It didn’t take long after Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, and Charles Sawtelle first appeared onstage together in 1978 for the bluegrass music world to realize that the Colorado band, Hot Rize, was something special. Steeped in bluegrass tradition, Hot Rize’s music is equally informed by a taste for the music of Leadbelly and Freddie King, swing, old-time Appalachia and more. The band retired in 1990, having received a Grammy nom and been named International Bluegrass Music Association’s very first Entertainers of the Year, but got together over the years to play from time to time. After Sawtelle’s death in 1999, guitarist Bryan Sutton came on board, and in 2014 the band released a new cd, When I’m Free.
Hot Rize is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year and appearing at Rhythm and Roots with Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, a band that travels in the back of the Hot Rize bus and occasionally spells their employers on stage. The foursome (Red Knuckles, Wendell Mercantile, Waldo Otto, and Swade) claim to play 40’s and 50’s country music “as well as you might expect from people who have mostly listened to the same jukebox for most of their lives”. The ‘Blazers are known for their original brand of entertainment, featuring band choreography and Wendell’s “take-off” guitar with fringe to match his outfit. There are people who say that Red Knuckles and Hot Rize are the same—but people will say anything, won’t they?