Guitar-slinging Snowbirds Fly South for the Winter


The trees have been stripped bare. The cold wind rushes into your face like a freight train. Canadian winter is on its way and the snowbirds are flying south. Florida is the main destination with over three-million visitors.

Grant MacNeill – Owner of The Twelfth Fret – a guitar and stringed-instrument emporium since 1977 – has served the musical needs of snowbirds for many years. “I have 2,500 of them in my database,” he said in an interview.

Many of his clients will be carrying acoustic guitars and sheet music, ready to jam with fellow retirees. MacNeill believes that older adults are learning musical instruments as an artistic pursuit, to socialize, and keep their minds sharp.

Folk and Rock Music Infuse the Florida Retirement Scene

“At 55, they have more time,” he said. "The kids are out of the house and they have a few hours every day to learn and play an instrument.” The guitar is the top choice for a generation raised on folk and rock.

MacNeill admits that music was poorly taught to Boomers in the 60s and 70s. The community of players was small and there weren't a lot of teachers. Theory predominated – and many teachers insisted on learning to read music – a lot of students were impatient.

“Now, teachers have grown up in the rock, blues and folk era. They are more results-oriented, which older people thrive on.” Aging adults learn to play songs from day one. At more advanced levels, they choose to learn theory.

In the Boomer Era, the challenge was to find learning material and a teacher. Now, online classes and YouTube make learning accessible. “Pick a simple tune and there are 30 to 40 people who can show how to play it on the Internet," said MacNeill. Late bloomers are pleasantly surprised at the ease of their progress.


Snowbird Jamborees Fill the Florida Air

Middle-aged and older adults can pick up 10 to 15 sing-a-long songs and play in Florida for several hours a week with friends. Music jams are popular in the Florida retirement scene, said MacNeill. “There are 3 or more jams a week,” said the vintage music store owner. “They have a blast!”

Many retired snowbird musicians play 7 days a week in Florida, for the enjoyment. Organizations can’t afford professional musicians, so volunteer musicians are in demand.

Louis Gulyas, a Toronto-based guitar instructor, said many retired people wanted to play a musical instrument, but feel ready when they get older.

“The aging process means slower process,” said Gulyas. “It takes more time and effort. But there’s more free time, so it evens out.” Like MacNeill, he realizes the most popular instrument for aging adults is the guitar. It’s inexpensive and portable with plenty of songs from blues, folk and rock.

The retirement scene in Florida promises to be filled with the joyful guitar tones of Canadian snowbirds.