Hot Rize marked its 30th anniversary on January 18, 2008. (The first show was at The Hungry Farmer in Boulder, CO on that date in 1978.). From 1978 to 1998, Hot Rize was Tim O'Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, and Charles Sawtelle. Following the death in 1999 of original member Charles Sawtelle, the band took a break from performing. They regrouped in 2002 for several shows a year, with Bryan Sutton added on guitar. 2008 is the seventh year of shows with the current lineup, delivering its high-energy, soulful, and unique sound to fans old and new. Fans will also be treated to a reappearance of Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, who are expected to somehow find their way to the select festival stages where Hot Rize will appear.
On the strength of their first records and national touring, Hot Rize rose to prominence in the early 80's, appearing frequently on such national broadcasts as NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" and The Nashville Network's "Ralph Emery Show". Their stage show gained renown, featuring their strong and soulful bluegrass combined with their wacky but musically deft "alter-ego" country swing band, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers. The group performed in almost every state, as well as Europe, Japan, and Australia.
In 1984, Hot Rize released a concert album featuring the Trailblazers and in 1985 released Traditional Ties. Untold Stories and Take It Home, came out in 1987 and 1990 respectively. Many songs from these records, such as "Walk the Way the Wind Blows", "Colleen Malone" and "Just Like You" reached #1 positions on national bluegrass airplay charts. After 12 years of full-time year-round performing and recording, the group disbanded amicably, all members subsequently pursuing solo careers.
The 1990s saw Hot Rize reunite several times each year, mostly at bluegrass festivals, with occasional short tours. Live recorded cuts appeared on various festival albums. In 1994 Sawtelle was diagnosed with leukemia, eventually dying in 1999 from complications of a bone marrow transplant. The classic group's span as the same four musicians had lasted 21 years. Its performing commitments in 1999 were fulfilled as Charles Sawtelle memorials, with Peter Rowan or Jeff White filling the guitar slot.
A live concert recording from 1996, "So Long of a Journey", was issued in 2002, the first Hot Rize album in over a decade. Also in 2002, the group started performing again, with several shows each year. Hot Rize has remained one of the top attractions in bluegrass, well into its third decade.