Rob Ickes at the Red Sea

Rob Ickes and Mike Alvey in Israel with the Red Sea in the backgroundI could hear the excitement in Rob Icke’s voice when I spoke with him earlier this week about his recent trip to Israel.

He and pianist Michael Alvey made the trip to perform at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eliat, a gorgeous resort town in southern Israel – at the northern tip of the Red Sea. Ickes and Alvey collaborated on Rob’s latest CD, Road Song, a set of duets on a mix of jazz standards and new compositions.

Rob shared the story of how a resonator guitarist from Nashville got the call to perform with jazz legends like John Scofield and Paquito D’Rivera halfway around the world.

Rob Ickes on stage at the Red Sea Jazz Festival - photo by Guy Evron“There was a guy, Ori, at ResoSummit last year who is Israeli, and he somehow got one of the first mixed cuts from Road Song to Avishai Cohen, the director of the festival. He loved the track, and invited us to perform based solely on that one cut.

It was a really wild trip. I left on Sunday (8/23), we played that Tuesday and Wednesday, and got back on Thursday – plus I had Blue Highway shows the Saturday before and the Friday after!”

Even with that sort of nerve-wracking schedule, Rob said that the trip was worth every drop of sweat. He tells us that Eliat Harbor was beautiful, and that the hotel  where they stayed was magnificent.

Michael Alvey and Rob Ickes at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eliat, Israel“Everything was great… the sound was perfect. I was seeing all these heavy jazz cats and started thinking, ‘What are we doing here?’ but people really dug what we were doing. There was a jam stage just outside the hotel where people were playing every night until 6:00 a.m. I didn’t bother getting much sleep.

After our first show Tuesday night, I had a workshop Wednesday morning and I figured that no one would be there. But lo and behold, there were 50-60 people there! They were fascinated by the dobro, and wanted to learn all about it. Several young people came up to me afterwards and wanted to find out how they could learn. That had me flashing back to when I was first inspired to play –  those kids had that same look in their eye.

One guy asked if he could just put a pencil under his strings to raise the action to get started, and I laughed and said, “That’s just what I did!’

Our second show was sold out, with more than 1,000 in the venue. Before our second set, the festival director came up to me and said that he really had taken a chance booking us, based just on a recording, and that made me feel so good that they heard something they liked that well. Plus he said that he wanted to have us back.

It wasn’t all work, though. Rob said that he had a chance to hook up with his old college roommate who lives in Israel now, and even got to swim with the fishes, metaphorically speaking of course.

Rob Ickes at the entrance to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel“Our chaperon for that week runs a dolphin park, so we got to hang out with the dolphins and relax at a salt water spa. It was like the Dead Sea – so salty that you float effortlessly in the water. If you laid your head back into the water, you could hear the music they had piped into the pool.

It was a very cool trip.”

You can hear audio samples from Road Song on the site for Rob’s record company, ResoRevolution.

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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.