Rob Ickes – 2010 USA Fellow

Rob Ickes, reso man with Blue Highway and pioneering slide stylist, has been announced as a recipient of a 2010 Fellowship from United States Artists. This award is given annually to 50 exceptional artists across a wide spectrum of disciplines, and includes a cash grant of $50,000.

United States Artists is a relatively new philanthropic organization, launched in 2005 with major funding from the Ford, Rockerfeller, Prudential and Rasmuson Foundations. This is the first USA fellowship for a bluegrass-related artist, though surely part of the reason for Rob’s selection is his work in jazz and improvisational string music as well.

We spoke with Rob earlier today, as he was relaxing in New York City preparing for tonight’s official presentations. He told us that he was not even aware of this group when he received an invitation to apply for a 2010 fellowship.

“The nomination process is completely anonymous. They have 2 people in each state who suggest names, and USA then chooses 300 nominees in 8 disciplines.

I got an application in the mail this Spring asking for a CD, so I put one together from a number of recordings I had made designed to show the wide range of music and people I had worked with. The application also had a few questions like ‘How would winning this award affect your career,’ and so on.”

Rob found out a few months later that he was selected as a Fellow, and said that his joy was tempered with a severe frustration.

“The hardest part was not telling anybody, and I had to keep my mouth shut until today! They want to keep this information confidential until the announcements are made, so this morning I finally called all the Blue Highway guys to share the news, and they were all really psyched for me.

The folks running the event told me I could tell one person, so of course I told my wife. Then I had to tell my parents a month ago to see if they could come out to Nashville to watch the kids in December so Jennifer and I could go to New York.”

The complete list of Fellowship recipients will be announced at a 6:00 p.m. press conference this evening (12/7), with a formal ceremony following at 8:00. (EST). Both will be streamed live online from the USA web site.

As you would expect, Ickes expressed a mix of gratitude and humility as he contemplated such a prestigious award.

“It’s quite an honor to be the first from the bluegrass world, and I hope I can use it to help raise the visibility of the dobro. It’s been very good to me, and I think this will help me spread the word about the beauty of the instrument.

Something like this really makes you think about what you do.”

We asked Rob what he had planned for his major award…

‘Nothing specific…  I really like what I do, getting to work with a lot of great artists.

I guess I would like to do something that pairs the dobro with artists outside of my normal field – something that would continue to expand what the reso does, and help raise its visibility.”

Many hearty congratulations to Rob Ickes, 2010 United States Artists Cummings Fellow!

Small world alert… among the 4 musicians chosen as fellows for 2010 is Uri Caine, a composer and jazz musician. Uri is the nephew of Abe Wechter, who builds the Rob Ickes signature Wechter-Scheerhorn resonator guitar.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.