Skip to main content

Times of the Islands Magazine

Island Hopper Songwriter Fest Returns to Southwest Florida

Sep 29, 2015 09:32AM ● By Cory Batelaan
By Craig Garrett

The faces behind popular music are in Southwest Florida in mid-September.

The second annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest runs Sept. 17-20 in Captiva, wraps up Sept. 25-27 in Fort Myers Beach. The two weekends bracket a Sept. 21-24 stopover in downtown Fort Myers. Organizers envision adding a fourth venue in 2016, perhaps in Cape Coral.

Island Hopper performers write songs for the stars in country and popular music. Those songs and original music will be played by the songwriters in one-hour gigs running past sunset.

Organizers this year are scheduling more down time for the performers, says Nancy MacPhee, a program developer with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, coordinator of the event modeled after the Key West Songwriter’s Festival. Island Hopper includes many of the Key West songwriters. “We learned after the first Island Hopper that the performers needed a break and more time to explore,” she says.

The event in Captiva features country songwriters for music legends such as Garth Brooks, George Strait and Darius Rucker, among others. Nashville songwriter Dylan Altman, for instance, has written for Tim McGraw, Jake Owen and Jason Aldean, all huge in the music industry. Altman closed in Captiva last year at ’Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and is scheduled to return. He also performed at the Key West festival in May. Writers perform the songs that make others famous, as well as their own music. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Terry Sylvester is also scheduled to perform at Island Hopper.

Hopper3Captiva during Island Hopper will be transformed into a different kind of sanctuary, with performers moving between venues and the streets filled with fans. Island Hopper originated with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, a tourism development agency. The Key West Songwriter's Festival in 20 years has brought thousands of visitors to the Keys, MacPhee says. And like Key West, Lee County organizers hope to fuel Southwest Florida's hospitality industry. Captiva, in particular, is mostly quiet through October. The largest event through late summer is a mini triathlon drawing 1,000 or so runners and spectators.

A key to choosing Captiva, Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach is the walkability factor, says MacPhee. A trolley will be available. The event is free but merchants in Lee County expect a big bump in overnight, food and refreshment sales. Some 22 resorts so far in Lee County offer overnight packages targeted to Island Hopper visitors, MacPhee says. Resorts, restaurants and shops reported brisk business at last year’s Island Hopper. Ultimately the key is bringing important songwriters within a few feet of the visitors at bistros and restaurants.

Phil Myrick, a Nashville music agent and performer, says Southwest Florida is an ideal setting for a festival. It's also an excellent opportunity for the musicians "to tell their stories.” Songwriter Dave Gibson, appearing at the Fort Myers Beach Island Hopper Festival in 2014, says performing is everything it appears to the novice. "It's a rush," says Gibson, who has written songs for Tanya Tucker and Alabama. "It's an amazing feeling."

Island Hopper is presented by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel; BMI, the largest music rights organization in the United States; along with partners iHeartMedia, and Cat Country 107.1. For details including artists, venues, accommodations and more, visit

To Go:

Headliner, 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Terry Sylvester, started his musical career at the famous Cavern Club Liverpool in the early 1960s, often appearing with the Beatles with his first group, The Escorts. In 1968, he replaced Graham Nash in The Hollies. His first single with the group, “Sorry Suzanne,” reached No. 3 on the U.K. charts and his first album “Hollies Sing Dylan” went to No. 1. The group in 1969 recorded “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” with Elton John playing piano. The song became The Hollies’ biggest hit. The Island Hopper lineup also includes Even Stevens, Wynn Varble, Bob DiPiero and Kristen Kelly.

A complete list of artists is at