Billy Kearins is the founder of Coast Projects (COAST). What started as an experimental artist collective flourished into a lifestyle brand and concert promoting outfit. On the eve of his 3rd Annual COAST Is Clear Music & Arts Festival – December 5-7th in Key West’s Bahama Village – Billy talks beards, his relationship with musician Rayland Baxter, and debuting the art component of this year’s festivities.
Just how many glorious beards have you cycled through at this point?
Billy: Wow, hitting me with the beard right off the bat. Bold. I was pretty late to the facial hair game. I was one of those kids who didn’t grow until late in high school and really didn’t have facial hair until my mid-20s.
Ever since it was an option, it’s been almost a constant in my wardrobe. Throughout the past 15 years, I usually do an annual shearing where I get it down pretty short and let it go until I need to clean up my act. I don’t trim or tidy it. It’s all or nothing because I hate shaving. I actually think I look better without it.
Are beards underutilized as an accessory to strengthen less prominent jaw lines?
Billy: I suppose beards could serve that purpose, especially when cleverly sculpted to accomplish such a cosmetic goal, but I haven’t really thought about using mine that way. When I trim it way down and look at myself in the mirror, it is a big difference and definitely changes the shape of my face.
What was your take on the financial landscape of Key West as it related to your ability to sustain a livelihood where you would be your own boss?
Billy: Within a year or so of moving here, I quickly made my way up the ladder at Fury Catamarans, which at the time only had two boats. I started sailing their big “cats” in my early 20s. That’s coming from essentially zero prior boating experience. Remember that I said that I go all-in on things that interest me?
I was fried a few years into that. Long days at the wheel got me thinking of other things I wanted to do. I got into boat building on my days off and had a hand in building some of the biggest boats with a couple of friends at Robbie’s Marina on Stock Island that still run out of Key West — the Reef Express and later the Sunset Party Cat to name two.
That experience led to me wanting to physically create things as a way to support myself. I started a small skateboard building company and taught myself to design and screenprint shirts. That ultimately was the basis for the COAST brand. There are huge gaps in there, but this is already a long-winded attempt at condensing it. Let your imagination wander. The true story is stranger than any fiction.
Why create the COAST Is Clear Music & Arts Festival three years ago?
Billy: At the core of the festival is a celebration of the end of hurricane season — when the “coast is clear.” Officially, that day is November 30 or December 1, but wanting to keep it on a weekend, we decided it will always be held the weekend following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which this year is December 5–7.
The impetus for starting it in 2017 was Hurricane Irma and wanting to raise funds for relief in the Lower Keys. I didn’t want to do something right away because there wasn’t much to celebrate. But waiting a few months and being confident another hurricane wasn’t heading our way, we felt better about getting folks together to celebrate in the wake of a disaster.
We still use the festival to raise funds. This year we will have donation boxes at most events raising money for Key West Cares, which has been at the forefront of the relief effort in the Bahamas since Dorian hit in September.
Tell me more about the musicians and strong beards that will be part of the lineup. Will we discover any tracks to add to our Lizzo and Sufjan Stevens inspired playlists?
Billy: I’m really stoked to get Justin (SUSTO) down here to play a couple of solo sets. SUSTO’s an indie-folk rock band playing huge stages and festivals around the country including Newport Folk Fest this summer and previously opening for The Lumineers and Band of Horses. I met him at Songwriters in 2018. He is good buds with Rayland. They seem excited to share the small stage down here. No big beard for Justin but some punk rock knuckle tattoos that say ACID BOYS.
Beyond SUSTO, Tim Reynolds and TR3 are playing Thursday at Green Parrot. I grew up listening to him with Dave Matthews so that’s another one I’m looking forward to. Electric Blue Yonder has rad sound that I always enjoy listening to — trippy space folk with a cool aesthetic to boot.
And then, Chris Kasper is a fantastic songwriter who has toured with Amos Lee, The Wood Brothers, and my buddy G. Love. We’ll round it out with a bunch of my favorite local performers and their bands –Jerrod Isaman, Cayman Smith-Martin, Turner Harrison, and Sam Carlson. It’s always cool to see them play in a proper concert rather than in the corner of a bar.
What brings Rayland to the 3rd Annual COAST Is Clear Music & Arts Festival?
Billy: I met Rayland when he played the Songwriters Festival in 2017. He was playing a show at San Carlos with another friend of mine, Langhorne Slim. We all met up around the corner at Green Parrot. One thing led to the next and I got in touch with him — and Slim — after Irma to see if they could come down to play the first COAST Is Clear Festival. They both agreed and since then Rayland has played a couple of other shows at COAST.
Last year, we spent Christmas together in Key West. He helped me move out of our old space on Stock Island during that last week of 2018. I count Ray as a good friend. It’s a huge bonus that he’s an amazing artist with his heart in the right place. That’s really why he’s down here for the festival.
How will the festival be breaking new ground art wise? It’s not going to be just roosters on surfboards on oil, right?
Billy: [Laughs] Hope not. We are tiptoeing into the arts end of the pool as this is the first year we added “Arts” to the title.
We have a curated local arts market taking place at the Key West Lighthouse on Friday and Saturday (December 6&7). We have a Bahama Village art walk on Saturday and [long pause] I’m slated to have my own photo exhibition at our shop opening on Thursday.
I’ve been experimenting with photography for the past few years and recently Billy Currington — who played the huge Dorian benefit at Sunset Pier in September — gifted me a really nice camera. He prefaced this by saying I should do more with my photos. So, for the past couple of months, I’ve been teaching myself to use this insane piece of equipment and I’m hoping to have 10 new images to show at the exhibition. I’ll have some of my older photos on display as well. The series is called “Edge of Old Town” and it’s mostly street photography exclusively taken in Bahama Village. I’ve been trying to shoot in the mornings and around sunset because the lighting is better.