Pete Wernick, (born February 25, 1946) also known by many as "Dr. Banjo", is an American musician.
He is a five-string banjo player who has been involved in the bluegrass music scene since the 1970s, writing several instruction books and videos on how to play the banjo. He's also known for his own musical style called Niwot music. He served from 1986 to 2001 as the first president of the International Bluegrass Music Association. Wernick is also an outspoken atheist, who has written and spoken publicly about his lack of belief, and spent several years organizing a secular humanist "congregation" in Boulder, Colorado.
Pete Wernick was born in New York City and began playing the banjo at the age of fourteen. He pursued studies at Columbia University, hosting New York City's only bluegrass radio program in the 1960s on WKCR-FM and earning a Ph.D. in sociology, thus the moniker "Dr. Banjo". In 1970 while working at Cornell University, he formed Country Cooking in Ithaca, New York together with Tony Trischka, Russ Barenberg, John Miller, and Nondi Leonard. They recorded two albums for Rounder Records, adding the talents of Kenny Kosek, Harry Gilmore (later known as Lou Martin), and Andy Statman.
In 1976, Wernick and his wife Nondi Leonard (now known as Joan Wernick), settled in Niwot, Colorado and with Tim O'Brien began to develop "Niwot Music", consisting only of banjo, mandolin and bass. The music was showcased on his 1977 solo album "Dr. Banjo Steps Out". In January 1978, with O'Brien, Charles Sawtelle, and Mike Scap, he started the bluegrass band Hot Rize. Nick Forster replaced Scap in May, 1978, completing the band's classic lineup that recorded and performed nationally and internationally for 12 years, through April, 1990. Hot Rize recorded many Wernick-penned originals, including the standard "Just Like You", and instrumentals "Gone Fishing" and "Wild Ride". After disbanding as a full-time unit, the group continued with several performances a year until 1998, the year before Sawtelle's death. Currently leading the bluegrass/jazz combo Flexigrass, and a member of the Colorado bluegrass band Long Road Home, he also performs with his wife Joan ("Dr. and Nurse Banjo") and with Hot Rize for occasional tours and festivals.
In 1986 the Board of the newly formed IBMA (International Music Association) elected Wernick its first president, a position he held until 2001.
Wernick was one of the members of the short-lived bluegrass supergroup Men with Banjos who Know How to Use Them, a group that included Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs among its other members.
In 2010, the Wernicks became the first Americans to tour in Russia as a bluegrass act, performing at the first annual Russian bluegrass festival in Vologda and Semenkovo, and in St. Petersburg.
Wernick is a prominent teacher of bluegrass, having hosted music camps since 1980 and now conducting ten or more each year. Since 1999 the camps have focused mostly on bluegrass jamming for all bluegrass instruments. Wernick has produced 10 instructional videos for Homespun and his books "Bluegrass Banjo" and "Bluegrass Songbook" have together sold over a third of a million copies. In 2010 Wernick created a national network of bluegrass teachers certified in "the Wernick Method" to teach bluegrass jamming.
Wernick is also a survivor of the United Airlines Flight 232 air disaster. He composed a song inspired by that incident, called "A Day In '89 (You Never Know)", however has not released a recording of it yet.