On Friday, June 23, the classic country rock sound of Idlewheel comes to the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM), with their performance for Flying Cat Music. The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $18 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.
Idlewheel combines the considerable talents of Craig Bickhardt and Jack Sundrud, two veteran highly acclaimed Country music songwriters and musicians with numerous chart topping hits under their well-worn belts. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls Idlewheel, “a dazzling blend of chemistry and craft.” It’s a chemistry that comes naturally to kindred musical spirits who have collaborated together off and on for years – when their schedules and other projects allow. It is when those stars align that Idlewheel emerges, an act “chock full of sparkling songs, emotions and performances” in the words of Sound Waves Magazine. There is something early Eaglesque about the music Idlewheel makes that is also reminiscent at times of storied duos like Loggins and Messina and Seals and Crofts. Idlewheel’s sound stays classic, with themes that are always relevant.
Neither Craig Bickhardt nor Jack Sundrud can be called strangers to the “Nashville sound.” Each achieved notable success in country music’s capital, whether working individually or with other bands. Still both men reject the shallow gloss of current mainstream “country.” No Depression Magazine notes, “Country music today has some wonderful artists yet, the majority of their material is marginal at best. Stories that have been told countless times, subjects that have been sung about ad nauseum. But, Idlewheel manages to cut through this and think, and compose songs with fluidity, (and) intense and embraceable subjects.”
Jack Sundrud first moved to Nashville in 1981, where he became a touring bassist/singer with numerous top acts, including Vince Gill, Dickie Betts, Nicolette Larson and Kathy Mattea. In 1987 his own band, “Great Plains,” was signed to Columbia Records and released two albums with Sundrud receiving writing credits on two of their four charting singles. Bickhardt’s first big break came in 1982, when he wrote and sang two songs for Robert Duvall’s Academy Award-winning film Tender Mercies. Craig then moved to Nashville where he joined the hit country trio, Thom Schuyler, Fred Knobloch and Paul Overstreet (SKO) when Overstreet left the group. Renamed SKB, they scored three more hits from their acclaimed No Easy Horses album, including the #8 Billboard Country hit Givers and Taker; penned by Bickhardt.
Since those days, both Sundrud and Bickhardt have continued to write, record, and tour; both individually and in other groups. Jack Sundrud has been part of the legendary Country Rock band Poco continually since 2000, with earlier stints with that group dating back to the eighties and nineties. Craig Bickhardt’s songs and co-writes have been recorded by artists as diverse and influential as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Judds, and Tricia Yearwood; racking up four Country Music No. 1 hits. Jack Sundrud similarly has writing credits on recordings by the likes of Kenny Rogers, The Judds, The Persuasions, and Ty Herndon whose number one hit “It Must Be Love” was co-written by Jack and, you guessed it, Craig Bickhardt.
In 2006, their shared roots led Sundrud and Bickhardt to finally record a CD together as Idlewheel. Jack Sundrud described it at the time as, “A collection of songs Craig and I wrote and produced while working as staff writers in Music City. The tunes fit together so well that we’ve started a virtual band and may get a virtual bus.” Eleven years and several Idlewheel releases later a physical bus never quite materialized, but fortunately for fans of their music, periodic live Idlewheel tours have.
A Maverick Magazine review of Idlewheel’s acclaimed Live at Morningstar CD describes their aforementioned chemistry in greater detail; “Bickhardt has a pure, smooth romantic vocal style while Sundrud’s gritty emotive timbre provides an appealing contrast, together they blend convincingly. There is a knowing, rough-hewn wisdom to much of these songs. They convey believable real life experiences rather than slickly produced, though emotionally bereft, material one often associates with Nashville.”
No Depression said: “If you are looking for well-written songs, harmonies, wonderful musicianship and songs with drama that are reflective, biting and versatile – this may be an ideal collection.”
The latest release by Idlewheel was just issued this June 15, so it will be pretty much as hot off the presses as these things get when they perform in Phoenicia on June 23. It’s their live concert DVD Hot Night in Jersey, capturing a show they performed in Woodbridge in July 2016. Live Idlewheel shows are not as frequent as their fans would like, so it no doubt will be a welcome addition to many country music libraries. Better yet, though, is a rare chance to see Idlewheel live, in person, this Friday night at the intimate and acoustically exquisite Empire State Railway Museum.