HOT RIZE Concert Review by W.J. Hallock!

HOT RIZE is back…… and the 560 fans who packed the Concert Hall at Fort Lewis Collage in Durango, Image635478749637558301Colorado were all thrilled! It was no mistake that the band chose to kick off their 25 city, 2014 tour in Durango, having spent a lot of time in their formative years here in the four corners area.

They still remember playing the old Farquarts, on Main Street and sleeping in their van out behind Millwood Junction in Mancos! The band, AND the crowd, have a lot of sweet memories of Durango, and everyone seemed happy to be present for this re-commitment by Hot Rize. My wife, Mary Ann, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Tim O'Brien & Bill HallockI was lucky enough to spend over thirty minutes with Tim and Nick in their dressing room before their sound check. They were more than kind and generous with their time and their thoughts, explaining in great depth what their plans for the band are. They were also more than patient answering questions that they have probably been asked thousands of times before, but, being the consummate professionals they are, never once did I feel like they were just going through the motions. Both men are genuinely personable to be around and both seemed to be more than happy to share what the future holds for the re-kindled Hot Rize.

I intentionally asked THE question first…. just how important will the return of Hot Rize be to all four members, and it was answered, by all four men, with the same firm statement. For the next 12 months, Hot Rize is the main entrĂ©e on all of their plates!! Yes, they will still be doing their individual side projects, but, Hot Rize will take precedence over all those other commitments. Nick put it very bluntly when he said that he had once been in marriage counseling and learned a very important tenet…… that being, either the partners have to commit, or RE-commit, to the marriage 100%, OR…. make the divorce final. He couldn’t have been more firm in his statement, and how it related to the band. Pete Wernick and Bryan Sutton were both just as adamant that HOT RIZE is back, and all involved are in agreement with the way that certain blocks of time in the future have become band time. Twenty-five dates have been booked between this first show in Durango and the last one for 2014 in Berkeley, CA. at the Freight & Salvage on 12/14/ 2014. When I asked just how many shows they plan to do in 2015, the magic number was 50. When one considers all the advance planning and footwork that goes into booking a band of this stature, that’s a lot of shows!

I first saw Tim O’Brien in the late 90’s at Durango’s Henry Strater Theater with his sister, Molly O’Brien, and what a show it was! Tim has the ability to walk on stage with nothing more than a fiddle, and mesmerize an audience. He is a one man orchestra, and has the talent and ability to captivate your ears and your imagination. With his knowledge of music history, he can turn a centuries old Irish melody into a familiar and endearing song that can bring a tear to your eye! The minute Hot Rize hit the stage and Tim kicked off the first song, he was in charge and had the crowd eating out of his hand. When he switched from mandolin to playing his fiddle, I noticed a very simple detail that seemed to epitomize everything Tim is musically…… as he bows with his right hand, it almost appears that the bow is floating in his hand. He holds it so loosely that it seems to propel itself across the strings, with no apparent effort from Tim’s wrist. When I shook hands with Tim the first time we met, that laid back, but comfortably “in charge” persona was just as noticeable in his handshake as it was later on stage. Tim seems to have that characteristic of being able to put people at ease, either one on one, as with me, or the 560 people in the audience. I think that is part of the Tim O’Brien charm…… he is very comfortable in his own skin, and he passes that on to whomever is around him. As I noticed that easiness in Tim, I immediately realized this demeanor is present in his recordings as well. Listen to his “Red on Blonde” CD, full of Bob Dylan songs, and it’s there. Listen to his LIVE CD with Darrel Scott, and it’s there. Tim O’Brian is one of a kind, and in my humble opinion, he is the magic in Hot Rize.

Nick Forster is a force of nature! Everything about him seems to drive Hot Rize like a freight train. He sings great harmony, he lays the time down as solid as railroad tracks and he reaches out and touches each and every audience member with his personality filled banter. I love the fact that he plays electric rather than acoustic bass. I don’t think he would have the ability to roam the stage and connect with the band, or the audience, as well if he were forced to stay in one spot. His bass playing is the foundation of the Hot Rize sound…… it’s never lost in the house mix, and the rest of the band can easily soar above the foundation his bass playing builds. Nick adds another dimension to the band’s sound when Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers take the stage. His alter ego, Wendell Mercantile, plays some outrageously great guitar and his comedic timing is right on the money. As Tim is the magic, Nick is the dynamo! As host, founder and CEO of eTown Radio, with his wife, Helen Forster, out of Boulder, CO., Nick is probably the busiest member of Hot Rize. He will still have to complete 36 more shows for radio airplay on 240 stations and XM Radio before the end of the year. It was at the eTown studio that Hot Rize recorded their new CD, “When I’m Free.” The depth of Nick and Helen’s community involvement, to Boulder in particular, and the nation in general is huge, and it’s going to take a lot of Nick’s time to juggle it all in the coming year, but, from the confident man I met, and marveled at on stage, he seems more than up for the challenge.

Pete Wernick, aka “Dr. Banjo, adds a personality to Hot Rize that is both astounding musically and hilariously comedic. His instrumental, “Sky Rider,” which is on their new CD, is a show stopper! The entire band took off like a rocket and the crowd loved it. I can see it becoming even more relevant to their shows as it develops into an even more unique piece that it is destined to become, with time. Over the last 30 years, Pete has developed the “Wernick Method” for teaching all levels of musicianship at festivals and banjo camps worldwide. A much in demand session player and head liner in his own right, Pete is the rhythmic frosting to the Hot Rize cake. His banjo rolls, runs, driving solos and fills push the band toward an even stronger timing excellence. Both the up and down strokes of the metronome time arc are strengthened by his banjo. As he played his steel guitar, which doubled as an old folks “walker,” during the Trailblazers set, I found myself wanting his alter ego, Waldo Otto, to really cut loose with some hot licks. I doubt Pete would play any instrument and not excel at it. Show us some flash on that Fender steel Waldo!!

Three times in the last year I have had the chance to see guitar monster, Bryan Sutton, playing LIVE, right in front of my eyes, and all three times he burned up the occasions with some of the most masterful playing I have ever witnessed! At the TV taping of “Simply Bluegrass” in Nashville last fall, he was in the house band backing all the stars, and he was the best of sidemen, always tasteful, yet restrained and never hogging the spotlight. At the Pickin’ In The Pines festival, in Flagstaff, AZ., this past September 13th, he was the fill in guitar player for The Traveling McCoury’s, and he didn’t hold back even for an instant. As the band warmed up in the dressing room, and showed Bryan the format for some of the songs they were planning on doing, he appeared to be a sponge soaking up all the musical quirks that would come his way later, in front of thousands of fans. One of his strengths is the ability to take it on the fly and power up accordingly, he never missed a lick that I could tell, either during the warm up exchange in the dressing room or the live set, and he just plain cooked during the McCoury’s show. What an addition he was to that august band of pickers!!! At the September 24th show with Hot Rize, he seemed to be completely at ease in his dual roles as Bryan, hot picker deluxe, and “Swade,” the dark, hip and mysteriously silent bass player. I’ll bet “Swade” will become even more of a presence as time goes by. I was so glad my wife, Mary Ann, was with me……. while I was talking with Tim and Nick, she had a chance to talk with Bryan. He stated to her that he didn’t like to be away from his wife and two daughters for long periods of time, and the Hot Rize scheduling was perfect for him. Bryan graciously gave her a copy of his new CD, “Into My Own,” and after bouncing back and forth listening to it and the new Hot Rize CD, “When I’m Free,” it appears I have doubled my reviewing workload!

During their show, several new songs from the CD were debuted, and their presentation was spot on, Tim’s “Blue Is Fallin’”, Pete’s “Sky Rider” and Nick’s “Doggone”. One of the show’s highlights was the lovely “I Am the Road”. The song was written by Bryan and Nic. Bryan sang alone with only his guitar and the gospel harmonies of Pete, Tim and Nick accompanying him. It was a quiet moment that introduced Bryan perfectly to the Hot Rize faithful. The instrumental strength of Hot Rize is legendary, but, with “I Am the Road” the band proved that they are truly inspirational vocally. I never had the chance years ago to hear Hot Rize, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see them this time around, it will remain a musical highlight for me! A big THANK YOU to Pete, Bryan, Nick and Tim for spending quality time with me, and Mary Ann. I also want to thank Dan Foldes, their road manager, sound man, e-mail contact and general good guy for his efforts on our behalf. Durango should be proud that Hot Rize wanted to start their journey with us, and Charles Leslie, Director of the Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College and LeAnn Brubaker, Tech Director and Production Manager were invaluable to the success of this show.


No comments: