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Posted: March 25, 2009

Hot Rize tops Swallow Hill’s RootsFest Denver

Plus: Zebra Junction celebrates Josh Blue Comedy Central show

Mike Cote

Shortly after I moved to Colorado in 1998, I had the good fortune to see Hot Rize perform in the band’s home base of Boulder at Chautauqua Auditorium. Until revisiting the bluegrass quartet’s live release, So Long of a Journey, I didn’t realize that must have been one of the last times the band ever performed with guitarist Charles Sawtelle, who succumbed to cancer not long afterward. What a tremendous loss.

The band was dormant for a while after that, but every now and then, mandolin/fiddle player and lead singer Tim O’Brien, bass player and singer Nick Forster and banjo player Pete Wernick regroup for special shows and festivals, recruiting guitarist Bryan Sutton to handle the guitar duties. The band reconvenes on Saturday to headline Swallow Hill’s third annual RootsFest Denver at Saturday in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Other acts on bill include singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, guitar virtuoso Leo Kotke and local upstarts Boulder Acoustic Society. Tickets are $55, $75 and $125.

As for that live album: So Long of  a Journey, named for a line from one of O’Brien’s songs, was culled from a two-night stand by Hot Rize at the Boulder Theater in 1996. The 2002 release – delayed because Forster misplaced the tapes in his closet – features 21 performances that offer ample proof these guys traversed the country for 20 years perfecting their craft before leaving the road for a more stable home life (Forster, for example, co-hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “etown” from Boulder with his wife, singer Helen Forster.)

Zebra Junction celebrates debut of Josh Blue special on Comedy Central

If you’ve ever watched old-timey jam band Zebra Junction perform, you might have spotted Josh Blue joining the party onstage. The Denver-based comic, a past winner of “Last Comic Standing,” gets more national exposure on Friday when “Comedy Central presents Josh Blue” debuts.

Zebra Junction – who are readying an album recorded with Blue under the moniker Josh Blue and the Hooligan Stew Revue – are celebrating Blue’s Comedy Central special with a pre-show party at the Toad Tavern, 5302 S. Federal Circle in Littleton. Get tickets to the 8 p.m. Friday event at or at any King Soopers store for $8. Blue’s show will be on the big screen at 8:30.

Looking ahead: Josh Blue opens for Kathleen Madigan at the Buell Theatre in Denver on Saturday, April 25 at a benefit for the Kempe Foundation. Tickets are $38.50 to $103.50.

From the Music box: Toy Matinee and Co. revisited

Toy Matinee’s single effort remains one of those underground faves that somehow manages to stay in print even though the 1990 disc was hardly a hit. Led by keyboard player (and Madonna producer) Patrick Leonard and singer multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, the eponymous release was quirky blend of sophisticated pop that displayed hints of Steely Dan (“The Ballad of Jenny Ledge”), progressive rock (“Last Plane Out”) and quirky lyrical themes (“Turn it on Salvador” is a tribute to the surreal artists Salvador Dali).

This latest edition of the album by the Collectors’ Choice imprint Noble Rot (this is at least Toy Matinee’s third release) coincides with the reissue of the follow-up group, Third Matinee, which Leonard formed with Mr. Mister singer/guitarist Richard Page for the 1994 album Meanwhile, a more mainstream pop outing that lacks the eclecticism of Toy Matinee but is still likeable. Also in the Noble Rot batch: a pair of albums by Toy Matinee touring and recording guitarist Mark Bonilla. EE Ticket, from 1991 (produced by Gilbert, who died five year later) and the follow-up American Matador, from 1993, present the versatile guitarist in mostly instrumental settings. Think Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eric Johnson. Fans of fret wizards will enjoy these discs.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at

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