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Chambergrass Champs

Robert Sherwood (mandolin, vocals, guitar), August Dennis (bass), Marisa Korth (vocals, guitar) and Carlo Canlas (violin, vocals) are the musicians who make up Backwater Opera — a group that stitches the sound of bluegrass music into a classical indie-rock tapestry. It’s an aesthetic the band calls “chambergrass.”

Take the mournful ballads of The Civil Wars, the nostalgic warmth of Nickel Creek’s music, the eerie innovations of The Greencards’ tunes and then put a classical spin on it all. What you’d get is a stoic, old-timey, twanged-out sound with cinematic lyrics and a standstill vibe. That’s what Backwater Opera’s chambergrass sounds like. 


Hailing from Denton, Texas, and having come together only two years ago at the University of North Texas, the band cut its teeth performing free concerts outside an old courthouse in Denton town square (a monthly practice the group proudly continues). “Really, we’ve become classical mixed with bluegrass and an element of folk,” says Korth, as the band’s tour vehicle careens toward the Oregon Coast to yet another gig. 


Seasoned, hungry and focused, coming off a first-place win at Arizona’s “Pickin’ in the Pines Bluegrass and Acoustic Music Festival,” Backwater Opera is poised to push chambergrass up and down the West Coast. With songs ranging from sorrowful to blisteringly introspective, and vocal harmonies sweet enough to melt even the harshest Pacific Northwest ice, this band is one to keep in mind and on the playlist.


Backwater Opera plays 8 pm Friday, Jan. 20, at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove; $5