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So long for now: Western swing’s Quebe Sisters coming full circle with Krum show

The Quebe Sisters — from left, Grace, Hulda and Sophia — return to the city where they first performed progressive western swing, Krum, with a performance at 8 p.m. Friday at 50 West. All three sisters play fiddle and sing.
Courtesy photo
The Quebe Sisters — from left, Grace, Hulda and Sophia — return to the city where they first performed progressive western swing, Krum, with a performance at 8 p.m. Friday at 50 West. All three sisters play fiddle and sing.

The Quebe Sisters performed their first progressive western swing show as kids at the Krum Fire Department in 2000.

While some Texans were fretting about Y2K nudging the world into a computer-sparked collapse, the three sisters were reaching back into a Lone Star yesteryear, digging through the music that made dancehalls sway and honky-tonks thump. The three angel-voiced girls grew into competent artists and worldly women who embraced the folk tradition but never flinched at innovation.

After 23 years of performing and touring, the trio is winding down with their “Bye for Now” tour, which includes a show back in Krum on Friday at 50 West. Doors open at 6 p.m., and music starts at 8 p.m.

Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe aren’t packing it in for good, Sophia said. They’re taking a sabbatical from the road and the stage. A breather will give them room to see what springs up creatively or otherwise.

“We’re definitely not retiring,” Sophia said. “We’re just taking a break.”

The Quebes were home-schooled when the family lived in Krum. Life as they knew it changed with one trip to the North Texas Fair & Rodeo.

“That’s where we heard fiddling for the first time,” Sophia said. “We were just kind of like, ‘Whoa,’ you know? We saw other kids play. It was just all so brand-new to us. And we thought we’d learn a few songs. And, you know, once you get in there and start learning the songs, something happens. You’re sucked in.”

The Quebe Sisters quickly mastered the fiddle, and their natural, easy harmonies turned Bob Wills’ classics into earworms from a fresh, sweet perspective. As they matured, the Quebe Sisters shaded their songs with hints of longing — and the occasional loss that makes the form timeless. They recruited renowned Denton upright bassist Drew Phelps, who toured and recorded with them for six years.

The sisters played, played and played some more, eventually earning plum spots on folk and bluegrass festival stages. They’ve played across North America, in Europe and in Russia. While they sharpened their skills on the road, the Quebes also made time for the studio. The band recorded four acclaimed studio albums — 2003’s Texas Fiddlers, 2007’s Timeless, 2014’s Every Which-A-Way and 2019’s The Quebe Sisters.

“With each album, we kind of had different goals,” Sophia said. “As you sort of grow up and, you know, your musical skill and also just awareness of the wider world around you expands. I would say each album kind of had its thing that we were shooting for. Our last album is especially special to me because, you know, we recorded that one all in one room.

“We wanted to record it a certain way, and we wanted to approach that album in a specific way,” Sophia said. “It was a very selective process, as far as working on arrangements and coming up with ideas. Even the prep work for that album was like that. We all sat around for hours, talking about what we wanted.”

The last album was the first to include original songs, a marker of maturity for the group, Sophia said.

While R&B and hip-hop gobbled up the charts, the Quebe Sisters steadily attracted an audience. Sharing the stage with marquee talent such as Jeff Tweedy, the Soggy Bottom Boys, Deer Tick and the inimitable Mavis Staples showed the Quebes that even the most pop-rock-oriented audience can get caught up in the vintage sounds of western swing, bluegrass and gospel.

“Fundamentally, music is just one thing, regardless of the genre, the style, the instrument, anything,” Sophia said. “There’s a core element to music that it’s hard for me to put into words. It has to do with the feeling and message, if you will. It doesn’t necessarily have to be words. But the essence of what the artist is putting out, and how honest and authentic that is, and heartfelt, you fill in the blank with any sort of terminology that describes it. But when that element is there, people fall in love with it.”

The Quebe Sisters have an abiding affection for their fans.

“We had fans and followers from the beginning,” Sophia said. “And there are fans that have come in along the way, you know, who have followed us for 10 years, for 15 years. And all of those fans that have sort of seen our progression have been very, very, welcoming of all the new stuff that we’ve tried. And we didn’t necessarily know if that would be the case. Fans don’t always appreciate everything you do.”

Sophia Quebe said she and her sisters intentionally resisted making any particular plans after the tour ends with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, on Feb. 1-3. All three sisters are married and live in Dallas. They might tinker with music, Sophia said, but they might not. The hiatus will be a time to let their creative fields lie fallow for a while. Sophia expects the band to fire back up after some rest and regeneration.

“I’ll just speak for myself,” Sophia said. “I haven’t fully — and somewhat intentionally — haven’t jumped in and started planning what to do. Because for the first time in my life, we’ve set up this opportunity collectively to just take a step back from what we’ve done for so long.”

Sophia said she expects she and her sisters to do a lot of personal and artistic introspection.

“I love the idea of it being a space, and my sisters have talked about this quite a bit, too — through the introspection, through the kind of personal discovery, you know, hopefully new artistic things will develop,” Sophia said. “Inside of me, there’s this little desire, this little seed of hope going, ‘OK, if we could, sort of reinvent new things, or find kind of the next thing that we feel really inspired about from an artistic vantage point.’”

For $25 advance tickets, visit the band’s website. Admission is $30 at the door. 50 West is located at 104 W. McCart St. in Krum.