Songwriters in the spotlight at Schwartz Center

Craig Bickhardt, writer of hits for artists such as The Judds and Ty Herndon, will appear as part of the "Songwriters & Storytellers" show at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover April 1. (Submitted photos)

Craig Bickhardt, writer of hits for artists such as The Judds and Ty Herndon, will appear as part of the “Songwriters & Storytellers” show at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover April 1. (Submitted photos)

For Sol Knopf, songwriters are the “unsung heroes” of the music business.

“People never know who these folks are but they are responsible for the biggest hits in music. And more often than not, they are always humble and kind and treat people with the utmost respect,” said Mr. Knopf, a Smyrna resident, well-known throughout the area for his own tunes and for performing in nightspots throughout the Eastern Shore.

It’s that respect that he has for the art of crafting a tune that has driven him to create the “Songwriters & Storytellers” series featuring nationally known songwriters performing together and telling stories about how the songs came to be.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyFor the show on April 1, the first at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts, Mr. Knopf has amassed a group he’s very excited to welcome to the capital city.

It’s led by two Nashville Hall of Famers — Tony Arata, responsible for Garth Brooks’ signature song “The Dance,” and Thom Schuyler, writer of Kenny Rogers’ “Love Will Turn You Around” as well as a host of others.

Craig Bickhardt, who has written songs for a diverse group, including B.B. King, Ray Charles, Art Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and The Judds; and Cassidy Cantanzaro, former lead singer of the alt-country group Antigone Rising, round out the group that will join Mr. Knopf on stage for the 7:30 p.m. show.

“I’m no star but I do have some popularity around here so if I can be the local guy who helps get butts in the seats and people can really see who these folks are, that’s great,” Mr. Knopf said.

“It’s a selfish thing for me to do when I haven’t earned the right to be on stage with people of this caliber. But they are all so gracious and treat a guy like me as an equal. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Smyrna's Sol Knopf is the coordinator for the April 1 show. (Submitted photo/Nancy Fay)

Smyrna’s Sol Knopf is the coordinator for the April 1 show. (Submitted photo/Nancy Fay)

Mr. Bickhardt, who has been with Mr. Knopf for several area shows, is glad to get the chance to perform in the First State.

“(Mr. Knopf) is not only a talented singer-songwriter but he’s been the point man on these shows down in Delaware,” said Mr. Bickhardt, who lives in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

“I’m deeply appreciative of what he’s doing.”

Mr. Bickhardt, who spent 24 years in the Nashville area writing and performing, says the performances, where singer-songwriters get to sing and tell stories, are reminiscent of those done at places like the famed Bluebird Cafe.

“It’s important to convey that this isn’t some tacky Las Vegas revue where songwriters sit around and brag about their hits and who they know. This is really about the art of the song and communication with the audience,” said Mr. Bickhardt, who co-wrote The Judds’ hits “I Know Where I’m Going” and “Turn It Loose,” Ty Herndon’s smash “It Must Be Love” and contributed to the soundtrack for the Robert Duvall film “Tender Mercies.”

“It’s always a very moving experience for both the audience and we who are performing. We’re such fans of one another’s work. A lot of these songs that you’re going to hear are flat out museum-quality masterpieces. It’s really one-part songwriting showcase and one-part improv storytelling.”

Mr. Bickhardt and Mr. Knopf have known each other about seven years when Mr. Knopf asked him for some career advice.

“He’s really become a mentor and a friend,” said Mr. Knopf, who recently released his latest CD “Rehoboth Beach”.

“He’s never condescending. He loves to help people and expects you to work hard. He’s a wonderful guy who has written so many really good songs.”

It’s a mutual admiration society for Mr. Bickhardt, who has a half-dozen solo CDs to his credit and has also recorded as part of the group S-K-B (formerly S-K-O) and the duo Idlewheel.

Tony Arata wrote the Garth Brooks hit "The Dance."

Tony Arata wrote the Garth Brooks hit “The Dance.”

“Sol’s song ‘Baby Girl’ is approaching a million views on YouTube, which is the equivalent these days of having a hit record. And it’s such a great song. In a different time, Sol would have probably been as well known as anyone. But the music business has broken down so much. It just isn’t as easy to get your songs to have the success as it once was,” Mr. Bickhardt said.

“He is a hardcore survivor of a tough industry. But we’ll be hearing much more from him in the future. You can trust me on that.”

Mr. Knopf has done shows in the past with everyone except Mr. Arata, who is flying up from Nashville especially for the concert. Mr. Knopf is eager to meet him.

“‘The Dance’ is just such a generational song. You can listen to the radio for years and not come across another song like that. I’ve always had an affection for his writing,” Mr. Knopf said.

Mr. Schuyler is the past chairman of the Country Music Association as well as the former head of RCA Records Nashville and was instrumental in signing artists such as Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride and Lone­star.

“On top of that, he’s had 200 songs recorded by acts in Nashville. That doesn’t happen by accident,” Mr. Knopf said.

Ms. Cantanzaro has sold more than a million records with Antigone Rising and her own projects. With the group, she toured with acts such

Cassidy Cantanzaro was the lead singer of the alt-country group Antigone Rising.

Cassidy Cantanzaro was the lead singer of the alt-country group Antigone Rising.

as The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.

She has worked with Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and has a song titled “For You” on Demi Lovato’s latest album “Confident.”

“She’s such a great writer. We did a show at the beach in November and she got a standing ovation in the middle of the show,” Mr. Knopf said.

“I predict at least one show-stopping moment from her,” added Mr. Bickhardt.

The show will mark another dream come true for Mr. Knopf. Performing at The Schwartz Center is something he has long dreamed about.

“I used to go there as a kid when it was a movie theater. That was back when there were curtains that would open up before the movie started. I always saw the stage and wondered if anyone could actually perform up there,” he said.

“So it’s kind of funny all these years later. Here I am in my 50s and I’m finally getting to do that. I’m just so excited.”

Tickets are $22 to $28 and available at, by calling 678-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

‘Rhythm in the Night’ tonight

As we told you last week, Irish dancing takes center stage at the Schwartz Center tonight.

“Rhythm in the Night: The Irish Dance Spectacular” will be staged at the Dover theater at 7:30 p.m.

Justin Boros, founder of Two Step Productions and producer, creator and lead dancer of “Rhythm of the Night,” grew up in Akron, Ohio, and started dancing at the late age of 15.

After a year and a half of Irish dance lessons and being self-taught, he traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” was holding auditions for the North American troupe. He auditioned and was accepted into the production, at the age of 16 and was only one of three Americans to join the troupe and toured with them for two and a half years.

Set against a backdrop of ancient ruins, the show sees the troupe performing lighting-fast hard shoe rhythms and soft shoe jigs all to an epic orchestral soundtrack.

Tickets are $15 to $31 and can be purchased by calling 678-5152, visiting or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

Biggs Shots sought

The Biggs Museum of American Art has extended its deadline for applications for the Biggs Shot 2016 Regional Photography Competition.

Biggs Shot 2016 is the fourth juried photography competition and exhibition featuring the work of professional and emerging photographers, working and/or living in the Mid-Atlantic region. The theme for Biggs Shot 2016 is open, and any photographic medium can be submitted for consideration, including film, video and digital formats.

Due to the Biggs Museum’s exhibition schedule, the show of the winning selections has been postponed to open on June 3 and to stay through Sept. 25.

All entries must be received or postmarked by May 6. Completed entries must include the entry form, payment of entry fee, submitted electronic files and a copy of the entrant’s resume/artist statement.

A non-refundable fee of $35 entitles the photographer to submit three works to the competition. Additional works may be submitted for $5 per work.

For more information, visit

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the long-awaited “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 3D” and the comedy sequel “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” Will Smith in “Concussion” and the remake of “Point Break.”

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