Last night, Hot Rize played the first night of three shows celebrating their 40th anniversary at the Boulder Theater. Often called “America’s Bluegrass Band,” featuring Tim O’Brien (mandolin), Nick Forster (bass), Pete Wernick (banjo), and Bryan Sutton (guitar), the Boulder, Colorado locals welcomed friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan to join in on the celebrations. Originally Del McCoury was also scheduled to play the pickin’ party, but due to a medical procedure on one of his eyes, doctors advised him not to fly for four to six weeks. Early in the show, Tim O’Brien told the crowd that Del is recovering quickly and bummed he could not make the trek out to the mountains.
Hot Rize played their first show January 18, 1978, at The Hungry Farmer in Boulder. From 1978 to 1998, Hot Rize was Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, and Charles Sawtelle. Following the untimely death in 1999 of original guitarist Charles Sawtelle, the band took a break from touring and performing. They regrouped in 2002, adding Asheville, North Carolina flatpicking-legend Bryan Sutton on guitar, and the band has been performing and writing new music ever since coming back sixteen years ago.
Grounded in the bluegrass traditions of artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers, Hot Rize’s musical tastes embraced other American roots pathways as well. Honing their sound in Colorado bars and small concerts, they were soon appearing on Prairie Home Companion, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Grand Ole Opry, and more. Their stage show gained steam, featuring their strong and soulful bluegrass combined with their wacky but musically deft “alter-ego” country swing band, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, which the Boulder Theater got a taste of during the second set last night. The group has performed in almost every state, as well as Europe, Japan, and Australia. We’re here forty years later, and Hot Rize is still selling out three-night runs at the Boulder Theater.
Friday night’s bluegrass extravaganza opened up with 1979’s “Blue Night,” off of their debut self-titled album. With Tim O’Brien leading the way on vocals, the string-maestros traded off scorching hot solos to get the soldout crowd on their feet. The band weaved through beloved originals, before inviting Sam Bush (mandolin/fiddle), Jerry Douglas (dobro), and Stuart Duncan (Fiddle) onstage for the Pete Wernick original, “Sky Rider.”
The three famed guests sat in for the majority of the show, helping out on “Western Skies,” “You Were On My Mind This Morning,” “Country Blues”, and also assisting in Hot Rize’s theatrical portion of the show featuring their musical alter ego, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers. The goofy country swing band had some extra fun last night with their guests, as the seven bluegrass-legends got to take a breather mid-second set and have some fun. Second set also saw the likes of traditional “Deep Elum Blues,” Hot Rize original “Nellie Kane” (which many have grown to love through Phish incorporating it as a staple cover), and the catchy “Radio Boogie,” ending the first of three nights in a high-spirit fashion.
Make sure to catch two more nights of Hot Rize and friends at the Boulder Theater, tonight and tomorrow night. You can find ticket and show information for the next two nights here!