Two days before The Washboard Union won both the Rising Star and Roots Artist of the Year awards at the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA) Sept. 11 in London, ON, David Roberts was showing off his washboard and talking about his love of horse racing that led the band to shoot its latest video at Woodbine during the races.
The video for Shot of Glory — a song that hit number one on the Canadian country music singles charts the same week as the CCMAs — was filmed at Woodbine earlier this year because of Roberts’ deep love for the sport. It can be viewed on the band’s website: www.thewashboardunion.com.
“First of all, we’re huge horse racing fans. I tell everyone my birthday is the first Saturday in May and I celebrate it (at the track) every year,” Roberts said. “We wrote that song really quickly in Nashville and recorded it really quickly. We were kicking ideas around for videos and we thought, ‘Let’s just go someplace that we like to hang out.’”
The Vancouver-based band, which is signed to Warner Music, tried to shoot the video at Hastings Park, site of Roberts’ annual birthday bash on Kentucky Derby Day. When the approval process proved too arduous, they called Woodbine and asked if they could shoot there while in Ontario to play a gig.
“(Woodbine) said, ‘How can we help?’ They were so gracious to invite us to the track, first of all. They said, ‘What do you need? Do you want to come out and take some video?’ We did. Then the whole thing just developed from that,” Roberts said.
The video for Shot of Glory – produced by Stefan Berrill’s Vancouver-based company Brass Tacks Films and released in July — starts with shots on the track and features Woodbine prominently throughout, including graphics for horse names taken from the song’s lyrics.
“We shot the horses on long lenses during the races and we were pretty happy with how that footage turned out, actually,” Berrill said. “That was all our own shooting and that was all in one day.
“For them to be able to make a music video set at that track was really cool.”
It was the fifth video Berrill and Brass Tacks has shot with the band.
Roberts grew up in Toronto and used to go to Greenwood Raceway to see the races. When he moved to Vancouver, he was encouraged by a close friend to come to Hastings Park.
“His grandmother used to go to Hastings, and his whole family, for generations, have gone there. When I moved out there, I was looking for things to do and he said, ‘Come to the track. You’ll have a great time.’ When his grandmother was alive, we’d bring his grandmother and his mom and now he’s got kids and we still go out there. It’s one of the best places you can hang out for an afternoon. It’s absolutely amazing, it’s glorious,” Roberts said.
“It’s so much fun. I tell people, ‘Put $2 down or $1 and you’ll have so much fun for that race.’ It’s amazing. You don’t have to bet a thing, either. We bring the kids and we go to the paddock, we watch the horses come out on the track and then we run down to the gate. They love it.”
The Washboard Union is a sextet fronted by Roberts, Aaron Grain and Chris Duncombe that is catching fire in Canadian country music, as evidenced by its CCMA awards.
“Chris, Aaron and myself are all best friends, so I always tell people, ‘It’s like you’re 10 years old and you’re building a tree fort that you’ll never finish.’ It’s a great feeling. It’s amazing,” Roberts said.
Roberts, who sports a long, grey beard, plays an equally long list of instruments, but his washboard is what provides the group’s signature blend of bluegrass with modern country music.
“It’s 103 years old. It’s two years older than I am,” Roberts said, pointing to the washboard. “It’s a big part of the sound. I do the laundry in the band, too. It’s a job for life. It’s the only reason I’m in the band.
“This is one of the oldest instruments, before banjos, before resonator guitars, this is what people used to use… This is where the rhythm all came from.”