The Neptune Theatre hosts all kinds of music, but bluegrass and country fans get twice their share next week, with the much-anticipated reunion of progressive bluegrassers Hot Rize (Wednesday, Dec. 10) and a close-up view of Nashville rising star Frankie Ballard (Saturday, Dec. 6).
One of the most influential groups in the bluegrass revival of the ’70s, Hot Rize formed in Boulder, Colo., in 1978, out of a group of forward-looking musicians who gathered at the Denver Folklore Center. Named after the “secret ingredient” in Martha White flour, familiar to bluegrass aficionados as the radio sponsor for Flatt and Scruggs, the band originally featured Tim O’Brien (mandolin, fiddle), Pete Wernick (banjo), Charles Sawtelle (bass) and Mike Scap (guitar). When Scap left, he was replaced by Nick Forster (guitar, bass guitar) and Sawtelle switched to guitar.
Though fluent in the “high lonesome” vocal sound and crisp picking of traditional bluegrass, Forster’s electric bass set the group apart, though they did not lean as far toward jazz as “newgrass” artists such as David Grisman. Living up to its name, Hot Rize swelled quickly in the bluegrass oven, playing on “Prairie Home Companion,” “Austin City Limits” and at the Grand Ole Opry.
However, in 1990, after releasing “Take It Home,” O’Brien and Wernick left the group to pursue solo careers and in 1999, Sawtelle died.
With Bryan Sutton filling Sawtelle’s spot, the band has gotten together for periodic shows over the years but this year the band brought out its first studio album in 24 years, “When I’m Free,” and booked a full-on national tour.
“When I’m Free” features some strong new songs, which the group is playing on the road, where the crowds — and reviews — have been wildly enthusiastic.
Hot Rize may be named for a commercial product, but its patina is antique; Frankie Ballard, on the other hand, comes from the commercial present.
Originally hailing from Michigan, the heartthrob singer-guitarist won the Kenny Chesney Next Big Star competition in 2008 and was swept into the national country maelstrom, opening for Chesney and signing with Reprise Nashville. With country and rock influences, and considerable bite on electric guitar, Ballard was sensibly marketed as a sort of latter-day John Mellencamp or Bob Seger on his first, self-named album, released in 2011. It featured the appealing, hard-country-rock breakup anthem, “Tell Me You Get Lonely” and the bro-country fantasy “A Buncha Girls.”
Though both songs charted and critical praise ran deep, the album didn’t sell particularly well. Ballard did better after signing with Warner Bros. in 2013 and releasing “Sunshine & Whiskey” earlier this year. Its softer focus and more thoughtful lyrics lifted the title track and “Helluva Life” into the Top 10 country charts, though it also skirted close to adult contemporary territory.
With his vocal and instrumental chops, good looks and a decade of performing under his belt, Ballard is clearly in the game for the long haul.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $37.50-$40 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $20-$23 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).