Island Hopper Songwriter Fest Readies for Eighth Year


    Everyone knows The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” but who knows that the then-unknown Paul Williams wrote it? Patsy Cline struck it big with “Crazy,” but a young suit-wearing man with short hair named Willie Nelson penned it. “Me & Bobby McGee” made Janis Joplin a star, but previously unheard-of Kris Kristofferson authored the lyric. While it is the performer who makes a song legendary, many of our greatest and most beloved singles have a nearly anonymous writer behind the scenes, some who eventually become famous in their own right, but most who carve out long successful careers, while becoming the faceless talent behind the hit music.

    Now Fort Myers Beach and Southwest Floridians can experience this same sensation with the 4th annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest from Friday, September 22 through Sunday, October 1, including performances exclusively at various Fort Myers Beach venues from Friday, September 29 to Sunday, October 1. The award-winning Fest held its kickoff on Thursday evening, August 3, at Pinchers at The Marina at Edison Ford with a free performance by songwriters Tim James and Danny Myrick.

    Dave Fenley and Tim McGeary perform during the 2016 Island Hopper at Matanzas on the Bay.

    “We have some of the best songwriters in the entire nation coming here,” raved Louis Kaplan, senior vice president of programming for iHeart Media in Fort Myers. “You may not know their names but they pen tunes for some of America’s biggest stars, like George Strait, Lonestar, Maren Morris, Blake Shelton and down the line. We have Hall of Fame songwriters like Aaron Barker, newbies just starting out and all in-between.”

    Kaplan stressed, “You will experience something new and unique each night, with over 70 performers and more than 100 shows in 20 different venues spread out over 10 days.

    tim mcgreary, island hopper, fort myers beach
    Tim McGeary performs at Nervous Nellie’s in 2016.

    There will be artists at 8 locations on Captiva, 6 in Downtown Fort Myers, and the rest on Fort Myers Beach, with all of them fun and almost all free, so come and enjoy these entertainers, whether it is just for one night at one spot or during all eight days throughout Southwest Florida.”

    Let’s Do It!

    “The original idea for the Island Hopper came from the Songwriter Festival in Key West,” explained Tamara Pigott, Executive Director for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “We went down, checked everything out and came back saying, ‘Let’s do it!’ The question, however, quickly became, ‘How?’ We turned to Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and iHeart Media and they helped us put it all together. We knew up-front it would take five years to establish ourselves, and now that we are in our fourth year, we no longer have to recruit the artists, as those who were here before ask if we can invite them back!”

    “It started out as a weekend event,” adds Kaplan, “but we soon booked the second weekend on Fort Myers Beach, then filled those in with workweek shows in Downtown Fort Myers. It is a lot of work – we start planning the festival for the next year one week after the conclusion of the last one – but when you hear that beautiful music, it is all worth it!”

    philip white, island hopper, fort myers beach
    Phillip White at DiamondHead Beach Resort during the 2016 Island Hopper.
    Photos courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

    Fort Myers Beach’s own Sheena Brook is a BMI songwriter, and she will headline shows on Captiva as well as Fort Myers Beach. In addition to Sheena, the following artists will appear at various beach venues: Brinley Addington, Taylor Alexander, Grandville Automatic, Lockwood Barr, Will Bowen, Lance Carpenter, Skye Claire, Julia Cole, Steve Dean, Lala Deaton, Stephen Dorff, Josh Dorr, George Ducas, Dave Fenley, Dave Gibson, Great American Canyon Band, Tim James, Bill LaBounty, Erika Sunshine Lee, Paul McDonald, Tim McGeary, Joey McGee, Jack Michael, Eli Mosley, Elizabeth Mossell, Frank Myers, Jeff Prince, Reverie Lane, Kaylee Rose, Maggie Rose, Audrey Spillman, Bobby Tomberlin, Karleen Watt, Carrie Welling, Phillip White, John Wayne Wiggins and Adam Wood.

    Beach locales include Matanzas on the Bay, Nervous Nellie’s, Pierside Grill & Famous Blowfish Bar, Pincher’s, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, Sunset Beach Tropical Grill & Playmore Tiki Bar and the Yucatan Beach Stand Bar & Grill.

    Island Hopper Songwriter Fest major sponsors are the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, BMI, Cat Country 107.1, iHeart Media and the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, with local assistance by the DiamondHead Beach Resort, Fort Myers Beach Inn, Lighthouse Resort Inn & Suites, Matanzas Inn, Matanzas on the Bay, Nervous Nellie’s, Pierside Grill & Famous Blowfish Bar; Pincher’s, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, Sunset Beach Tropical Grill & Playmore Tiki Bar, Wyndham Garden Fort Myers Beach and Yucatan Beach Stand Bar & Grill.

    Perfect Timing

    Pigott thanked “our terrific area hotel sponsors who provide the rooms to the entertainers at no expense, as late September to early October is the perfect time to do this, as we are in the offseason when some rooms are available. The scheduling of the Fest is ideal for the Visitor & Convention Bureau, as we always do a big marketing effort this time of year to bring in guests during the offseason, and this goes hand-in-hand to get people to spend a few days and nights in our area.” To obtain information and see the list of performances and locations, go to

    “The best part about the Island Hopper is its intimacy,” enthused Kaplan! “You not only enjoy great music and great shows, but some of the best parts of the performances are when the songwriters interact with the audience, telling you the backstory behind each song, and that always makes for good stuff.” Tamara agreed, saying, “You cannot be a great musician and great songwriter without also being a great storyteller. And, honestly, who doesn’t want to know the story behind the story; it’s like you are in on a private little secret! It is crazy when you go to hear these magnificent performers, who you may not recognize by their name, but then you know every song they play because these are the people who write the hits!”


    Gary Mooney