BEST BETS: Sunroom Songwriters Series lets music shine through Dover house concerts

Singer/songwriter Craig Bickhardt performs during a recent Sunroom Songwriters house concert series in Dover. (Submitted photo)

Musicians for over 40 years, Jerry and Nancy Maliwesky know what it’s like to find places to perform.

So they created one.

Going strong for the last year, the Sunroom Songwriters Series is staged right out of their West Dover home.

“As fellow musicians, Jerry and I both realize how hard it is just to make a living. We have a fantastic space. Any money we raise, we give right back to the musicians. We provide light refreshments. It’s just a really fun afternoon or evening,” Mrs. Maliwesky said.

Originally from Syracuse, New York, the Maliweskys moved to Dover in December 2015 to escape the heavy snow and high taxes in the area.

The idea of hosting a house concert wasn’t even an inkling to either of them until early last year when they got a call from two musician friends from Syracuse, Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers and Wendy Sassafras Ramsay, who make up the contemporary folk duo Pepper and Sassafras.

“They contacted us about where they could play in the area and being fairly new to the community, I didn’t have a lot of suggestions for them,” Mrs. Maliwesky said.

“As we talked, Jeffrey mentioned the idea of a house concert. We thought ‘What the heck?’ Jeffrey writes for Acoustic Guitar Magazine so I had him send us some information on house concerts and we decided to do it.”

So in May 2017, Pepper and Sassafras performed at the first Sunroom house concert.

“We had a bunch of friends in the house and it was an incredible success. We just so enjoyed having live music in our house,” Mrs. Maliwesky said.

“We have a (newly) built house with a sunroom in the back and it’s just the absolutely most perfect space for a concert. The acoustics are incredible. Most bands don’t have to plug in but we have facilities for that. It looks out onto a big farm. The sunset is incredible. It’s just something you have to see.”

Since that first show, the Maliweskys have held at least one concert per month. Past guests have included many of their musical friends from the Syracuse area along with Delaware alt-rock band Surreal Nation, Brooklyn artists Lesley Barth and Chuck Ramsey and Jefferson Dupree along with Philadelphia acoustic blues trio Stevie and the Bluescasters.

In April, Craig Bickhardt, who has written many country hits for The Judds and others and has performed locally with popular Smyrna musician Sol Knopf in recent years, also took to the sunroom.

The series started with the pair just advertising on Facebook but now the Maliweskys are getting calls and emails from the performers themselves asking if they can come play in Dover. Word has gotten so strong that the series is already booking into 2019.

One artist who contacted them directly is Shawna Caspi. The Canadian singer-songwriter will perform June 17 at 3 p.m. in the sunroom. The guitarist and artist has played across the country and Canada.

“House concerts are really special events — up close and intimate — where the audience can interact with the performer,” Ms. Caspi said.

“Many performers, particularly in the folk music scene, find that house concerts make up a significant portion of our tour dates. The audience is there to hear the music, so it’s a listening room.”

Mrs. Maliwesky said it’s that tight bond between the audience and the performer that really is special.

“We have the best audiences in the world. We’ve got them singing along even if they have never heard the songs before — some with better voices than others,” she joked.

“People who come tend to get hooked. You don’t get that one-on-one time with the artist in any other venue. Most of the time, you are paying 100 dollars and sitting miles away and basically watching the show on a video screen.

“Here you get to hear the stories behind the songs and there’s just great interaction. It’s all so cool.”

Nancy and Jerry Maliwesky, longtime musicians, started the Sunroom Songwriters Series in their Dover home. (Submitted photo)

Future guests include Delaware singer-songwriters Jason Filasky and Chris McDermott and Philadelphia’s David Jacobs-Strain and Bob Beach.

The focus of the series is original music with a few covers thrown in here and there. The genres cover contemporary folk to blues to a little bit of country.

“You’re not going to hear these people on the radio with the way radio is,” Mrs. Maliwesky said.

“They aren’t doing the big venues but they are incredible musicians and definitely worth listening to. I’m always blown away by them. The whole thing is so exciting.”

A suggested donation for the June 17 and future shows is $10 to $15. For questions, directions and to RSVP, email Mrs. Maliewsky at nmaliwes@icloud.com. Check them out on Facebook as well.

Music School growing

The Music School of Delaware recently celebrated a year of growth and an outpouring of community support for its new Milford branch location at 23 N. Walnut St.

A bevy of local, state and private funders came together this year to help make the Music School’s strategic goal of expansion in Kent and Sussex counties a reality.

The Music School met its final campaign goal, raising approximately $180,000 for the Milford branch capital project. Funds came from a number of individuals and organizations including: The Presser Foundation; Delaware State Housing Authority/Downtown Development Districts; Draper Holdings Charitable Foundation; Kent County Levy Court; Milford Lions Club; and Silicato Development/Dennis Silicato.

“It has been a great joy to see the Milford branch transformed into a place where ‘music for everyone’ comes to life every day,” said Music School Development Officer David Keller. “I would especially like to thank Dave Burton for his guidance and insight in helping to raise funds for this project, as well as a special thank you to all the donors who believed in and generously supported the project.”

Funds were used to renovate a 5,100-square-foot building in downtown Milford that provides capacity for the Music School to triple enrollment over the next 10 years, adding classroom and ensembles spaces. The building includes a new 65-seat recital room dedicated to Milford branch co-founders, Linda Wheaton Breedlove and Rachel Grier-Reynolds.

“Keeping our Milford location downtown in the arts hub and central to community life has been paramount for the Music School,” said Music School President and CEO Kate M. Ransom. “We’re grateful to be able to advance our role as a singular statewide resource of ‘music for everyone.’ Our founders in Milford saw it that way, and we are proud to continue their legacy.”

Milford Branch director Amos Fayette sees this as just the beginning of a multitude of opportunities in southern Delaware.

“The Milford branch is in the midst of unprecedented growth. In a single year, we’ve moved to a new facility, forged relationships with new partners and donors, and seen our student population increase nearly 70 percent — all while maintaining the warmth and intimacy that is the hallmark of Milford itself. Our 2018-19 season is sure to be another banner year for the Music School.”

For more information, call 302-422-2043 or visit musicschoolofdelaware.org.

Splish splash

In all the pre-Firefly Music Festival hype came notice this week of an offbeat event slated to take place that weekend.

Irish Spring and personal trainer and winner of
The Bachelorette” Shawn Booth will attempt to set a new Guinness world record for the world’s largest simultaneous shower in the same location for a full five minutes. The record is currently 331 people.

Irish Spring, which is the 2018 official grooming product of Firefly, will be constructing a custom shower at the Dover International Speedway.

This will take place Friday, June 15 at 10 a.m. with a goal of over 500 people. Pass the soap.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the Johnny Knoxville comedy “Action Point,” the romance film “Adrift” and the fantasy-action movie “Upgrade.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the fantasy film “A Wrinkle in Time,” Bruce Willis in a remake of “Death Wish” and the action film “The Hurricane Heist.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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