The Annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest has become a must-do for everyone who likes music front row center — as in a laid-back watering hole or sunset view patio.
By John Sprecher | Photos Courtesy Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau
When most people hear the words 10-day music festival, they picture a sea of humanity and a world of chaos — wall-to-wall thousands under a hot Florida sun, music so loud you have to shout in your companion’s ear, plus that most appealing visual of a phalanx of blue porta-johns and interminable long lines.
And then there’s Island Hopper.
The 2017 Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, now celebrating its fourth year, is the brainchild of the marketing minds at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB), along with executives from BMI (the global leader in music rights management) and iHeart Media – Cat Country 107.1 of Fort Myers (one of the leading music apps that allows you to digitally stream hundreds of live radio stations around the country or customize your music, similar to services like Pandora). As the leader of tourism promotion in Lee County, the VCB is always exploring ways to drive more dollars into our destination via lodging, food and beverage sales.
Here in Southwest Florida and many other markets, tourism is weaker during “shoulder seasons” — in our case, that’s September and October in particular. Nancy MacPhee is Manager of Product Development at the VCB, and notes that “our goal from the beginning has been to create an extended stay kind of event that would have broad appeal to both local and regional markets. After researching some similar concepts around the U.S., we decided to focus on music with a country slant — as performed by the original songwriters — due to our partnership with BMI and I Heart Radio. It’s different, it’s better and it really reflects the laid-back vibe of Southwest Florida.”
What that means is: the music is low key, laid back, easy to get to and easier to enjoy. Across 10 days (this year September 22 – October 1), acoustic music fans will have opportunities to hear songs performed by the very men and women who wrote them — at numerous locations that are within walking distance of each other on Captiva Island (September 22-24), downtown Fort Myers (September 25-28) and Fort Myers Beach (September 29-October 1). This year, that includes two songwriters who are inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, a good number of local artists plus upwards of 20 new writers.
“Island Hopper is really an intimate, acoustic environment we’ve created for both the artist and guest — the total opposite of arena concerts. If you want to get up close and personal with the person who’s written one of your favorite songs, here’s the chance.” — Daniel Spears, BMI
“All of the venues are free, there will be a few ticketed shows, no cover charge,” MacPhee explains. “You walk in, grab a seat, sit back, relax, savor a cold beverage and listen to some great music — and the stories behind the songs — in intimate settings where often, you can chat with the artist after the show.”
Daniel Spears is Vice President of Industry Relations at BMI, and worked with the VCB from day one of year one in helping create and successfully launch Island Hopper. “Songwriter festivals are about the folks who write the music and the stories behind their songs,” he says. “Island Hopper is really an intimate, acoustic environment we’ve created for both the artist and guest — the total opposite of arena concerts. If you want to get up close and personal with the person who’s written one of your favorite songs, here’s the chance. We’re helping create Southwest Florida as a vibrant music destination and it’s growing every year.”
As MacPhee explains, one of the keys to Island Hopper’s success is identifying Southwest Florida locations — like Captiva, Fort Myers Beach and downtown — that offer multiple live music venues within walking distance of each other, as well as accommodations. “You can literally enjoy a day and evening, going from one venue to another. The settings are intimate, the crowds are smaller and there’s more connection between artist and audience. Where else can you go to hear some great music by the original author, and then maybe have a beer with them afterward?”
MacPhee estimates more than 13,000 attendees last year with, of course, the goal to exceed that total in 2017. “Our tourism partners are very happy with Island Hopper,” she adds. “Most partnering businesses tell us they see a 45% to 65% increase in food and beverage revenue, with increased room bookings, and that’s our job at the VCB.”
But just as importantly, another job at the Visitor & Convention Bureau is to entertain Lee County guests and provide an experience they enjoy enough to want to repeat — and Nancy MacPhee feels that’s mission accomplished with Island Hopper. “The chance to see one of these talented songwriters up close is an experience like no other,” she says. “Typically on any given night there are three or four shows within walking distance, so grab your walkin’ shoes and get ready to be entertained.
For complete information on locations, artists and schedules, visit www.Island-Hopper.FortMyers-Sanibel.com.