The Washboard Union builds off debut at BVJ
The Washboard Union are making their second trip to Big Valley Jamboree when they play the main stage on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Supplied
If first impressions can set the stage for a relationship, The Washboard Union are in good shape for their return to Big Valley Jamboree.
The last time they played in Camrose, they were a little known B.C. band playing the opening time slot on the opening day. By the end of their set, they had won over the 25,000 fans in attendance. They’re excited to see what Sunday’s 3:30 p.m show has in store for their second time on the mainstage.
“It was one of our most favourite moments of that summer because we got a standing ovation, and I guess it normally doesn’t happen for opening bands,” said guitarist and singer Aaron Grain. “We were so into what we were doing, and I guess the fans were too, they stood up and gave us an encore, and I guess that’s never happened, so we’ll always remember that.”
Since then, Grain, David Roberts (washboard, harmonica and vocals), and Chris Duncombe (banjo and vocals) have turned into one of the biggest up and coming Canadian country music acts out there. In 2016 they won Canadian Country Music Awards for Roots Artist of the year and the Rising Star award while also being nominated for Group Duo and CMT Video of the Year for their song “Maybe it’s the Moonshine.” This year they are once again nominated for CCMAs for Group Duo of the year and Roots Artist or Group of the Year.
The key to their success is knowing who they are and not deviating from it. But what they are is unique in the genre. There is a wink and a nudge to much of what built country music, combining traditional instruments like the guitar, harmonica, banjo and washboard while leaning hard on three-part harmony and bluegrass influences, though with a drum set involved, they do not identify as bluegrass.
What makes them gel is the relationship the three have behind the stage. Grain and Duncombe’s parents got married when they were 13, and Roberts is almost like family, helping form the trio while the three were renting a house in Vancouver.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, if this band dissolves and said that’s enough of this, we’re still such great friends — David, Chris, and myself — that we would be calling each other the next day saying ‘Hey what are you doing? Do you want to go write a song?’” said Grain.
“Maybe there’s a certain freedom and abandon that comes from that feeling that the pressure is not actually on us to be a group but the pressure is on to write some great songs and have fun doing it. The motivation doesn’t change, we’d still be doing it even if we weren’t successful doing this.”
The Washboard Union is part of a growing number top country acts coming out of B.C. — a province better known for just about every other genre of music — including Dallas Smith and Chad Brownlee.
Grain and Duncombe come by their country-music cred honestly, travelling the country-side during the summer with their family in an RV and only two cassettes to choose from — Willie Nelson’s The Read Headed Stranger and Guns ‘N Roses Appetite for Destruction. The rest of the year, the likes of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, C.W. McCall, and Roger Miller were on heavy rotation — “old 40s and 50s trucker tunes that were really story-telling songs” as Grain described it.
Now it’s all about telling their own stories.
Their latest single “Shine” was released in July and has already spawned a line dance in Europe while their next album is set to drop in early 2018.
They were also recruited to be a part of Warner Music Canada’s 50th anniversary compilation and were tabbed to pay homage to a Blue Rodeo song.
This has meant travelling to Nashville heavily since their last trip to BVJ, making six trips in the last 18 months, but Grain says they’re not ready to pull up roots and move to the Country Music Capital just yet.
“It seems like we’re there at least a quarter of the time, so it would make sense to move down there just to save on some flight costs, but right now we’re still commuting and loving it … we loving calling ourselves Canadian.”