Photos and Recap by Max Stewart
Musicians with real chops are having a moment. If you ignore the vast majority of the Top 40, there are waves of superb artists having major success thanks to a blend of stellar songwriting and quality musicianship. Music fans are tired of auto-tune and vapid pop nonsense. Billy Strings, Tyler Childers, Sierra Hull, Cory Wong, Madison Cunningham, and Thundercat are some examples of real musicians playing to bigger and bigger crowds.
Well let’s add to that list shall we? Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley need to be on your radar immediately, if they are not already.
Both Nashville musicians already have mountains of credibility and are well-respected in the bluegrass world.
Rob Ickes has won the IBMA Dobro Player of the Year award fifteen times (!), won two Grammys in 1994 for bluegrass and gospel albums he contributed to, co-founded the highly influential bluegrass group Blue Highway, has been an A-team Nashville session dobro player, and he has played alongside legends such as Merle Haggard, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and even David Lee Roth (which he joked about during the show as ‘one of these things is not like the other.’)
As for Trey Hensley, he made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry when he was just 11 (!), alongside Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs. He has also played with the likes of Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash, and he performed at the White House in 2008.
So yeah… they each have the cachet and world-class resume. But when they team up, it is clear they tap into something special.
When both performed at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA on a Saturday evening in February, the intimate room was packed full of fans. They kicked the show off with “Brown Eyed Woman” by the Grateful Dead, and it was immediately apparent that Hensley and Ickes were on a completely different level. Hensley’s flatpicking on acoustic guitar and Icke’s range of dobro solos were so precise and their vocal harmonies shined brightly; I was completely blown away. They were also joined alongside Mike Bubb on bass (who was played with Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers) and drummer John Alvey (who has recorded with Taj Mahal and Vince Gill).
Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley’s new album, Living In A Song, was well-represented over the 1.5 hour show, and their original tunes translated beautifully live with many stretches of improvisation. Hensley’s vocals and poignant lyrics interchanged so effortlessly amongst fiery solos throughout stretches of songs: “Living In a Song” and “Backstreets Off Broadway” should continue to be live staples for the duo.
They even mixed in some jaw-dropping covers, including one from Georgia legends Allman Brothers Band (“One Way Out”), and a scorching version of Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s “Pride and Joy.” It was really cool to see the duo lean into the improvisational instrumentation sections. Sometimes bluegrass as a genre has the stereotype of being buttoned-up and unwilling to stretch from tradition. Hensley had some amazing effects on his acoustic guitar at times and their were superb covers of jam pioneers the Grateful Dead , with “Friend of the Devil” being one of the many highlights of the night (including teases of ABB’s “Jessica”).
The night ended with a monstrous roar of applause and a standing ovation, and it was clear many minds were blown and new fans were made over the course of the evening. I actually attended with my wife and my father and mother-in-law, and they all agreed it was an unreal performance.
All that I was thinking as the room was captivated by Hensley and Ickes’ shredding is that they should absolutely be playing to larger audiences: more people need to witness this magic live! As a reference point, bluegrass phenom Billy Strings played Eddie’s Attic in 2018 (capacity 165) and next month he is going to be playing State Farm Arena, where the hometown NBA team Atlanta Hawks play.
There is no doubt in my mind that String’s fanbase will love Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley’s live show, so take note now as they continue to ascend. Regardless of who you are a fan of listening to, if you appreciate great songs played by great players, go see them live!
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