In the days before switching its focus to preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers Florida welcomed music lovers from around the world for its famed annual 10-day Island Hopper Songwriter Festival. And in addition to featured performances from some of the greatest out of Nashville, Charleston, and even local notables from the Fort Myers Beach area, festival goers were treated to exclusive tunes from a trio that did some island hopping themselves — all the way from the U.K.
Straight off the stage after their set opening for festival headliner Gary LeVox (formerly of Rascal Flatts), Pursuitist caught up with Essex County, a country band named for their home county in eastern England, made up of brothers Keiran (bass), Nate (drums), and Mark (guitar) that has been rocking the genre with a British bent.
“We love touring around the world and seeing the different cultures and just feeling out different crowds — and this crowd is awesome,” Keiran told us.
He and his bothers have been playing together since adolescence when they formed their first pop band, Next of Kin, signed to Universal Records. Now, climbing the country charts as Essex County, the family band is actually taking influences from music they used to listen to with their parents alongside fresh takes gleaned from attendance at festivals like Island Hopper.
“We’re definitely coming back next year. 2023, we’re already booked in,” Nate said from the stage.
“The crowd and the culture here is so much different [than other festivals we have played]… in a good way,” Keiran said.
“Intimate gigs [like this], you can make the crowd laugh like as if you were at home. You can just sing your song and talk rubbish or whatever. On a big stage you’re just sort of playing to the crowd. You can’t talk to people when they’re so far away, and it’s nice to be intimate, you know?” he said.
In addition to the main stage for the culminating performance event of the festival, Essex County also graced smaller stages where they made even more personal connections with an Island Hopper audience and venues that made them feel right at home.
“We played the Yucatan [Beach Stand],” Kieran told us, thinking back to the great crowd and an apparently memorable meal of Mama’s Pot Roast.
“They do an awesome beef roast dinner you can’t find anywhere in America. It’s the closest thing to a roast dinner back home,” he said.
(He also divulged that he couldn’t be found sipping margaritas — or even mocktails — on the beach during his time in the Florida sun. “I don’t drink,” he said. “Just hydrate with water.” This may have something to do with his passions and pursuits when not playing, which he told us would include racing motorcycles.)
Headed back to London immediately after the festival, both to escape the hurricane and to do some songwriting, American audiences can rest assured that Essex County has plans to return to the states, Nashville specifically, to play the Rhyman Auditorium as soon as November 2022.
“It’s exciting,” Keiran told Pursuitist, about performing at what is widely regarded as the best country music venue in Nashville. “We’ve played there twice before, but we’re playing with Chris Young this time,” in a concert and charitable event, Christmas 4 Kids, that also features Phil Vassar and The Frontmen.