Island Hopper Songwriter Fest


The Hit-Makers

Everyone over fifty knows The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” but who knew 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 lyrics. While it is the performer who makes a song legendary, many of our greatest and most beloved songs 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 as the faceless talent behind our hit music.

Fort Myers Beach and Southwest Floridians can experience these unique musicians at the 6th annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest from Friday, September 20 — Sunday, September 29, including performances at various Fort Myers Beach venues from September 27 to 29, with Friday shows from 7 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday from 1 p.m. to Midnight, and Sunday from 1:30 to 7 p.m. The Island Hopper begins on Captiva Island September 20 to 22, moves to Downtown Fort Myers September 23 to 26, then concludes on Fort Myers Beach.

Best Songwriters

“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. We have Hall of Fame songwriters, newbies just starting out and all in-between. You will experience something new and unique each night, with almost all the shows free, so come on out, whether for one night or all ten.”

“The original Island Hopper idea came from the Songwriter Festival in Key West,” explained Tamara Pigott, Executive Director for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB). “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 it would take a few years to establish ourselves, and now that we are in our 6th year, we no longer have to recruit artists, as those who were here before ask if we can invite them back!”

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

“What people love about the Island Hopper Songwriter Fest is songwriters for major recording artists entertain you,” said Nancy MacPhee, the VCB Manager of Product Development. “Many songs they wrote are huge hits, and you learn the history from those who actually wrote them, in our small bars and restaurants you cannot experience anywhere else. You may have heard these songs hundreds of times before, but when you learn the story behind the story, you find yourself saying, ‘gosh, I didn’t know that!’ Folks drive from as far as Ohio to attend the Island Hopper that is right in your own backyard, so experience this yourself!”

Four Ticketed Events

While almost all performances from September 20 to 22 are on Captiva, there is one special show in Downtown Fort Myers on Sunday, September 22. Kristian Bush, a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, half of the multi-platinum selling country duo Sugarland, performs with the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, in honor of the Symphony’s 25th anniversary, at the Florida Repertory Theatre at 7 p.m. “We are excited to showcase our outstanding Gulf Coast Symphony with the star power of Kristian Bush,” said Tamara. “This addition to the year’s Island Hopper can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime performance, not to be missed!” VIP “Meet-&-Greet” tickets are $75, with general admission $35.

A Songwriter Dinner & Wine Pairing with Frank Myers and Sarah Peacock is Monday, September 23, at the Twisted Vine Bistro at 5:30 p.m. This 3-course dinner with wine pairing is $72.93-per-person plus tax and gratuity.

Another unique showcase in Downtown Fort Myers on Wednesday, September 25, with Gone West and special guest Ryan Hurd at Pinchers at The Marina at Edison Ford at 7 p.m. is unfortunately already sold out.

County star Rodney Atkins closes out the Island Hopper at the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach on Sunday, September 29, at 4:30 p.m. Atkins calls his 5th album, “Caught Up in the Country,” his most daring collection yet. This follows six #1 singles, eight Top 5 singles, and over 13 million units sold, with Country Aircheck naming his 2006 single, “Watching You,” that decade’s #1 song as well as being named the top new male vocalist at the ACM Awards! The show includes Jerrod Neimann and Striking Matches, with general admission tickets $35.

The above are the only ticketed events of the entire 10-day Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, with the other 81 performers and over 100 shows at 20 venues over the 10 days free. Purchase tickets at the Island Hopper website ( or app.

FMB Shows

FMB shows feature Lockwood Barr, Johnny Bulford, Lance Carpenter, Striking Matches and over two dozen other artists, including local songwriter Sheena Brook, over the three day weekend.

Fort-Myers-Beach-Island-Hopper-Fest-Striking-MatchesBeach locales hosting Island Hopper performances September 27 – 29 are Matanzas on the Bay, Nervous Nellie’s, PierSide Grill & Famous Blowfish Bar, Cabanas Beach Bar at DiamondHead, Lighthouse Tiki Bar and Yucatan Beach Stand. Pink Shell Beach Resort will host performances on Saturday at 1pm and 2:30pm, plus the Sunday ticketed event at 4:30pm. Pinchers Tiki Bar FMB will have Sunday afternoon shows at 1:30pm and 3pm.

Find all the Captiva and downtown Fort Myers venues and music schedules online or on the app.

Great Storytellers

“The scheduling of the Fest is ideal for the VCB,” Pigott said, “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 with getting people to spend a few days and nights in our area.”

“The best part about the Island Hopper is its intimacy,” concluded Louis. “You not only enjoy great music and shows, but the songwriters interact very closely with the audience, telling you the backstory behind each song, and that is always good stuff.” Tamara agreed, “You cannot be a great musician and songwriter without being a great storyteller. Honestly, who doesn’t want to know the story behind the song; it’s like you are in on a private secret! It is crazy when you hear these magnificent performers, because while you may not recognize their name, you know every song they play because these are the people who write the hits!”


By Gary Mooney