Pete’s musical excursions over the years have ranged from cutting-edge to tradition-based. Click on names in the box or any image for information on each band.

Pete Wernick & FLEXIGRASS is a supercharged blend of bluegrass with classic jazz and “Dr. Banjo” originals. The all-star group blazes new trails everywhere they play, as vibraphone master Greg Harris and hot clarinetist Bill Pontarelli trade licks with Wernick and the band’s tight arrangements provide many surprises. Joan Wernick’s sparkling vocals range from soulful bluegrass to stylish jazz and Kris Ditson (drums) and Roger Johns (bass) provide a strong pulse that doesn’t overpower, but pops and sizzles!

Surprising traditionalists is nothing new to bluegrass Grammy-nominated Wernick. The Hot Rize banjoist and 15-year president of the International Bluegrass Music Association is “among the most creative and just plain fun musicians in (blue, new, jazz) grass” according to Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.

Based on a deep understanding of musical tradition, Wernick follows the lead of important musical innovators by fusing compatible sounds and building an original and entertaining set of sounds. The band has outlasted the skeptics and the audiences roar their approval!

FLEXIGRASS has performed from Carolina to California, and made two trips to Ireland. Fans from Béla Fleck to George Winston have sung its praises, and the press has reacted with words like: fundamentally futuristic, an amazing accomplishment, truly great, beguiling, instantly accessible, fantastic, wildly enjoyable, monster players. Give them a listen!


WHAT THE has the band’s best versions of its latest material. It has received outstanding rave reviews and Greg Carr’s outrageous cover won the IBMA Album Design award for 2008.

Pete talks with KCFR on “Colorado Matters” about Flexigrass and What The

View video from the album: Blue Train.

Raves from all over!

FLEXIGRASS, “Up All Night”

Pete Wernick’s Live Five
There’s never been a band like FLEXIGRASS! “Exciting, intriguing… Delights at every turn. Superb composing and arranging.”
–Bluegrass Unlimited

14 cuts of the band’s exciting and surprising sounds, with seven original tunes, three live cuts, and three vocals, including “My Buddy” by Joan Wernick. Check out what the band does with two Earl Scruggs instrumentals (including “Foggy Mt. Breakdown”) and one by Benny Goodman!

Click here to read a fabulous review of “Up All Night”

Flexigrass is just one of many interesting names given to describe the unique sound of Pete Wernick & FLEXGRASS. Led by Bluegrass Grammy nominee “Dr. Banjo”, Pete Wernick, the band’s unique, supercharged sound is woven by all-stars from bluegrass and traditional jazz: Greg Harris(vibraphone), Bill Pontarelli(clarinet), Kris Ditson (drums), Roger Johns (bass), and Joan Wernick (featured vocalist).

In multiple appearances at major festivals from Merlefest (NC) to Winfield (KS) to Strawberry (CA) to Johnny Keenan (Ireland), FLEXIGRASS has thrilled audiences with its unparalleled blend of American music forms. Entertaining, original, high-energy. tradition-based –FLEXIGRASS makes musical waves!

Selected tracks from Pete Wernick’s Live Five 
(now Flexigrass) 
“Up All Night”

 Spirit In A Bottle 1.2 M 

 Owensboro Hop 1.3 M 

 The Doctor Is In 1.4 M 

 On a Roll 2.7 M

Pete Wernick (“Dr. Banjo”) has been described by Bluegrass Unlimited as “among the most creative and just plain fun musicians in (blue, new, jazz) grass.” FLEXIGRASS follows two other significant Wernick-organized bands: groundbreaking bluegrass instrumental wizards Country Cooking (1970-76), and the internationally acclaimed Hot Rize (full-time 1978-90 and still occasionally performing). He’s also been mentor to thousands with his music camps, best-selling books and videos, and from 1986 to 2001, President of the International Bluegrass Music Association. Pete’s blazing innovations have crossed back and forth over the borders of bluegrass, but fans can always count on his love of tradition, taste, and tone.

Joan Wernick adds to Flexigrass’ show with sparkling vocals and an irrepressible sense of fun. In solo vocals and duets with husband Pete, she expertly tackles everything from bluegrass to jazz, with audience-pleasing style.

Greg Harris’ vibraphone, or “vibes”, gives a sweet-ringing texture to FLEXIGRASS. Both mellow and percussive, Greg’s mallets on brass achieve a rhythmic drive that thrills audiences. His background is in jazz, leading his own group and earning a Masters in Music, but he also plays bluegrass guitar. He recently returned from six months in Africa, studying a variety of mallet instruments. Greg is the newest addition to FLEXIGRASS, and stands 6’6″!

Bill Pontarelli swings and soars on flexigrass clarinet. Not many horn players have studied bluegrass fiddle players along with Benny Goodman, but Bill does it all. His lightning-quick lines and sophisticated ear add many exciting moments to FLEXIGRASS shows. A veteran of the Denver dixieland and swing music scenes, Bill helped found the Platte River Jazz Band. Amazing but true, Bill once bowled a 300 game!

Kris Ditson is possibly the world’s only drummer who thinks “bluegrass”. With brushes, a light touch, and a natural feel for the bluegrass beat, Kris has teamed with greats such as Andy Statman and Tony Trischka, and performed with a number of bluegrass bands including Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mt. Boys. Kris’ easy smile and that floating pulse help keep FLEXIGRASS cooking!

Roger Johns brings formidable bass chops and an uncanny ear to the FLEXIGRASS blend. A mainstay among Denver’s traditional jazz artists, Roger’s extensive repertoire includes not just countless standards, but many fine antique jokes. Unfazed by the band’s demanding tempos, he blazes new trails with his solos, and keeps the group locked in with his strong, smooth tones.


“Exciting, intriguing… Delights at every turn. Superb composing and arranging.” –Bluegrass Unlimited

“I love the way [FLEXIGRASS] blends bluegrass banjo into an early jazz band. A very appealing combination.” –Béla Fleck

“Fantastic acoustic music. Is it bluegrass? Dixieland? Bebop? Who knows? If you’ve ever felt your body move of its own accord when listening to any of these styles, you’ll like this.” –Bluegrass Now

A joy to hear. An amazing accomplishment… Lights a real spark under bluegrass…”

“It’s fun, well-crafted, entertaining. Should appeal to anyone who enjoys hearing top-notch musicians strut their stuff.”
–Sing Out!

“This was a SHOW. Magnificent music. A vastly entertained audience, a double encore and standing ovation said it all.”
–The Black Rose

“One of the most exciting sounds I’ve heard this year.”
–Public News

“Wildly enjoyable instrumental music.”
–Pinecone Traditional Review

“I love it.”
–George Winston

“They sound great.”

“Wernick, the masterful banjoist of Hot Rize fame, combined bluegrass with dixieland jazz to land the hippest sound. Action-packed.”
–Dirty Linen

“It works. Accessible, fundamentally futuristic music.”
–Knight-Ridder news wire

“My absolute favorite band. The most unique, the most creative.”
–Meredith Carson, Concert Director, Swallow Hill Music Assn.

“Truly great instrumental album. This one is the award winner.”
–Montreal Gazette

Flexigrass Stage Requirements

Click here for Stage Requirements.

For Booking Info

Prefer by email (will give prompt reply):
If urgent, call: 303-652-8346 (Mountain time)

Dr. Banjo
7930-P Oxford Rd.
Niwot, CO 80503
or contact Pete directly via email at:

Pete Wernick, known for his banjo playing with Hot Rize, and his singer-guitarist wife Joan present one of the West’s most engaging country duets. Joan’s clear, soulful singing and Pete’s masterful picking bring life to a diverse repertoire including traditional bluegrass, vocal duets and blazing instrumentals. In the early 70s the pair performed with the groundbreaking progressive bluegrass band Country Cooking, based in Ithaca, New York. Since 1976 they have lived in Niwot, Colorado in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Since 1990 they have performed all over the continental US as well as England, Ireland, Russia, Hawaii, Israel, Holland, the Czech Republic, Austria and on national TV in Denmark. They also work together in presenting Pete’s Bluegrass Camps at locations around the US.

Both Pete and Joan have been inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

Pete’s “Dr. Banjo” handle is based both on his banjo expertise and his Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University. He has been nominated for Banjo Player of the Year in national polls and is also known for his best-selling instruction videos and books, and his banjo and bluegrass camps since 1980.

For 44 years starting in 1978 he toured the country and the world with the much-lauded Hot Rize band, and now leads the long-running Colorado bluegrass/jazz Flexigrass band, which also features Joan’s vocals. Pete’s critically acclaimed solo album, “On a Roll” included his 2nd original #1 song, “Ruthie”. 

Joan, also known to music fans as “Nondi”, has sung with various groups in Colorado and hosted a bluegrass radio show on KGNU Boulder for 40 years. Her natural sparkle and the couple’s on-stage repartee adds an extra dimension to their duet performances. Bluegrass Now magazine said, “Joan’s singing is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any bluegrass traditionalist.”

Pete & Joan jamming in Prague
Pete & Joan jamming on a train in Russia
Pete & Joan on Good Morning Denmark

“Power and empathy”
— Banjo Gazette (U.K.)
“A virtuoso banjo player of clear tone and numerous ideas.”
— Houston Post
“Joan’s vocals are perfectly old-timey.”
— Denver Post
“The state of the art in banjo virtuosity these days.”
— Austin American-Statesman
“Joan’s singing is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any bluegrass traditionalist.”
— Bluegrass Now
“Banjo wizard.”
— Dirty Linen
“[Pete’s playing is] Creative, tuneful and rhythmic, always driving and unmistakably bluegrass.”
— Country Rythms
“It was great to hear Joan Wernick re-entering the gigging workforce with Pete Wernick and their charming, moving set (“Ruthie” packed an especially potent punch), and Joan’s voice sounds wonderful.” 
— Dave Royko, Chicago Tribune
“Their relaxed and engaging rapport with the audience made the show comfortable and cozy and more life a visit to the Wernick household.”
— Bluegrass by the Bay, San Jose
“Always graceful and real.”
— Jambase
“You were fantastic to work with and had our best interest in mind.  We had an awesome time and I could not imagine better people to help us create and share the music for our special day.”
— wedding thank you

Pete & Joan’s two shows on
WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour:

This nationally syndicated show hosted by folksinger Michael Johnathon, has featured Pete and Joan twice, and is archived on the web, both as a TV (4 camera shoot) and radio show.

To watch or listen, view the WoodSongs archive here:

  • June, 2007 Pete & Joan with Monte Montgomery (show #442)
  • June, 2004 Pete & Joan with King Wilkie (show #311)

Pete and Joan Wernick Stage Requirements

Click here for Stage Requirements.

For Booking Info:

Prefer by email (will give prompt reply):
If urgent, call: 303-652-8346 (Mountain time)

Dr. Banjo
7930-P Oxford Rd.
Niwot, CO 80503
or contact Pete directly via email at:

Official Site

For over 15 years, Long Road Home has established itself as a distinctive, premier Colorado bluegrass band. Appreciated for their forceful, cohesive approach to traditional bluegrass, they deliver expertise and experience at every position.

The band was formed out of a jam session of like-minded youngsters at the 2005 Midwinter Bluegrass Festival in Denver, CO. The next year, they took first place in the Rockygrass Band Competition. In 2007, with the departure of three members, fiddler Justin Hoffenberg and lead singer/guitarist Martin Gilmore found themselves at a crossroads. They realized they had the opportunity to make the jump from a “good kid band” to a respected bluegrass act. Hot Rize veteran Pete (“Dr. Banjo”) Wernick joined soon thereafter and with the addition in 2008 of Tennessean Jordan Ramsey, National Mandolin Champion, the band jelled into a tight unit. They continue to create original material with a traditional approach, and offer strong harmonies and instrumental work on carefully chosen material from the early days of bluegrass.

The band’s first album, recorded live, was released in 2009 including then-member Grammy-winning Gene Libbea on bass. Following Libbea’s departure from the region, the band picked up the talented Denver bass player Ian Haegle. With the other four members in the band together for well over a decade, Long Road Home has established an identity and reputation at the highest level of Colorado bluegrass.

Pete Wernick had this to say about Long Road Home in a recent interview:
“We’re all very much on the same page about bluegrass. We all play other kinds of music, but our biggest inspiration is hard-core straight bluegrass. Original material and spontaneous musicianship keep it interesting. What we might lack in complexity we make up in intensity. Martin Gilmore is a strong and soulful singer, and writes exceptional and memorable songs. Justin Hoffenberg is one of Colorado’s top fiddlers, with tuneful and tasteful fiddling and spot-on technique ranging from delicate to blazing. Jordan Ramsey’s hot picking is full of surprises featuring his amazing cross-picking. We have a lot of fun and it’s a real pleasure to play with these guys.”

1978: Charles Sawtelle, Nick Forster, Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick

Hot Rize celebrated its 40th anniversary in January 2018 with four concerts in Boulder, Colorado, where the band started. The concerts included guests Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and Stuart Duncan, and were recorded for audio and video release.

Hot Rize’s award-winning performances are a combination of traditional and contemporary bluegrass and the mysterious but amusing appearance of a retro-Western outfit known as Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. The zany foursome delivers unbelievable yet believable versions of country and western classics in the style of Hank WIlliams and Bob Wills. Together the two bands have been winning audiences’ hearts for decades.

The bluegrass quartet toured and recorded full-time for 12 years from 1978 -1990, scaling back to several performances a year until the 1999 passing of founding member Charles Sawtelle. Hot Rize resumed performing in 2002, adding Nashville guitar ace Bryan Sutton in 2002 to join long-term members Tim O’Brien, Nick Forster, and Pete Wernick — who first delivered the unique Hot Rize sound together with Sawtelle in 1978.

2008: Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, Tim O’Brien, Bryan Sutton

Individually and collectively, Hot Rize represents a far-reaching set of talents including national radio host (Forster), Grammy-winning Americana icon (O’Brien), bluegrass’ foremost teacher (Wernick) and bluegrass’ most-awarded guitarist (Sutton). Its longevity spans more than half of the history of bluegrass music, having played in virtually every state, four continents– on TV, radio, and at festivals worldwide.

There is no band like Hot Rize!

For more information on the band’s members, history, and schedule, visit, the band’s official web site.

Pete receives IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award at the World of Bluegrass Sept./Oct. in Nashville. Hot Rize bandmate Tim O’Brien presented the plaque for his “integral role in the wide world of Bluegrass.”

Tim O’Brien’s presentation speech

Hot Rize featured in Bluegrass Unlimited

Revised online version: The band’s history from the 70s to the present, with interviews with all members.

Classic Hot Rize with Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers LIVE DVD!

Now Available! Classic 1987 Hot Rize LIVE DVD! Only $20
featuring Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers.
57 minutes with 19 musical cuts plus interviews.

View sample clips: Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And BurningOne Woman Man

Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers
The French Way; Honky Tonk Swing Music.

Now available! Only $15

Hot Rize’s live album, So Long of a Journey

Hot Rize’s album, “So Long of a Journey”, has garnered high acclaim. It was selected by County Sales as “Best Traditional Bluegrass Recording of 2002,” and won enthusiastic praise in Billboard, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many more.
CLICK HERE for reviews of this CD

Both the music and the package are unique, with many photos and heartfelt messages from Tim, Pete, and Nick. Nineteen music cuts in all, including some never recorded by the band, and many favorites from throughout Hot Rize’s three-decade history. This is Pete’s favorite Hot Rize record!

For booking info:
Keith Case and Associates, Nashville TN 615-327-4646


VISIT WWW.HOTRIZE.COM for more on the band!

Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers is a band that travels in the back of the Hot Rize bus and occasionally spells their employers on stage. The foursome (Red Knuckles, Wendell Mercantile, Waldo Otto, and Swade) plays 40’s and 50’s country as well as you might expect from people who have mostly listened to the same jukebox for most of their lives. That jukebox, at the Eat Cafe in Wyoming, Montana, is where Red and the boys first met Hot Rize and agreed to leave their home to pursue fortune and fame.

The “fortune” part notwithstanding, the ‘Blazers did become famous for their original brand of entertainment, featuring band choreography and Wendell’s “take-off” guitar with fringe to match his outfit. The band takes pride in offering for sale such products as Red Knuckles flyswatters, “I’m a Knucklehead” bumper stickers, and a hard-to-find song album, “Red Remembers the 60’s (In His Own Style)”.

If someone wants to buy Red Knuckles CDs or the DVD with them on it, or genuine Trailblazer bumper stickers or fly swatters, they can get them on

There are people who say that Red Knuckles and Hot Rize are the same. No one knows where any of those people are now.

From the liner notes of Country Cooking’s 26 Bluegrass Instrumentals Album:

“Far from the southern heartland of bluegrass music, a full generation after the style took its classic form, a group of unknown urbanites from New York State made two albums which helped launch new direction in the music.

Built around the inventive harmony banjo arrangements of Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick, “Country Cooking” introduced a flood of original instrumentals and stylistic innovations at a time when recycling the classics was still standard practice.

Always aware of the subtle boundaries defining bluegrass music, the group progressed in two albums (recorded 1971 and 1972) from constantly staying just within the traditional rules, to boldly breaking them on occasion. Unexpected twists–whether in arrangements instrumentation, studio techniques, or tonaltiy–became their trademark. In 1975, a studio session yielded an underground extended play record under the name “The Extended Play Boys,” represented by several cuts on the group’s one re-issue CD, 26 Bluegrass Instrumentals.

All the musicians were in their early 20’s at the time of the first recordings, at the thresholds of musical careers which later blossomed in many forms.”

As a performing band, Country Cooking originally formed in 1970 in Ithaca, New York, playing both electrified country and bluegrass music featuring Pete Wernick and “Nondi” Leonard (later known as Joan Wernick) on lead vocals, and instrumentalists Tony Trischka (pedal steel guitar and banjo), Russ Barenberg (acoustic and electric guitar and mandolin) and John Miller (bass).

The opportunity for some of these musicians to record an all-instrumental album in 1971 for the fledgling Rounder Records resulted in the first album, Country Cooking, 14 Bluegrass Instrumentals. Assisting on the recording were Harry Gilmore (later known as Lou Martin), on mandolin, and Kenny Kosek on fiddle.

For the second album, Barrel of Fun, Gilmore was replaced by Andy Statman on mandolin and saxophone, and vocals by Wernick and Leonard were included. In 1974 the group recorded a popular play-along set of albums for Music Minus One featuring bluegrass standards played and sung in a traditional style. That same year the group re-formed with the departure of all but the Wernicks (now married) and the addition of guitarist Alan Senauke and mandolinist Howie Tarnower (“the Fiction Brothers”) and bassist Peggy Haine. A final album, Country Cooking with the Fiction Brothers was released in 1975. The group disbanded in 1976 with the Wernicks’ move to Colorado.