Hot Rize celebrated its 40th year with this live set, recorded at the Boulder Theater, Boulder, Col. in January, 2018. Doubtless, Hot Rize would agree that it has been a long, rewarding trip, and listeners are able to share the journey with this collection.
Not that there haven't been detours. Founding member Charles Sawtelle passed in 1999, long after the band disbanded in 1990. Tim' O'Brien released a series of awe-inspiring solo releases. Pete Wernick dove deeper into his banjo pedagogy, and bassist Nick Forster, among other things, founded eTown, harnessing digital technology for a bluegrass/roots audience.
Along the way, the surviving members of the band came to understand that their brand of bluegrass - the progenitor of a newgrass sound - still pulled on listeners. In 2002, Hot Rize tentatively reassembled with the sublime guitar picker Bryan Sutton taking Sawtelle's slot. Since then Hot Rize have been a festival favorite, displaying unquestioned skill and musicianship. They are often accompanied/supplanted by their comedic doppelgangers, Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers. The Knuckles bit actually pays tribute to one of the core elements of mountain music in the '30s through the '60s, namely a goofy comedy act, which flowed from the days of musical revues.
O'Brien has the voice of a generation, authentically capturing mountain music and nimbly picking his mandolin or bowing his fiddle. O'Brien has also written more songs than can be counted. Many are represented on "40th Anniversary Bash" (to give just two examples, "Nellie Kane" and "The High Road"). "Walk The Way The Blows" is also a standout. But Wernick, Sutton and Forster's songwriting chops are well-represented here as well. It's a nice mix, together with a number written by the late Pete Kuykendall, a bluegrass savant who originally gave Hot Rize its first push as a legit bluegrass band.
No celebration would be complete without guests, and Hot Rize has some cool bluegrass friends who contribute to the live music celebration. Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and the ubiquitous Jerry Douglas all sit in. Each one is a headliner on most nights, but they provide a nice counterpoint to the main event here - the celebration of 40 years of making music together among the Hot Rize bandmates. It's nice to have friends in the business.
"40th Anniversary Bash" celebrates Hot Rize's continuing freshness and relevance whilst nicely displaying their solid songwriting and musicianship.