By infusing traditional toe-tapping melodies with contemporary pop-standards, Under the Rocks has built a sound that blends the decades with an upbeat energy.
Performing original tracks alongside covers ranging from folk-standards to 80’s radio rock, the group has found the formula of enough familiarity and surprise factor to keep audiences guessing.
“Some people know some of the more familiar, traditional bluegrass songs and it’s all kind of dancey anyways. But as soon as we play a cover—like we’ll play Money for Nothing by Dire Straits — and everybody is singing,” says banjo player and vocalist Chris Baxter. “A lot of people love that because it’s totally different, but they still get to hear the songs they know and love.”
The latest addition to their repertoire, an unlikely bluegrass rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, may seem like an odd pairing, however Baxter says all the elements fit firmly in place to create a fan favourite.
“Everybody knows that hook and that bass-line. It really ties traditional music into something that’s familiar for people, because everybody knows that line, you know? But to have a different outlook on it gives it a fresh feel,” Baxter explains
The four piece string group from Kelowna will be bringing their blended bluegrass back to Grizzly Plaza this Saturday, July 7, as part of Revelstoke Summer Street Fest.
Baxter, along with acoustic guitarist and vocalist Jordan Klassen, stand-up bassist and vocalist James Prescott and fiddle player and vocalist Chloe Davidson, have been performing as Under the Rocks since 2016 when a weekly get together became a serious musical endeavor.
“It came out of a bunch of old friends. We used to get together and sit around the living room and sing songs. As a joke we called ourselves On the Rocks.”
From there, Baxter says him and Klassen formed a folk duo, re-branding as Under the Rocks as a play on the original name.
Baxter says the additions of Prescott, a jazz musician, and Davidson, a classically trained fiddle player, added new elements to the group.
Now, the group’s onstage dynamic thrives off professional chemistry, as Baxter says improvisational performances have become one of the groups strong suits.
“Bluegrass involves a lot of improvisation,” says Baxter. “And we’ll plan our songs out, but when we get into a show, a lot of times solos aren’t planned, and it’ll be like ‘Okay Chloe, go for it’.”
Despite the bluegrass scene being sparse, Baxter says audiences have been welcoming of their traditional tone throughout Western Canada, as was evident from a tour through B.C. and Alberta last summer.
“It was way more receptive than I had thought. Just as much as in our hometown where we have a lot of family and friends support,” says Baxter of the tour. “We played a bar in Banff and it was packed out. Everyone was dancing and we didn’t know a single person out there.”
Under the Rocks will be performing this Saturday, July 7, at Grizzly Plaza.
Baxter says audiences can expect high energy from the bluegrass quartet as the group performs between 6:30-9:30 p.m.
“They can expect a super upbeat atmosphere,” says Baxter. “They can expect to be tapping their toes and maybe standing up and dancing a bit — it’s hard not to to our music.”