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Quebe Sisters Band graces Melody Ranch stage Saturday and Sunday

Triple-threat Texas fiddlers encore at Cowboy Festival

Posted: April 24, 2008 10:03 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.

The Quebe Sisters Band, 2008 (counterclockwise, from left): Sophia, Hulda and Grace Quebe; Joey McKenzie; and Drew Phelps.

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Almost two years ago to the day, the Quebe Sisters Band from Burleston, Texas performed their first public gigs in Southern California, blowing the lid off the main Melody Ranch stage at the 2006 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival and rounding up rave reviews.

Combining the choicest elements of classic cowboy songs, western swing fiddling and tightly woven three-part harmonies, "the band's hot cowboy jazz sounded like a cross between The Andrews Sisters and The Texas Playboys," and the sisters "represent the past, present and future of cowboy music and Western swing," wrote one reviewer (namely this one).

It was the triple-threat Texas and national champion champion fiddlers' only West Coast appearance that year, and Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe (pronounced KWAY-bee), then 20, 18 and 15, respectively, got to take a side trip to Ventura Beach to stick their toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time and check out the eccentrics on the boardwalk.

"We had a great time two years ago, just being out in California, and walking around (the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio) seeing the sets and everything," Sophia said in her Texas twang, as the band geared up to head to the West Coast again. "The reception was great and so was the audience."

This year, by popular demand, the Quebe Sisters Band (known to fans as QSB, or simply the Q's) returns to play Cowboy Festival sets Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. But on this spring western swing, there won't be a much time for goofing around at the beach.

Since they were last in Santa Clarita, the sisters have gone from local to regional to emerging national stars, winning over fans from you and me to Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson to billionaire Warren Buffett and even President George W. Bush (who is from Texas, after all). So the sisters' itinerary for this trek is packed.

Sophia, Grace and Hulda also have gigs booked in Visalia, Ventura, Universal City, Palm Desert and Altadena, and Saturday afternoon's main stage performance will be broadcast live on KCSN-FM 88.1/Northridge.

As before, QSB also features guitarist-producer-fiddle teacher-mentor-road manager Joey McKenzie, but since last time, Drew Phelps, a native Texan well-versed in jazz, swing and old-time music, has joined on upright bass, replacing Mark Abbott.

These days, the sisters are touring more often than not, and the road has taken them far from the Lone Star state.

"We went to Canada twice," Grace said, looking back over the past two years. "The first time we went to Nova Scotia to play at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival and had another gig while we were up there. Back in February we went up to Calgary, Alberta and played some things in that area, which was a lot of fun."

"We were very fortunate that we got to do a play with Asleep at the Wheel called 'A Ride with Bob' (the acclaimed tribute to western swing king Bob Wills)," Sophia said. "It's been all over the country and we got to do it at the Kennedy Center (in 2006, a few months after the Cowboy Festival). George Bush and the First Lady were there, and we got to meet him, which was a real high for us."

"We also did an East Coast tour - we got to play the Lincoln Center in New York City, and Boston and Connecticut," Hulda said. "We were really excited everyone received us so well. It didn't really surprise us that there were so many western music fans in the Northeast. A lot of it came down from Canada, and because country music is so related to Irish music, they have a lot in common."

Another memorable event last year was playing Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha.

"That was really, really exciting," Sophia said. "We were contacted by people from Justin Boots and they asked us to play the meeting. They also asked if it would be OK for Mr. Buffett to go on with us, and we said that would be wonderful. He plays the ukulele, and we did 'Red River Valley' with him. He had fun and it was really great."

So much so, in fact, the sisters have been invited back to play the next B-H meeting on May 3.

"This year has been our busiest yet," Hulda said. "We've done more than 30 jobs already."

The Quebes began playing in 1998 after attending a fiddle competition in Denton, Texas. Under the tutelage of McKenzie, a fiddler since he was 17 and a world champion, and his wife Sherry, also a noted fiddle player and teacher, the sisters started playing in '99 and performing publicly in 2000. Soon they would grace the stages of the Grand Ole Opry, Ernest Tubb's "Midnight Jamboree" on Nashville's WSM radio, and the National Folk Festival, and shared the stage with kindred musical spirits including Ricky Skaggs, Asleep at the Wheel and Riders in the Sky, who all became QSB fans themselves.

Joey McKenzie produced the sisters' all-instrumental debut album, "Texas Fiddlers," in 2003, and Sophia, Grace and Hulda added three-part harmony vocals to their sound in 2005, with the McKenzies helping out with the arrangements.

In 2007, the band recorded their first fiddles 'n' vocals album, "Timeless," the title a reference to the classic songs included and the style in which they're played. The all-acoustic sessions took place at the historic Cash Cabin Studio on the late Johnny Cash's estate in Hendersonville, Tenn., and most of the material was pulled from the Quebes' live sets - "So Long to the Red River Valley," "Georgia on my Mind," "There's a Rainbow Over the Range," "Take the 'A' Train" and 10 more.

"We didn't have a vocal album so that was a big step for us. We started recording it at the end of 2006," Sophia said. "It's really beautiful at Cash Cabin and a fun place to record. They left the original (House of Cash) room and added the Cabin onto it. And there's a mantle that everyone who's recorded there has signed, and they told us we could sign it, too, and that was so cool. A lot of famous people have signed that mantle."

"Timeless" is out on the Fiddletone Records. "We started our own label, and that's our first record on it," Grace said.

Just a couple months ago, the Quebes and their mom moved from Burleson several miles north up Interstate 35W to the south part of Fort Worth. "It's a great central location to a lot of places," Sophia said. "We really like it here and it's near all the stuff we like, including our church (Fort Worth Presbyterian)."

Most women their age have boyfriends, but the Quebes' increasingly busy schedule leaves little room for romance. They're focused on music and their careers, even though guys from 8 to 80 are lined up waiting.

"We do have a social life, though," Hulda said. "We have a lot of friends and are involved with stuff down at our church, but it would be really hard to have boyfriends."

What can we expect to hear the Quebe Sisters Band perform at this year's Cowboy Festival?

"Well, some western stuff, of course, and things from our albums, but we have quite a few new ones in different genres," Grace said. "We'll do a wide range. We listen to a wide variety, and love to play a lot of different styles. We try to find the common link between them and create a sound that's ours."

For more info about The Quebe Sisters Band, including sound clips and video links, visit www.quebesistersband.com.

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