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Island Hopper Songwriter Fest shows a hit on-island

By Staff | Oct 24, 2018

THE BEACHES OF FORT MYERS AND SANIBEL The fifth annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest kicked off on Captiva on Sept. 21-23 and included poolside parties, intimate home performances, a late night jam and shows at several restaurants.

This year’s Island Hopper Songwriter Fest events specific to Captiva have been hailed a success, resulting in higher attendance figures and an increase in business on the island over 2017.

The fifth annual festival, which took place over 10 days between Captiva, downtown Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach, showcased 79 singer-songwriters in 155 performances. A total of 18,105 people attended the shows as compared to 14,732 last year – an increase of about 23 percent year-over-year.

For the island, a total of 6,130 attendees came out this year as compared to 4,993 in 2017.

“We’re counting the capacity of every venue,” Nancy MacPhee, manager of product development for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau – one of the partners behind the festival – said.

She noted that while recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma were under way during the 2017 event, which likely impacted the figures, island businesses have reported a spike in business this year.

THE BEACHES OF FORT MYERS AND SANIBEL The fifth annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest kicked off on Captiva on Sept. 21-23 and included poolside parties, intimate home performances, a late night jam and shows at several restaurants.

“The hotels and the venues – they reported anywhere from a 10 (percent) to 25 percent increase over last year for the three days on Captiva,” MacPhee said. “We generated some business for them.”

Several reasons were offered for the increased turnout and business.

“We truly believe that we have loyal followers that are coming back year after year, and they’re bringing friends,” she said, adding that the events likely provided some stress relief from the water issues. “This year, the festival was truly to lift spirits after a tough summer out on the beaches.”

While the event is marketed each year, the VCB added a new element to the campaign.

“We tried TV for the first time this year,” MacPhee said, explaining that spots were aired in the Miami and Tampa areas. “Surveys showed that people did come from those areas to attend the festival.”

Some new local promotions also came into play as a result of the water issues.

Two online and social media campaigns promoted supporting area businesses and events, and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation covered the tolls on the Sanibel Causeway for a few hours on Sept. 22-23 in an effort to encourage those on the mainland to cross over to the island to do so.

In addition, the VCB partnered with the foundation and United Way for the SWFL Cares Fund.

MacPhee noted that another new implementation for the festival was the phone app.

“People raved about the app this year,” she said.

Organized through partnerships with iHeart Radio, Cat Country 107.1 and BMI, this year’s festival kicked off on Captiva on Sept. 21, running through Sept. 23 before hopping over to Fort Myers.

MacPhee noted that the island atmosphere served as the hook the first year and has since.

“Captiva is magical. The vibe, the setting, the mood that the songwriters are in,” she said, adding that most of the island shows are free. “It’s always been my favorite part of the Island Hopper festival.”

The range of options included poolside parties and intimate home performances, to a VIP kick-off party, late night jam and the powerhouse musical acts hosted at several restaurants and venues.

MacPhee noted that they tested out the pool parties for the first time in 2017.

“They were just over-the-top packed,” she said of this year’s expanded both-weekend-days ones at the ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa. “‘Tween Waters added a second pool, so they’ve got a great space.”

The beautiful island homes – another unique feature – are also utilized during the festival.

MacPhee explained that American Realty of Captiva and Stilwell Enterprises and Restaurant Group donated residences this year not just for the songwriters to stay in, but to perform in for smaller crowds. ‘Tween Waters, South Seas Island Resort and Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages also offered up housing.

“So we can house the songwriters without tying up a lot of hotel rooms,” she said.

A total of 20 performers stayed on Captiva this year.

“From the very first year, we’ve been doing house parties,” MacPhee said.

American Realty provided its “Captiva Star” home for performances by Earl Bud Lee, known for “Friends in Low Places,” and Wynn Varble – one of the regular artists at the annual festival.

“They had wine, beer and refreshments,” she said. “Bubble Room cake and Bailey’s with catering.”

Stilwell Enterprises’ donated its new “Harbour House,” which featured shows by Aaron Barker – another festival regular – and Phil O’Donnell, who is one of the original event performers.

“They are two veterans that we feel have the power,” MacPhee said of their music.

With a pool and view of the back bay, the setting was perfect.

“It was a small intimate venue. They got a great show,” she said, adding that the house parties provide an opportunity for the public to get a peak inside of places and hopefully help to promote bookings.

Other events included the late night jam on Sept. 22 at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille.

“It’s just really kind of a fun party, and it goes late,” MacPhee said.

Shows at the Mucky Duck are always a hit.

“It’s beachside, it’s sunset, so some of the more popular hit-makers are programmed in there,” she said, adding that the staff have fun with the performances, even making T-shirts branded for the festival.

Overall, organizers brought in 30 new artists to play, like Heidi Newfield of Trick Pony. Known for “Johnny and June,” she performed on Captiva, as well as in Fort Myers and on Fort Myers Beach.

“She’s been around for awhile,” MacPhee said, noting that her fiance played with her.

“She was a force,” she added.

Island events this year were also held at Cantina Captiva, Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille, Keylime Bistro, RC Otter’s Island Eats and South Seas. There were 10 venues total and 61 performances.

The sixth annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest will be held on Sept. 20-29.

For more information, visit www.island-hopper.fortmyers-sanibel.com.