Native Colorado band to perform at free concert |

Native Colorado band to perform at free concert

Internationally recognized Colorado native band, Hot Rize, is slated to entertain Saturday at Howelsen Hill.
Courtesy Photo

If You Go:

What: Hot Rize, Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series

When: Gates open at 5:30 p.m. July 16, with Fireside Collective opening the show and main act to follow

Where: Howelsen Hill

Fueled by rural values and feelings, feeding the bluegrass monster is all about nurturing the community in which it thrives. What began as a jam session in someone’s backyard, a garage or even resting on the tailgate of a pickup truck has turned into something much more.

“We’re part of the trunk or the branches, but if we keep nourishing the roots, the tree will grow,” said Pete Wernick, also known as “Dr. Banjo,” with respect to bluegrass music today. “Hot Rize is just one of the respected branches.”

Though all four band members found their passion for music in different places and with different draws — Wernick was motivated by aspirations of playing with what he called “finger-style,” such as Earl Scruggs, and Nick Forster was originally drawn to old-time music — it was the bluegrass community that brought them together in the summer of 1978.

“I think one of the cool things about Hot Rize is we sounded like us pretty early on, because each of us had a pretty good musical personality” Forster said. “We each had a distinct sound. The way we choose and present songs also sounds like us; it doesn’t really sound like anybody else. It’s deep within us, at this point.”

Hot Rize, a band rooted in Colorado, was born in 1978 and officially retired in 1990 after 12 successful years together. The band will feature Forster on bass guitar, Tim O’Brien as lead singer, mandolinist and fiddler, Wernick on banjo and Bryan Sutton on guitar. Sutton replaced Charles Sawtelle, who died in 1999, in 2002.

“It was an interesting time,” said Randy Kelley, a Steamboat local who was part of the Colorado bluegrass scene in the ’70s. “It was just guys getting together and picking on a Sunday afternoon, just having a jam sesh.”

“The beautiful thing about playing music is it’s a social experience,” Forster said. “You ended up playing whatever instrument is needed or whatever style is winning that day. It was really driven primarily by who you were hanging out with; it was a great community of musicians.”

Thirty-eight years ago, the original intent was to play a few summer gigs here and there, but after signs of success began to emerge, the band found itself in a studio within a year, recording its first album, and, after all those years spent traveling far and wide, the group is still closely bound with Colorado in heart and mind.

“I think it’s true that Hot Rize was a really influential band in Colorado,” said Forster. “Whenever we played, we developed the reputation of being the Colorado band. I’d say we helped usher in a new chapter, certainly in the sound of bluegrass in the West, and helped establish a bit of a Colorado sound.”

After realizing the close band mates weren’t ready to let Hot Rize go, the quartet recently wrapped up a 2015 tour and is still hard at work creating new music.

“We continue to evolve, musically, but there is no doubt we are firmly entrenched in bluegrass music,” said Wernick. “A lot of people consider us a standard for the traditional sound of bluegrass and the creative evolution of bluegrass. We started before some of our audience was even born, and we can last through generations.”

For Saturday’s show, the Steamboat community can expect a full entertainment package.

“In a bluegrass show, there’s some stuff that should bring a tear to your eye, make you chuckle, fill you ears and make your foot tap” said Wernick. “If we do our job well, you’ll also come away with the feeling that you’ve had a satisfying musical feast.”

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