We were able to head up to the concert a little early and stopped by the Old North Bridge in Concord on our way to Lexington - a spot that my cousin the head librarian had never been to before but that I had hit up in August. Amy is just as much of a history fan as I am - it runs in the family - but like so many of us who never get to the stuff that's close by, she'd never been to the birthplace of the American Revolution. She said she would have been more impressed if the Old North Bridge were the original bridge but alas, that ain't the case!
As you can see, the area looked vastly different from when I was there in August as even though it was only November 3rd, there was nary a leaf on a tree it seems!
Of course, I still wasn't able to get a decent picture of the Concord Minuteman as the light wasn't cooperating but I had to try!
Anyhow, after leaving Concord we made the short drive over to Lexington where we did a quick walk around the Battle Green and then hit up the local Bertucci's for some mighty fine Italian food before making our way over to the National Heritage Museum where the concert was being held. The museum, which was founded by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States as a gift to the country on our bicentennial, looked like a rather interesting place that I'll have to try to get to again sometime when they're actually open - yet another thing to add to the list! The museum provided the perfect venue for the group that we were there to see - one of the few bluegrass bands that I can say that I truly like - Hot Rize.
As you can see, it's a small venue but smaller is the preferred venue of most bluegrass groups being that bluegrass is more of a personal style of music than what you're going to get in a bigger concert arena. The 390-seat Maxwell Auditorium was almost full to capacity for the concert that was being sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union.
The "Berkley to Berklee Tour" was the first time that Hot Rize had reunited for a tour in 10 years and featured their first new music in 20 years as they toured nine cities coast-to-coast in eleven days. Whew! Amy said that the concert had sold out pretty quickly and people were scrambling around trying to get tickets as the band currently has no plans for future tours and they're quite popular. Rightly so I might add as these guys are good and they put on a great show. This wasn't my first time seeing Hot Rize as I saw them perform twice in the distant past - once at the former Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival in upstate New York and once at a small hall in Nashua, New Hampshire. Both times they were fantastic and I was quite looking forward to seeing them again.
To try to give you just a bit of a background on the band without getting carried away like I usually do (!), Hot Rize was formed in Colorado in 1978 and is named after the secret ingredient found in Martha White's “self-rising” flour - they even do a nice little commercial jingle for their namesake during every show which was originally performed by the bluegrass band whose television show was sponsored by Martha White - Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys. The Martha White Company allowed Hot Rize to use the name as well as print the logo on their t-shirts with no compensation with just one stipulation - "Keep the show clean."
Original band members were Tim O'Brien who sang lead and harmony vocals while playing mandolin and fiddle;
Pete Wernick on banjo and harmony vocals;
Charles Sawtelle on guitar, harmonies and lead vocals;
and Nick Forster, who replaced the group's original guitarist after three months, on bass and main harmony as well as serving as the group's emcee.
The group released its self-titled debut album in 1979 and their second album, "Radio Boogie", came out in 1981. Concert-goers were treated to traditional as well as original bluegrass music from the group along with performances by their alter-egos who ride around in the back of the tour bus and perform while Hot Rize takes a rest in between sets - country-western swing band Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.
Following the release of four more albums which included a concert album featuring The Trailblazers, the group amicably split up after 12 years of touring in 1990 in order to pursue solo interests. They reunited on and off for various bluegrass festivals over the years as well as several short tours here and there. In 1994, Charles Sawtelle was diagnosed with leukemia and in spite of a courageous battle, succumbed to the illness in 1999 following complications from a bone marrow transplant. The remainder of their concerts for that year were performed as memorial concerts with other guitarists filling in for their missing band member.
In 2002 a live concert recording from 1996, "So Long of a Journey", was released as the first Hot Rize album in over a decade and in that same year the group started performing again with several shows each year. At that time, Bryan Sutton - Nashville super-picker, Grammy winner, and five-time IBMA Guitarist of the Year - was added on guitar and became the permanent fourth member of Hot Rize.
In looking back over the pictures that I took at the concert that night, I'm going to have to guess that I was obviously smitten with Mr. Sutton as there appear to be more pictures of him then anyone else in the collection! Truth be told, it was hard not to be smitten as this man can play a guitar like nobody's business (to quote my old Gram B) and I have always admired those who possess a great musical talent - he weren't too hard on the eyes either! That's not to say that the rest of the band doesn't possess great musical talent though because - boy howdy - do they ever! As my cousin likes to put it, I'm not really a "BG person" but I sure do like Hot Rize!
Just to give you an example as to why I really like these guys, I was able to find a video on YouTube with one of the songs that they performed that night. This song is called "Just Like You" and was written by Pete Wernick aka Dr. Banjo!
Now I'm obviously no expert when it comes to music - and especially bluegrass music - but I do know what I like and the vocal harmonies of Hot Rize really cannot be surpassed. My cousin, who is about as close to an expert as you can get, told me that Nick and Tim are probably the best non-brothers who harmonize as well as they do and I believe her as they really do compliment each other. Trust me, she knows bluegrass music and knows that of which she speaks!
By the way, have I mentioned that Amy hosts The Bluegrass Cafe on Sunday afternoons on WHUS, the University of Connecticut's radio station? Indeed she does every other weekend (sometimes more) so if you're in the local area and want to tune in, the show runs from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. on 91.7 on your FM dial. I do believe she may just also take requests, too, if you've got yourself a hankerin' for a particular song and would like to see if she could spin it for you (not that DJs actually spin records anymore but I'm sure you know what I mean!).
Anyway ... back at the concert ... in between Hot Rize's two sets, the audience is treated to music by those country-western cut-ups - Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.
I've got to say that those boys add an element to the show that you probably don't get at any other bluegrass concert as - similar to the Statler Brothers alter-egos "Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys" - the Trailblazers give Hot Rize a chance to let their hair down and goof off a little bit while giving the audience some great laughs along the way. That's not to say that The Trailblazers are the members of Hot Rize, mind you - they just look a lot like them!
The members of Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers are Red Knuckles himself on guitar with the mysterious Swade on bass:
Waldo Otto on the steel guitar (along with his brother Elmo Otto on the fiddle who joins the band during the second set!):
and electric guitarist and showman extraordinaire, Wendell Mercantile - who changes his shirt and guitar fringe in between their two sets:
The Trailblazers sing and dance and just flat-out have fun not only for the benefit of the audience but pretty obviously for themselves, too! Had I been able to find a decent video on YouTube, I would have shared it with you here but alas, none of them did the band justice ... however, if you'd like to click on over to Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure on Facebook you can check out a video clip of the band performing "One Woman Man". I'm sure you'll agree the boys are mighty fine, mighty fine!
All in all, the concert lasted about two hours with both Hot Rize and The Trailblazers doing two sets each. They played almost all of the songs that I've heard them do before as well as listened to on CD and I was quite pleasantly surprised to have remembered the words which I hadn't heard in quite some time. Their new music was almost most excellent and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the evening! To say that these guys are good is an understatement and I've got no doubt that a lot of bluegrass fans were very happy to have them back and performing again.
As a matter of fact, if they come back around, I'd be more than happy to accompany my cousin once again!
If you'd like to read more about the concert then click on over to Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms where he did a mighty fine review of the concert and if you 'd like to see more pictures from the show, please feel free to check out the set on my Flickr page - and not to worry, I got it down from close to 200 pictures to only 41!