By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
The 24th annual Four Corners Folk Festival — Pagosa Springs’ traditional end to the summer season — will take place over Labor Day weekend, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, on Reservoir Hill downtown.
The stellar 2019 lineup includes The Earls of Leicester, Billy Strings, Amy Helm, Darrell Scott, Molly Tuttle, The Mammals, The East Pointers, , JigJam, Lindsay Lou, Mile Twelve, Wild Rivers, Maybe April and this week’s featured artists, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, and The Arcadian Wild.
Rob Ickes and
Based on a mutual love of bluegrass, country, blues, western swing and other string band music of all kinds, the partnership of dobro player Ickes (who also plays superlative lap steel guitar in the duo on occasion) and acoustic/electric guitarist Hensley continues to delight and astound audiences of traditional American music around the globe. Since the duo decided to join forces and make their collaboration the focus of their touring and recording careers in 2015, after cutting their first album, “Before The Sun Goes Down” (nominated for a Grammy), they have continued to bring their music to venues near and far.
They’ve performed in places as close to home as Nashville’s world famous Station Inn — a frequent and favorite showcase — and as far away as Denmark’s Tonder Festival, as well as an impressive number of the most prestigious U.S. music festivals, including Rockygrass, ROMP, Wintergrass, Bluegrass Underground, Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass and the Freshgrass Festival, just to name a few. They have toured the European continent four times, as well as England, Ireland and Australia.
Their second album, “Country Blues” — released in 2016 — testified to the growing diversity and expansion of their collaborative talents and repertoire. The duo were key players on “Original,” the recent, highly lauded album by bluegrass giant Bobby Osborne; their participation garnered a Recorded Event Of The Year Award for Bobby’s version of “Got To Get A Message To You” on that album at this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards; they also were on the 2016 Recorded Event winner, ”Fireball,” featuring Special Consensus, in 2016. Ickes and Hensley have shared a number of concert bills with the great and influential mandolin master David Grisman and Australia’s fleet finger picking guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, both enthusiastic admirers of the duo.
Ickes and Hensley continue to leave their singular and ever-growing footprint on the world of traditional music of America — be it bluegrass, traditional country, blues or jazz. Of their collaboration, Ickes has said this: “It works in so many different ways … Trey and I have always clicked and when he and I know what’s going on, everyone else just grabs on — and that’s kind of the fun of the gig; it’s constantly changing.”
Whether they’re appearing as a duo, with a bass or with bass, drums and fiddle, they never fail to kick up some musical dust. The excitement at their gigs is palpable, it is contagious and it is constant. Their sets tend to be a heady mix of the familiar and beloved and the new and unexpected. Hensley’s list of powerful original songs has grown quickly since the two started working together and Ickes invariably plays several sparkling instrumentals, both on dobro and lap steel, new and old. He is also on record as saying that one of his great satisfactions as a dobro player is accompanying a great vocalist, something the partnership allows him every night.
Ickes, who grew up in California’s Bay Area, cut his teeth on traditional bluegrass, since several family members played. He fell in love with the dobro, or more precisely the resophonic guitar, almost immediately, after his brother Pat played a tape of the legendary Mike Auldridge for him. After moving to Nashville in the early ‘90s, he quickly became one of the instrument’s acknowledged masters. He soon began touring with several top bluegrass acts and also became a familiar face at recording studios in town. His fluid, lyrical, yet stinging style has graced the recordings and concerts of bluegrass artists as diverse as Earl Scruggs, Alison Krauss, The Cox Family, Tony Rice and more, plus such mainstream artists as Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire and even erstwhile rocker David Lee Roth on his “bluegrass” album. Additionally, Ickes has won the Dobro Player of the Year Award from the IBMA an unprecedented 15 times. He was also a founding member of the critically acclaimed bluegrass supergroup Blue Highway for 21 years. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of not only meeting but playing with his personal number one hero, Ickes was a key member of the band who backed fellow Californian Merle Haggard on Haggard’s 2007 album “The Bluegrass Sessions.”
Hensley shares Ickes’ admiration for the legendary Hag and features several of his songs in his repertoire. In fact, his rich, resonant baritone voice can sound at times uncannily like The Okie From Muskogee — but he is capable of far more than that. He also plays blues and rhythm and blues on both acoustic and electric guitar, from the repertoires of artists as diverse as The Allman Brothers, Ray Charles, Charlie Daniels and Stevie Ray Vaughn — and Ickes’ and Hensley’s rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil” needs to be heard live to be fully appreciated. Hensley also shares Haggard’s well-known love of western swing, and he sings it and plays it with authority; Ickes loves playing it, too, often on lap steel guitar. Hensley is also a talented writer; the band’s repertoire is dotted with his original compositions. Both he and Ickes have what is called in the trade “big ears,” and this musical curiosity has enhanced their music immeasurably.
Even more precocious than his musical partner, Hensley grew up in eastern Tennessee, one of the cradles of traditional music. He doesn’t seem to have ever doubted what he was meant to do, and in fact, when he was 11 years old, he was brought onstage by Marty Stuart to play with Stuart and Earl Scruggs — at the Grand Ole Opry. He was making music — and albums — with famous players before his voice changed. He has played onstage or opened for artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Steve Wariner and Peter Frampton. It was his singing on what was meant to be a scratch vocal on a Blue Highway album that first brought him to the attention of Ickes. Ultimately, the vocal stayed on the album, Hensley moved to Nashville, and in partnership with Ickes, they began to make all manner of exciting music. Shortly after Hensley appeared on the scene in Music City, bluegrass Hall of Famer Roland White was heard to remark in wonderment that he had a new favorite guitar player in Nashville, and White knows a few things about guitar players. Needless to say, White is not the only fan Hensley has made in Nashville.
In many ways, this musical partnership is the ideal vehicle for both partners. Their excitement at playing together continues unabated as their enthusiasm charges the creativity of their collaboration on a nightly basis. It is the audience who stands to be the big winner.
Ickes and Hensley will bring their awesome musicianship and diverse musical style to the 2019 main festival stage on Sept. 1 with a 2:30 p.m. set.
The Arcadian Wild
The Arcadian Wild began in the fall of 2013 when a few choir students from Lipscomb University in Nashville met up after class to jam for the afternoon. Five years later, the band now consists of guitarist Isaac Horn, mandolinist Lincoln Mick and fiddler Paige Park. Currently, the folk group is touring off the successful release of their sophomore record, “Finch in the Pantry” (May 2019), which debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard bluegrass charts.
With roots running deep in formal vocal music, and influenced by progressive bluegrass and folk artists, The Arcadian Wild explores a unique acoustic sound that is simultaneously unified and diverse, offering up songs of invitation and calls to come and see, to find refuge and rest, or to journey and wonder.
You can catch The Arcadian Wild on the festival main stage on Aug. 31 at 11 a.m.
Tickets and additional information about the festival, including the main stage schedule and information on all of the artists, can be found online at www.folkwest.com. Volunteer applications are now available on the website and scheduling will begin soon, so potential volunteers are urged to apply as soon as possible.
The Four Corners Folk Festival is supported in part with matching funds from Colorado Creative Industries.