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Rockin', Hoppin', Flip-Floppin' - Island Hopper taps FMB’s small-town charm

September 25, 2014
Craig Garrett - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For a brief time, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva will be transformed into a different kind of sanctuary.

The Island Hopper Songwriter Fest rolls into town Oct. 3 to 5 (Sept. 26 to 28 on Sanibel). The first-ever events feature free music performed by country music singers-songwriters. Organizers are promoting Fort Myers Beach as a nice backdrop, a quaint village atmosphere with soft beaches.

The players will perform in a dozen island locations, most within walking distance of one another, another key to bringing the event to the area, organizers said. Performances at each venue are about an hour. The event is free but merchants expect that patrons will spend freely while visiting the island. Ultimately the key is bringing important songwriters within a few feet of the visitors at local bistros and restaurants.

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Many of those performers scheduled are known best for songs written for higher profile artists like Tanya Tucker, Garth Brooks and Uncle Kracker. The writers perform their songs at a dozen venues over three days.

The Songwriter Fest originated with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB), a tourism development agency. Organizers were particularly eager to create a festival in the doldrums of the off-season. The Island Hopper is modeled after a similar and popular music festival in Key West, said Nancy MacPhee, a program developer with the Visitor Bureau.

The Key West Songwriter's Festival in two dozen years has attracted bigger name writer-singers, in turn attracting thousands each year flocking to the south Florida festival, MacPhee said. And like Key West, organizers hope to pump fuel into southwest Florida's off-season hospitality industry. Captiva, in particular, is mostly quiet through October. The largest event through late summer is the Sept. 13-14 Galloway Captiva Tri, a mini triathlon drawing a few thousand runners and spectators. The town is otherwise quiet.

A key to choosing Fort Myers Beach and Captiva is the walkability factor, MacPhee said, meaning visitors can navigate the festival without a car. A trolley will be available, however.

"We really wanted to touch the whole county. But we picked (these) two communities, hoping to grow" the festival, MacPhee said of the choices. "Our grassroots partners are so engaged, so excited."

Royce Allgood, a Fort Myers Beach performer, said the festival is wonderful news. He plans to accompany some of the visiting performers, many coming from Nashville.

"It's a great idea," said Allgood, shouldering his guitar for a morning gig at a Captiva eatery. "Everyone is really excited."

Phil Myrick, a Nashville music agent and performer, said Southwest Florida is an ideal setting for a festival. It's also an excellent opportunity for the musicians "to tell their stories," he said.

Myrick noted that music fans will likely see more festivals like the Island Hopper. With music pirating and the wealth of web spots to download, songwriters in particular are losing most of the wealth stream they enjoyed in pre-technology days, he said.

Songwriter Dave Gibson, appearing at the Fort Myers Beach Island Hopper Festival stretch, said performing is everything it appears to the novice.

"It's a rush," said Gibson, who has written songs for Tanya Tucker and Alabama. "It's an amazing feeling."

The Island Hopper has been promotionally fueled by the record industry and local media, including Clear Channel. The dominant country radio station has heavily promoted the festival, which is great news to Captiva merchants.

Details and performance schedules are at and be sure to flip to pages 23 - 26 for a complete schedule.



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