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Triple-threat Texas fiddlers blow roof off Melody Ranch stage

Quebe Sisters Band represents past, present and future of cowboy music and Western swing.

Posted: March 22, 2008 6:03 p.m.
Updated: April 10, 2008 5:18 p.m.

The Quebe Sisters Band from Burleson, Texas, on the Main Stage at Melody Ranch during the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, April 29, 2006, in their first public performance in Southern California. From left: Sophia Quebe; Mark Abbott; Hulda and Grace Quebe; and Joey McKenzie.

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This story was first published in The Signal's Escape section May 5, 2006.

With all due respect to the other talented performers taking the main Melody Ranch Stage at the Cowboy Festival on Saturday, The Quebe Sisters Band from the Lone Star State flat out stole the show in their first-ever Southern California public appearance.

Fronted by Texas champion fiddlers Grace, age 20, Sophia, 18, and Hulda, 15, whose fleet-fingered triple-fiddle runs and tight three-part vocal harmonies were backed by the hard-driving, swinging rhythms of guitarist Joey McKenzie and bass fiddle player Mark Abbott (in one of his final gigs with the girls), the band's hot cowboy jazz sounded like a cross between The Andrews Sisters and The Texas Playboys. About the only thing missing was Bob Wills' signature "A-haaaa!" during the songs.

The Quebes' 40-minute set included classic cowboy and swing songs such as "Across the Alley from the Alamo," Wills' "Roly Poly," Duke Ellington's "Take the ‘A' Train," Sons of the Pioneers' "So Long to the Red River Valley" and "There's a Rainbow Over the Range," and a "fiddle-ized" take on Benny Goodman's "Avalon."

The band received their first standing ovation early in the set with a sweet, soulful take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind," and a rousing standing O at the end following their show-stopping "fiddle-ized" version of Benny Goodman's swinging "Avalon."

Decked out in ranch-hand duds and cowboy boots, the fresh-faced sisters looked as good as they sounded. Their vocal and instrumental performances were faithful to the originals, but also brought a youthful enthusiasm that made them sound brand-new. They were all smiles, obviously thrilled at their reception.

Abbott, a big man whose big fingers are perfectly suited for his bass's thick strings, and McKenzie, also a three-time world champion fiddler and arranger for the sisters triple-threat fiddle attack, often closed their eyes and looked skyward during the songs, as if transported by the sheer joy of the moment.

The Quebe (pronounced KWAY-be) Sisters Band represents the past, present and future of cowboy music and western swing. The trio hail from Burleson, Texas, outside of Fort Worth, and have been playing fiddles together for seven years, under McKenzie's tutelage. They began performing publicly only a few years ago, but have already graced the stages of the Grand Ole Opry, Ernest Tubb's "Midnight Jamboree" on Nashville's WSM radio, and the National Folk Festival. They've also shared the stage with Ricky Skaggs, Asleep at the Wheel and Riders in the Sky.

McKenzie arranged and produced the group's first album, "The Quebe
Sisters: Texas Fiddlers," in May 2003, augmented by Gary Carpenter (pedal steel), Tom Morrell (non-pedal steel) and Nathan Coates (drums).

The all-instrumental 14-song CD was an auspicious debut, but now that the sisters sing, too, and have another two years' experience behind them, an update is way overdue. To these ears, No. 2 should be a live one, because it's exciting to hear the group connect with and win over an audience who'd never heard them before, as they did at Melody Ranch.

Backstage before the show, the sisters laughed when they heard the Andrews Sisters/Texas Playboys reference. "Wow, that is really nice," Sophia said, in a delightful Texas twang she shares with her sisters.

"We love The Andrews Sisters, Bob Wills, The Mills Brothers, Sons of the Pioneers and all those bands," Grace added. "I think the best of the old western swing bands had swing, and energy and drive, and we listen to a lot of old music because we want to sound that way."

McKenzie, whose wife Sherry is also a fiddle teacher, said the band was enjoying their first trip to the West Coast. On Friday night, the group played two songs in the middle of the Cowboy Walk of Fame induction dinner at the Hyatt in Valencia, and earned a rousing ovation.

Earlier, he said, "We drove out to Ventura and the girls saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time." "We ran around in the sand and got our hands wet, but we were too chicken to get our feet wet," Sophia said.

"We saw some surfers, a porpoise, and this weird guy flapping big homemade wings made outta bird feathers," McKenzie said. "That was pretty cool - a real California experience."

They were having just as much fun on their first visit to the storied Melody Ranch. "We just love it here," said Hulda, who plays a Gond & Bernadel fiddle "about 110 years old" that was restored by McKenzie, and has a Bob Wills 100th birthday commemorative lottery ticket stuck in her case for good luck.

"It's really cool to see all the neat movie sets, and get to see all the other great performers here, like Don Edwards and the Sons of the San Joaquin," Sophia said. "It's an honor to be on the same stage," Grace added.

"We're just trying to soak it all in," McKenzie said, surveying the famous movie sets of yesteryear and most recently HBO's "Deadwood" series surrounding the Melody Ranch Stage. "It's a memorable experience, this whole trip."

For more info about the Quebe Sisters Band, visit www.quebesistersband.com or contact Joey or Sherry McKenzie at (817) 875-6022 or info@quebesistersband.com.

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