Longform

The Return of Colorado's Bluegrass Kings

If there's one band that put Colorado bluegrass on the map, it's Hot Rize.

Longtime members Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, Tim O'Brien and Charles Sawtelle met at the Denver Folklore Center in the late 1970s. They worked there in various capacities -- as music instructors, instrument repairmen or at the store. Wernick and Sawtelle had a band called the Rambling Drifters that played the Folklore Center's venue every Tuesday, and Forster and O'Brien often joined them as sidemen. The collaborations gradually got more formal; Wernick, O'Brien and Sawtelle contributed to each other's solo records, and the three decided to form a band called Hot Rize. They recruited Mike Scap, who lasted only a few months before quitting, and on May 1, 1978, Forster came on board as the band's bass player. O'Brien played mandolin and fiddle, Wernick played banjo, and Sawtelle played guitar.

See also: Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Longtime MC Reflects on Colorado's Most Storied Music Fest

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.