Cherokee Maidens make Western swing into Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
GUTHRIE — Red dirt chanteuse Monica Taylor had icicles in her hair and fan-girl enthusiasm in her heart the first time she met fellow singer-songwriter Robin Macy at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival.
“I was playing there as (half of) the Farm Couple, and we were supposed to go play the children’s tent — it was a freezing cold Saturday morning — and her mom, Frances Macy, was running the children’s tent because she was a retired teacher,” Taylor recalled. “So, I got up and did the Farm Couple set and had a wonderful time, and at the end, she came up and said, ‘Monica, I just think you ought to meet my daughter. I think y’all would get along really well; you like the same kind of songs.
“She pointed to the corner of the tent where the flap was opening up, and this whole band was walking in. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s Big Twang. Oh my God, I love them, they are so cool.’ And she said, ‘There’s my daughter now.’ … I had icicles in my hair and an old stocking cap on — and every layer of clothing I had on — and Robin walked in in this beautiful dress. I thought, ‘Oh, well, she’ll never want to talk to me.’”
It’s a good thing they listened to Macy’s mother: 14 years after they met at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, Taylor, Macy and bandmate Jennifer Pettersen are bringing their Western swing trio Cherokee Maidens to the Guthrie event for the first time.
“Robin called me about six years ago and said, ‘Hey, would you like to come up and sit around with me and another girl and do a little singing on some Bob Wills songs? I think we can get three parts,’” Taylor said. “As soon as we sang the first notes together, I was like ‘Have I found my sisters?’ It blended so beautifully. It was perfect.”
The Maidens, who just released their self-titled debut album, and their backing band Sycamore Swing will perform Thursday, the opening day of the 18th annual Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, which continues through Oct. 4 at the Cottonwood Flats festival grounds.
Internationally acclaimed Guthrie-based fiddler Byron Berline, the festival’s founder and organizer, said the event is designed to showcase acoustic music, from traditional bluegrass and cowboy songs to folk and Western swing. Along with three full days of live performances and the children’s tent, the festival will feature an open mike, youth music competitions, random band jams and more.
This year’s festival will get its international flair from Canadian fiddler and step dancer April Verch and Japanese band Blue Side of Lonesome. Tulsa filmmaker James Payne will film the latter’s sets for his upcoming documentary “Far Western,” about Japan’s infatuation with American country music.
Top bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent will headline the event; the Grammy-nominated pair will perform at the Guthrie festival for the first time Oct. 4.
Also making their festival debut will be The Cleverlys, who will bring their unusual sound to Cottonwood Flats Oct. 3 and 4.
“They act real hillbilly, but all they do is rock ’n’ roll stuff on their bluegrass instruments — and they do it excellent. And they’re really funny,” Berline said.
Oklahomans on the lineup include the Red Dirt Rangers, Cowboy Jim Garling, Hankerin’ 4 Hank, The Hunt Family Band and Mountain Smoke, plus former Guthrie denizen Jeff Scroggins and his band Colorado. Home-state red dirt band Turnpike Troubadours will cap the Oct. 3 lineup.
“They’ve all been to the festival when they were younger kids growing up,” Berline said. “They have a really great following now.”
Of course, the founder’s band will be on the lineup all three days, and like the Cherokee Maidens, Berline’s outfit is offering up a new Western swing album, “Swingin’ With the Byron Berline Band.”
It takes three
Although all three members have Oklahoma roots — along with some American Indian heritage — the Cherokee Maidens are an interstate music project. Taylor is a Perkins-based staple of Oklahoma’s red dirt music scene, while Macy, a former teacher and founding member of the Dixie Chicks as well as Big Twang, and Pettersen, a young songbird who was one of Macy’s students, are based in Kansas. For several years, they kept their group informal, just playing a few private parties and public shows.
“We weren’t really taking it all that serious. We were having fun — not that we take it serious now, but we invested some time and effort to make the record,” Macy said. “We got a huge opportunity … and it made us sit down and go, ‘OK, if we’re ever gonna do it, now’s the time.’”
Back in spring, Cherokee Maidens were invited to play the recent Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., and they decided if they were going to do it, they wanted to have an album to sell. Macy’s guitarist-husband, Kentucky White, produced the self-titled debut, and he put together the vocal group’s stellar backing band, Sycamore Swing.
“He really spent a lot of time doing the research to make it as authentic as possible,” Macy said. “Half of the songs we’d been doing — of course, ‘Cherokee Maiden’ and ‘I Betcha My Heart (I Love You)’ — but we were pretty intentional about trying to find a few B-sides, not just recreating another Western swing compilation. We kind of dug deep to try to find some things that a trio of women had not done.”
Along with putting together the album, Taylor said the Maidens took another big step to make their trio official: They contacted the legendary Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors to make their coordinating performance outfits. This time when Macy and Taylor, along with Pettersen, get together at the Guthrie festival, they both will be wearing beautiful dresses.
“It’s been really fun to get serious about it. When we got those dresses from Nudie’s, that pretty much clinched the deal. We’re in it now,” Taylor said with a laugh. “It’s a great festival. It’s a great picking festival. It’s a great festival to go take your lawn chairs and go listen to music.”
FROM THE DALLAS ADVOCATE ARTICLE, November, 2014
Founding Dixie Chicks member to play at Uncle Calvin’s
Singer/songwriter Robin Macy’s roots in the local bluegrass music scene run deep. Here in Dallas she’s best known as a founding member of the Dixie Chicks. In the early days the Chicks performed at nearby venues such as Poor David’s Pub and Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse.
Just a few years before the band gained commercial success, however, Macy bowed out. She preferred writing and performing traditional bluegrass music, while the band shot to fame with a decidedly more contemporary sound. Meanwhile, Macy performed bluegrass with several other bands and working as a math teacher. She even hosted a weekly music show on KERA before moving to Kansas in 1997.
This Friday, Macy’s coming back down to the Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse stage after 17 years, only this time she’s performing with a new group of harmonizing women: the Cherokee Maidens. I caught up with Macy over the phone to learn more about what she’s been up to since the Dixie Chicks days, and what we can expect at the Friday night show:
Tell me more about your Preston Hollow roots.
In the late ’80s I lived on Hollow Way in a garage apartment. I taught math at Hockaday for eight years, and after that I moved into St. Mark’s faculty housing on Orchid Lane and taught math at St. Mark’s for four years.
And that’s where you lived when the Dixie Chicks got started?
Yes. And Uncle Calvin’s hosted the Dixie Chicks’ first album release party for “Thank Heavens for Dale Evans”. [The original band comprised Laura Lynch, Robin Lynn Macy and the Erwin sisters, Martie and Emily. Lynch and Macy later left, and Natalie Maines joined Martie and Emily to form the Dixie Chicks as they’re known today.]
Do you still keep in touch with the Dixie Chicks gals since you left the band?
No, but I wish them the best. A lot of people came knocking on my door, especially when the Dixie Chicks’ star was rising, and I didn’t really want to talk about my history with the band because it didn’t serve much purpose beyond titillation.
You now live in a small town in Kansas. How did that come about?
I stumbled upon this historical garden [Bartlett Arboretum] for sale in Kansas after performing there and fell in love with it. I had to buy it. Leaving Dallas and moving here was like going from yin to yang. Now I live in a community of 1200 people. I can run a tab at the grocery store here. People look out for one another. I guess it’s a lot like Preston Hollow is — which is a lot like a small town within a big city. I’ve recorded three solo records since moving to Kansas 17 years ago. They are folksy, earthy, albums — a call to take care of the planet — that were all inspired by the gardens. [Click here to watch a video about the Bartlett Arboretum and Macy’s restoration efforts.]
Are those the songs you will sing this Friday?
Friday’s concert at Uncle Calvin’s will be totally different. It will be whimsical, fun, frivolous, and uptempo. My husband, Kentucky White, is also my producer, and he helps us sound as close as possible to 40s and 50s Western Swing.
Tell me more about the Cherokee Maidens.
Cherokee Maidens — me, Monica Taylor and Jennifer Pettersen — have been performing together for six years now. Taylor has performed on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and Jennifer’s music videos have garnered more than 10,000 hits online Plus, Jennifer’s my old guitar and math student, so it’s been really fun to perform with her. She’s like family.
What kind of music do the Cherokee Maidens play?
Western swing. It’s pretty authentic — we have two fiddles and we yodel. We wanted to harmonize like the McKinney sisters did for Bob Wills. In fact, Cherokee Maidens is the name of a Bob Wills song. It’s very upbeat and fun music to dance to. The hip young kids will like it, but so will the Bob Wills fans.
Your bands are typically all-female. Is that intentional?
Yes. I’ve been singing with women my whole life. I’ve performed with three all-female bands, Danger in the Air, Dixie Chicks, and The Domestic Science Club. My whole musical career has been about power to the girl. But Cherokee Maidens is even more cool because it’s multigenerational. I’m the old goat corralling the kids in and bringing them down to Big D.
Are y’all performing songs from a new album?
We released a self-titled album in September, so we’re doing a mini-tour showcasing the new songs. Uncle Calvin’s is one of three stops for the Cherokee Maidens. We’re also performing in the hill country and at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
What’s it like to be able to perform at Uncle Calvin’s again after all of this time?
Returning to Dallas, after many moons, is rather surreal. Yet I am very proud of our western swing tribe [Cherokee Maidens] and think we’ve got something unique. Uncle Calvin’s is one of my all-time favorite places to play: I cut my teeth here. The greatest musical experiences I’ve had are playing at places like Uncle Calvin’s where people’s kneecaps are touching the stage — they’re right there in the palm of your hand. I’ve played in huge arenas along with orchestras, but playing in a folk club for people who are on the edge of their seats because they’re excited to hear what you have to sing — there’s just nothing better than that.
FROM THE WICHITA EAGLE, September, 2014
Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Full Circle for Cherokee Maidens!