has held several corporate names over the years — including the most recent Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre. But when that sponsorship contract ended, the South Florida Fairgrounds venue went back to the Coral Sky name.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.