Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Canada’s Under the Rocks

Describing themselves as “an energetic young string band based out of British Columbia inspired by traditional and contemporary American bluegrass,” Under the Rocks takes pride in the fact that they eagerly tap into tradition while also attempting to make music that’s “reflective, relevant and entertaining.” They’ve been at it a full five years, having built a solid reputation courtesy of their stirring live performances, spot-on harmonies, and a lively yet eclectic mix of music and melodies. They also tout the fact that they’ve advanced from “backyards to bars,” to cross-country tours and major festivals, including those that found them sharing stages with the likes of John Reischman & the Jaybirds, The Lil’ Smokies and the Slocan Ramblers. 

Originally a duo, the band currently comprises Chris Baxter on banjo and mandolin, Jordan Klassen on guitar, bassist Drew Schultz,  and three-time Provincial Fiddle champion and Canadian Masters competitor, Chloe Davidson. 

Baxter notes that Schultz had never played upright bass until he had his initial audition with the band, following the departure of the group’s previous bassist. “With all our different backgrounds, we began to organically make music that had the DNA of bluegrass in it, but we didn’t force ourselves to fit into an exact mold,” he recalls. “Chloe was born into Canadian fiddle music and has played it since she was three years old. Jordan and I started as a folky/bluegrass duo whose original influences stemmed from groups such as the Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Joe Pug, and others of that ilk. As we began to dabble in traditional bluegrass music as two twin pickers, we found new heroes like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, Sam Bush, and Béla Fleck.”

Prior to the pandemic, Under the Rocks were a regular fixture on concert stages throughout the Canadian provinces, particularly in their home environs of British Columbia. “In 2018, we had  the privilege of playing the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival as our first major festival appearance,” Baxter recalls. “In addition, the major highlights of our career so far include playing the main stage at Robson Valley Music Festival, as well as opening for the Slocan Ramblers at the Mary Irwin Theatre. Before Covid-19 shut down everything, we were invited to play the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival up in the Yukon along with Mile Twelve, Sideline, Seth Muldur & Midnight Run, and, again, the Slocan Ramblers.”

Fortunately, they’ve been able to make good use of their time ever since. Following the release of their first album, Live Off The Floor in 2018 — a collection that includes both covers and their own originals — the group is currently in the process of completing their sophomore set which is slated for release in April. Three singles will eventually be available before then, including This My Friend which made its debut on January 1.

“I wrote the song five years ago, and then was arranged by the entire band for the upcoming album,” Drew Schultz says. “It’s a song about loved ones leaving you for a time, and dreaming of the day they’ll be back.”

Not surprisingly, the song originated from a decidedly personal perspective. “As my friend Bryce was leaving the town we both grew up in, he shared a collection of photos of our friends from over the years, and asked if I would write a song for him that he could listen to as he looked back over the photos of all of us,” Schultz explains. “It just so happened I was also falling in love with a girl who was leaving our hometown for school halfway across the country. My best friend and the girl I loved were both leaving me. So this song was written for my friend Bryce, but was also written for my girlfriend Akela, even though Bryce still thinks it was only for him.” 

That embracing attitude provides an essential element in the band’s MO, and while the group is grateful for the support they’ve received at home, Baxter does admit that there’s never been a big bluegrass scene in western Canada. That said, they continue to make inroads of their own. 

“Our music has been very well received,” he insists. “People here refer to it as a ‘fresh sound.’ We’re just grateful to have had the opportunity to share this amazing style of music with those that live here.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.