2016 Island Hopper Songwriters Festival Recap

2016 Island Hopper Songwriters Festival Recap

There is something special about a songwriters festival that captures your soul instantly, and the Island Hopper Songwriters Festival is no exception to that. Between September 23rd, and October 2nd more than 75 songwriters performed at 21 venues resulting in nearly 150 performances, and countless once in a life time moments. Set on the stunning Florida beaches of Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach, with a stint in downtown Fort Myers in between, the ten days that ensued this year left a lasting impression on festival goers. Although only in it’s third year, consider Island Hopper Songwriters Festival the little sister of BMI’s twenty-one year running Key West Songwriter’s Festival; growing and finding her way in the music world. Dan Spears of BMI has a gift when it comes to perfectly showcasing these acclaimed artists during both signature events.

Part of the uniqueness of a songwriter’s festival is the intimacy of hearing the songwriters tell the story behind the lyrics. Some songs may sound familiar from years past, some you may have heard on the radio recently, and some you may never hear again but will likely never forget. This years recognizable performances at Island Hopper Songwriters Festival included Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” (Dylan Altman,) Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love A Rainy Night,” (Even Stevens,) Jo Dee Messina’s “Bring On The Rain,” (Billy Montana/Helen Darling), Kristian Bush’s “Walk Tall” (Jeff Cohen) and Maren Morris, who has been writing for BMI since 2004, ending the festival with her own recent radio hit “My Church.” In fact, Morris joins veteran Island Hopper Songwriters Festival performers Kristen Kelly and Ruthie Collins on this years CMTs Next Woman of Country list. Also notable, performers such as Paul McDonald, Dave Fenely, Karla Davis, and Jimmy Stanley have been seen on American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Nashville. It would be impossible to list all of the accomplishments, appearances, and awards that these songwriters have gathered.



More impressive than the radio hits is the way the songwriters captivated the audiences, no matter their experience nor accolades. Catching a ticketed performance at one of the beautiful Royal Shell properties with Aaron Barker and Hugh Prestwood left crowds just as much in awe as the free set down the street at Mucky Duck with George Ducas and Bob DiPiero at sunset, or jamming out to Paul McDonald and Dave Fenley beatboxing at Sunset Beach Tropical Grill on a sandy, sunny, Sunday. Just as there was with the artists themselves, there was a marked difference between the serenity of Captiva Island, the bright lights of Downtown Fort Myers, and the beach vibe of Fort Myers Beach. However, one thing rarely lacking was the audience appreciation of rare moments that they were experiencing first hand. For example, Kylie Sackley giving up her spotlight for a few minutes to pull up local teenage singer Sarah Hardwig. Although Sarah is visually impaired she is certainly not lacking in her powerhouse vocals, and instantly won over the crowd. Moments like those are a true testament to the special group of people that are a part of the songwriting community. It is not unheard of to laugh because of Wynn Varble and cry because of Kristen Kelly all in the same day.

Lastly, although “Nashville invaded Southwest Florida”, many performers had local ties including Brian Sutherland, Tim McGeary, Emily Bronzini, Gary Hannan, Jeff Prince, Keefe Klug, Marie Nofsinger, and Sheena Brook; which means if you’re lucky enough to see one of these artists playing locally, you don’t have to wait an entire year for the magic! Better yet, catch many of these songwriters and more down in Key West May 10-14, 2017.


For more information including a full list of this years artists, and upcoming details on the 2017 Island Hopper Songwriters Festival check out http://island-hopper.fortmyers-sanibel.com, Facebook/Instagram: @IslandHopperFest Twitter: @IslandHopperSWF #IslandHopperFest And as always, GotCountry? will keep you up to date on all of the happenings! We look forward to seeing you next year!

Love certainly was in the air this year, and GotCountry?Online would like to send a special congratulations to Billy Montana and his wife who celebrated their anniversary on Captiva Island, Jimmy Stanley and Kristen Kelly (Stanley) who played the opening weekend and then flew home to Nashville for their wedding, and Vinny Hickerson (Big Vinny, Trailor Choir) and Jenny Goforth on their engagement on Fort Myers Beach! We wish you all the best in life and love!

About Kelly Hettenbaugh

Kelly Hettenbaugh
Growing up in upstate New York, I was the one hanging with the boys hunting and fishing that the country songs talk about. Driving the back roads to my grandparent’s house in the southern tier, I used to belt out Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s In Love With a Boy,” desperately wanting to be Katie and find my Tommy. I thought my parents turned it up because they knew I liked it.. I’ve since realized it was probably to drown out my less than stellar singing voice. Although a lot has changed since then, my love for country music has stayed with me. I now live in SW Florida and my interest lies more in the up and coming acts, and songwriters than it does the larger acts that are already successful. I love being the first to discover someone and watch their career grow as they find their way in today’s crazy country music world. Working five days a week- my weekends are spent at a show, doing something active outdoors, or catching up with friends. Since I get to enjoy FL everyday, my vacations usually revolve around music festivals or visiting my family back in NY :)

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