Rusted Root jammed their way into the hearts of music fans during the 1990s. They were known for their heavy use of percussion and world music-inspired rhythms.
Although they were a popular band on the 90s music festival circuit, they seemingly dropped off the radar.
So what became of this once-popular band? We’re taking a closer look at Rusted Root and find out what, if anything, they’re doing today.
Let’s jump in!
The Story of Rusted Root
Founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Rusted Root started as a house band at a local bar, Jack’s Back Room.
Guitarist Michael Glabicki, bassist Patrick Norman, and percussionists Liz Berlin and Jim Donovan formed the original band. All but Donovan provided vocals, with Glabicki being the lead singer.
Glabicki and Berlin initially met at a political rally in Pittsburgh. They shared a love of unusual musical instruments. Combining their musical talents, they searched for other musicians to form a band.
The four-piece band developed a local following from their weekly gigs at Jack’s Back Room. Other musicians joined the original members over the next couple of years, including John Buynak and Jenn Wertz.
Three years after forming, they added ethnomusicologist Jim DiSpirito. Jim studied music while in India and played various percussion instruments.
Rusted Root released their debut album, Cruel Sun, in 1992 under the independent label Blue Duck. It included the first version of their biggest hit, Send Me on My Way. Soon after this release, they signed a recording contract with PolyGram Records.
It wasn’t until 1994, after releasing their second album, When I Woke, that Rusted Root hit the big time. They re-recorded Send Me On My Way for this CD and released it as a single the following year.
What set Rusted Root apart from other bands in the 90s was their unique style of playing a wide array of instruments. They often played the flute, penny whistle, banjo, mandolin, and a large assortment of percussion toys at concerts.
Additionally, each member was a multi-instrumentalist, so the audience never knew who would pick up which instrument next.
Their lyrics weren’t always decipherable, but their chanting, yodeling, and rapping intrigued listeners. College radio stations across the country regularly played Rusted Root songs like Ecstasy, Laugh As the Sun, and Beautiful People.
During their early years, the band caught the attention of musical legends Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Plant and Page were so impressed that they invited them to join their tour as an opener. Additionally, the group opened for musicians such as the Allman Brothers Band, Phish, and Jewel.
During an interview with NPR, lead singer Michael Glabicki said, “It’s kind of cool to be out there, just playing with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead. It’s kind of a trip.”
The mid to late-90s saw Rusted Root as the main act on music festival lineups. They played the Blues Travelers’ H.O.R.D.E Festival twice plus the post-Grateful Dead Furthur Festival.
While the 90s seemed to be Rusted Root’s decade, the following years saw a decline in their popularity.
Let’s find out what happened.
Did Rusted Root Break Up?
Rusted Root never officially broke up. As founding member Michael Glabicki said in a 2019 interview with the South Bend Tribune, “It’s technically on hiatus.”
They released their last studio album, The Movement, in 2014. Nowhere on their official website mentions anything about the band breaking up.
Glabicki formed a new band in 2019 called Uprooted, which includes former Rusted Root guitarist Dirk Miller. Glabicki and Miller also tour as a duo.
Both the duo and Uprooted play old Rusted Root songs and give them new life. In the same 2019 interview, Glabicki said, “We go into the crevices of the songs and expand them out and really just open up the music to whatever happens in the moment.”
Former Rusted Root percussionist Jenn Wertz, who left the band in 2008, has stepped out as a mixed-media artist. She’s written a book about her life, begun painting, and formed The Jenn Wertz Band. Jenn plays guitar, harmonica, and percussion in her new venture.
Rusted Root’s Best Known Songs
Send Me on My Way is hands down Rusted Root’s best-known song. Originally recorded for their debut album Cruel Sun in 1992, they also re-recorded it for their 1994 break-out album When I Woke.
It’s a heavy rhythmic worldbeat tune with an upbeat, positive feeling. The lyrics aren’t necessarily deep, but the catchy beat helped make it popular among many music fans.
Ecstasy is another well-known song from Rusted Root. Michael Glabicki’s trip to Nicaragua in 1987 inspired the lyrics. He recalled his feelings from visiting the war-torn country and wrote Ecstasy. The song appeared as a track on Rusted Root’s 1994 album When I Woke.
When Did Rusted Root Open for The Grateful Dead?
The band opened for The Grateful Dead on June 30, 1995. This was near the end of The Grateful Dead’s last tour and about five weeks before Jerry Garcia’s death.
Rusted Root was known for its long-form improvisational playing in concerts. This often led to comparisons with The Grateful Dead. They were honored to have the opportunity to open for The Dead, especially in their hometown.
We Can Still Dream!
It may be safe to say we won’t see new music from Rusted Root any time soon. But since the founding member has only called it a hiatus, they could reunite. We’ve certainly seen reunion tours of other bands who had disbanded for years! Right?
Did you ever see Rusted Root perform live? We’d love to hear about it!