FreeWheelin' Music Safari

Hot Rize – When I’m Free

Note to Hot Rize: 24 yrs between albums is too long!!


When I started to listen to a lot of music and collecting CDs, thanks to the used CD bins at Tunes in Marlton, in the early 2000s,  I found the music of Tim O’Brien, an amazing multi-instrumentalist and singer.  I also discovered the music of guitarist Charles Sawtelle. It took a while before I stumbled upon a great bluegrass album So Long a Journey (2002)  from the band Hot Rize. I discovered that both O’Brien and Sawtelle were members of the band, along with  Pete Wernick, and Nick Forster. Subsequently, I discovered that the album was a live album that had been recorded in 1996 and was a reunion album of  the band, that had retired in 1990. In 1990, the members had parted ways and went on to have distinguished solo careers. From their biography at the band’s website.

For bassist and multi-instrumentalist Forster, that meant building a blend of environmental concern and musical curation into the popular and influential show, eTown; for lead singer, mandolinist and fiddler O’Brien, recognition as an award-winning Americana and bluegrass master of singing and songwriting; for Sawtelle, a thriving career as guitarist, engineer and producer for a host of artists; and for Wernick, acclaim as a presenter of bluegrass and banjo camps, genre-bending bandleader, and 15-year president of the IBMA.Read more

About the Band

The band was formed way  back  the late 70s when the band started in the original line-up for the band was:

Tim O’Brien on lead and harmony vocals, mandolin, and fiddle; Pete Wernick on banjo and harmony vocals; and Charles Sawtelle on bass guitar, guitar, harmonies, and lead vocals. Mike Scap departed in 1976 and was replaced by bass player, guitarist, and vocalist Nick Forster, who also became the group’s MC.

Hot RizeBut even though they went their separate ways in 1990, they never really left the band. They continued to perform together at reunion shows and So Long a Journey was a live album from one of those shows. While these shows were fun as was playing those songs that won the band the first International Bluegrass Music Association‘s (IBMA) award for “Entertainer of the Year”

Changes in the Band

In 1999 Charles Sawtelle passed away losing a 2 year battle with leukemia. After Sawtelle’s death the surviving members brought in guitarist Bryan Sutton in to perform with them at their reunion shows.

Finally this year, 24 years after their last album, the band has released a new album When I’m Free. Band members Tim O’Brien and Pete Wernick say the following about the new album….

We’re too close as friends and longtime collaborators to let Hot Rize just lay fallow. We’ve watched bluegrass evolve in the past 25 years, and while we’ve all been a part of that evolution as individuals, now it’s time to bring a new Hot Rize statement to the world,” explains O’Brien. “Reunion shows are fun, but we got to where we wanted to dig into new material.”

Pete Wernick agrees: “In the years since we brought Bryan in, we would all talk about wanting to be a living, breathing, 21st century Hot Rize, which would mean developing a satchel of new material, then going around and playing it.”

Thoughts about When I’m Free

The soundtrack of my run on Tuesday of this week was When I’m Free . Based on that limited listening I think the band is just a dynamic as it used to be. As usual, there is some unbelievable picking from Wernick, Sutton and Tim O’Brien. O’Brien handles the majority of the vocals and sounds great!! I really have to listen to the album some more because my run was a struggle. So that, my concentration was not on the music!! What I do know that if you’ve never heard these guys you should check them out!!

Here’s a video for the song “Blue Is Fallin'” from When I’m Free…..

P.S. If you’ve ever wondered where the name of the band came from it’s from the secret ingredient of Martha White Self-Rising Flour, the product Flatt & Scruggs had promoted early in their careers!!

Links for the Further Exploration of Hot Rize