Billings’ favorite girl group, Maxie Ford, has played its second-to-last gig. With summer taking various members separate ways and the fall taking a few to college or other adventures, their last hurrah may very well be at Magic City Blues in August. Not a bad way to wrap up a one-year career.
Formed last August by two daughters of two stalwarts of the Billings music scene, the group of five to six high school students garnered much community and local media support that seemed to build at every turn. The combination of talent, unique instrumentation, eclectic song selection, and adorableness, culminates with an opening slot on the third day of “Montana’s Urban Music Festival.”
Guitarist and vocalist Katy Kemmick’s father, John, is known for his resonator guitar work with the Longtime Lonesome Dogs, the Muddy Warblers, the Peach Pickers and as a duo with his brother, Ed (who made a guest appearance on blues harp at this show).
Guitarist, vocalist and ukulele player Hannah Haberman’s father, Doug, has played bass fiddle, mandolin and guitar with the Elk River Ramblers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs and the Firehouse Band. Both girls are known in the local scene through guest appearances with their dads while growing up, so it was a welcome development when they combined forces to perform with a group of musical friends.
What has helped to set them apart are the instrumentation and set list. Grace Lamdin plays double bass, mid-year addition Jenny Long plays trumpet, and percussionist Nolee Anderson plays tap shoes. That’s right: tap dancing instead of a drum set. Plus, she occasionally raps. Everyone else, except Katy Kemmick, plays a bit of percussion here and there, as well.
One founding member, pianist Hayley Haw, left for Chicago just as the ball started rolling at the end of 2012. Her replacement, Madison Stone, is the twin sister of talented musician and actor Mackenzie Stone, who has appeared in productions at Senior High, Billings Studio Theater and Venture Theatre. All of the girls have studied at Senior High School, except Haberman, who is graduating from West High School this year.
The show Saturday night was a benefit for BikeNet. The $15 ticket price may sound high for a local cover group, but the band was probably a bigger draw than the cause itself. (Perhaps it was the rainy night, but this writer appeared to be the only one in attendance who actually rode a bike to the show.) Perhaps 150 people or so comfortably filled much of the downstairs seating in the Babcock Theater.
The audience obviously held many friends and family as there was plenty of interplay between stage and crowd. As Katy was explaining their brand new CD, she called out, “I’m getting there, Mom!” Pam Kemmick had apparently wanted to make sure credit was given to Brad Edwards, who recorded a recent performance of them as a surprise. Copies of 40 CDRs (“That’s all we could burn in the past two days!”) were available for $5, packaged in brown paper lunch bags with a Maxie Ford sticker.
The songs covered were a mix of current alt rock, hip-hop, singer-songwriter, and a few old time country classics like, “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jackson.” The emphasis is on lead and harmony vocals shared mostly by Katy and Hannah, but with a few raps and vocal parts sung by Nolee.
Grace started playing the bass line from the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia” and Jenny joined her for a few bars – enough to make her father, Jeff Long, proud. He is a Senior High band teacher and trumpet player with local favorites Funk in the Trunk.
And there is a lot to be proud of, as well as much gratitude for all the community support. Nolee mentioned that when BikeNet board member and past president Nash Emrich introduced the band members and thanked them for performing for free, it was Maxie Ford who owed them thanks, for the opportunity to play at the Babcock. She also thanked the Kemmick family, “Who put up with our crap, and let us borrow a lot of their crap”; her own Anderson family, who let them take over their house for rehearsals; Brad Edwards, for making the CD; and the “Brown boys,” son Steve and father, Bob, who built Nolee’s tap platform (with built-in microphone!).
Opening the show was another young singer, Dallas Martin, whose bluesy voice sounded much more soulful than her teenage appearance would suggest. She was accompanied by Hannah’s father, Doug Haberman, on mandolin and a guitarist introduced simply as “Dave!”
As some members head off to college, Katy and Hannah plan to take a year off to try their hand in Nashville. They certainly have the talent and charm to make their mark in the music business.
Let’s just hope that when they all come home for the winter holiday season, a reunion gig might be in store.