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Paul Mann: Modern Americana Music Alive and Well at Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria

Sisters Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe brought their unique brand of music to the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria last Thursday night.
Sisters Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe brought their unique brand of music to the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria last Thursday night. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

A double bill of live American roots music filled the Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse Theater with near perfect acoustic sounds on April 23.

The concert was one in a series of shows brought to the classic little theater by Ones to Watch Productions. The local production company supports the Santa Barbara Music Foundation, with part of their profits from shows.

Upcoming shows at the Playhouse include the legendary Chris Hillman with Herb Pedersen and the Agape Trio on May 3 and guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford on June 10.

But last Thursday night it was the Quebe Sisters & the Salty Suites that took over the theater. Well known for its nearly perfect accidental acoustics, the theater is an extraordinary place to see a live acoustic performance.

Opening act the Salty Suites hail from Southern California, and the trio play their own brand of Americana music with fiery passion, witty humor, and amazing vocal and musical skills. The group consists of Scott Gates, Chuck Hailes and Chelsea Williams. Gates on mandolin is a veteran of traditional bluegrass music festivals and possesses incredible vocal as well as picking skills. Hailes, schooled in classical and jazz bass playing and techniques, writes his own music and has teamed with Scott to create their own new material. With his background in bluegrass music and degree in performance, he sings and plays in a way that is uniquely his own. Williams has been writing and performing her own music since she was 13 years old. She began performing on stage as a solo artist at age 17, performing at clubs and coffee shops. The prolific songwriter has written nearly 100 original songs to date.

The Salty Suites performed their own songs with lyrics like “If I die young at least I will die with chocolate on my tongue.” The band played some reworked covers of rock classics like Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Mans Party” and even a song by The Doors. The band wowed the crowd with their hour-long set at the Playhouse.

After an intermission featuring local microbrews and area wines at the concession stand, the Texas-based Quebe Sisters took over the venue. Sisters Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe are all champion violin players in their own right and together sing compelling harmonies, while fiddling away like possessed madwomen.

Critics have said that the Quebes’ unique brand of music has taken the Americana music scene by storm. They perform a unique blend of swing, vintage country, bluegrass, jazz, swing and, of course, Texa-style fiddling. Together with a guitarist and upright bass player making up the rhythm section of the band, the sisters tore through an amazing panorama of the history of American music. The band interspersed generations of cover music from veteran music with original material that filled the Playhouse with perfectly pitched sounds.

It was another night of pure music wizardry in one of Southern California's premiere acoustic venues.

Click here for information on upcoming shows.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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