Babes With Axes Reunion Concert
By Bob Fennessy
On Saturday, March 8, the Community Center for the Performing Arts and KRVM proudly welcome Babes With Axes --Debbie Dietrich, Katie Henry, TR Kelley and Laura Kemp -- for a special Reunion Concert at the WOW Hall.
The Babes are back! A lot of people are excited about that fact (reserved seat ticket were snapped up faster than a turtle). My file has the most recent Babes show at the WOW Hall with all four Babes present as April 22, 2000. Three Babes played here on December 2, 2000 — the “Dialing for Katie” show – taking turns subbing for the missing Henry.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What makes this such a big deal, anyway?
Back in 1993, Pat Miller published a Eugene-based music journal called the Northwest Independent Music News. On June 3 the paper initiated a series of First Thursday acoustic music concerts at the WOW Hall. The first show featured Terry Robb Acoustic Power Trio, Laura Kemp Band and Miller’s own group Dopplegang. I know, because there’s a story in the WOW Hall Notes authored by sometime volunteer Debbie Dietrich.
That December, First Thursday featured four female folksingers playing both solo and together for the first time. Coinciding with the release of Kelley’s first album, Shades of Grey, the concert was envisioned as a one-time gig. The audience, however, must have throught otherwise. The Babes, no doubt enjoying the applause, realized that they had hit upon something special.
But what was it that made it special? All of the women wrote songs, had vocal talent and could play one or more instruments. The show featured each singing their own originals, with support from the others on vocals and instrumentation in combinations of two, three and four. In addition to enhancing each songwriters’ presentation of their material, the performers joked and bantered with each other like old friends rehearsing in a living room. The intimacy of the performer-audience relationship no doubt fueled the group’s popularity.
Folk music is based on lyrical content, and the Babes had tales to tell. Both Dietrich and Henry were past winners of the McKenzie River New Song Contest. Kelley had a full album of new material and Kemp already had released a couple solo CDs. Behind the songs themselves there were always stories. The stories became a good part of the show. In fact, if I were to have made one small suggestion, it would have been to sing more, talk less, because it was when all the Babes sang together that I got drunk on those lovely ladies.
Within a year, the Babes went from solo gigs at teahouses to playing for huge audiences at the Willamette Valley Folk Festival, Oregon Country Fair and Eugene Celebration. On December 3, 1994, they celebrated their first anniversary by playing two shows at the WOW Hall which were recorded by Eugene’s Don Ross and released as a CD, W.O.W. Live Babes! A second album, Live Axe, was recorded at the WOW Hall by Don Ross in September, 1996. A March ’97 CD Release Tour featured concerts in the SF Bay Area, Seattle, Yachats, Corvallis and of course the WOW Hall in Eugene.
Although Live Axe got some national airplay, the super-non-group came to an effective end when Katie Henry moved to Chicago. The four got together in June-July ’97 to play the WOW Hall, High Sierra Music Fest and Main Stage at the Country Fair; they played the WOW Hall in April ’98, and a six-year anniversary concert on Dec. 2, 1999. When the April 2000 gig was over, no one thought it was the end – when Laura, Debbie and TR celebrated their seven-year anniversary that December, they had Katie “phone in.”
Kelley, Kemp and Dietrich tried out another group formation – Babes With Boys – but the magic wasn’t the same so it was back to individual careers and lives.
In 2008, Debbie Diedrich completed a Masters in Elementary Ed. at Pacific University and is currently working on an endorsement in literacy from Eastern Oregon. For the last six years, she's been teaching grades 4 and 5 in both French and English at Charlemagne Elementary School. She has three grandchildren: David and Olivia in DC and Jack in NY.
Laura Kemp has released two more studio recordings of original music. Her most recent release, Bodhi Tree, was recorded in Nashville. In 2010, fueled by her love of jazz, she went back to school for a year to study guitar at the U. of O. with Don Latarski. Since then she has played in a jazz standards group, The Liaisons, with Sean Peterson on upright bass and a rotating cast of horn players, including Paul Biondi. She traveled to India in 2008 and returned with a harmonium and a passion for chanting in Sanskrit.
Laura’s most recent musical project is a kirtan/devotional music group called Narayani. Similar to the Babes, the group is fronted by three women who take turns leading the chants and is heavy on the harmonies. But unlike BWA, the songs are all sung in Sanskrit, call and response style, and they don’t hold wacky contests during the shows.
Laura also continues to play her original songwriter material, mostly in a bluegrassy trio format with Sean Peterson on upright bass/vocals and Jeremy Wegner on mandolin/vocals.
In 2004, Katie Henry moved to California with her two children and husband, Peter Janata, who studies music cognition at UC Davis' Center for Mind and Brain. Katie quickly melded into the Davis music scene, and together with Laura Sandage and Ray Frank formed the delightful trio MudLark; their debut CD is called Nest.
In other recent musical projects, Katie is a member of The Vocal Art Ensemble, a 23-voice a capella choir directed by Tracia Barbieri that, "presents exquisite evenings of music, ranging from the elegant beauty of Renaissance motets to the compelling excitement of modern choral works." She also has a second solo recording project of new songs in the works at Studio E in Sebastapol, California.
Since moving to California, Katie has focused on studying and teaching music. In 2008, she finished an education masters degree at Sacramento State University in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis in arts in education.
At the turn of the century, TR Kelley returned to her rural roots in the Coast Range near Swisshome to live simply with intentional family, raise chickens, make a few records and write a book. TR's current musical focus is playing bass, dressing sharp and singing harmony in Eugene's Steel Wool band. She's also currently working on her second album of originals as The Raventones with drummer Randy Hamme.
Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door. Doors open at 6:00 pm and showtime is 7:00.
Partial seating available. Reserved seating tickets are SOLD OUT! Additional seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.