FOR THREE-AND-a-half decades, Nancy Fitch and Claudia Neva have played their own brand of western music.
Fitch plays guitar and harmonizes with Neva, who plays fiddle, on everything from hillbilly ballads to old-time swing tunes.
Many of the songs evoke the golden years of cowboy music — “Swing Time Cowgirl” by Patsy Montana, “Laredo Rose” by the Texas Tornados.
But now they are singing a different tune.
“It’s now or never,” Fitch said.
That’s because Fitch and Neva are taking their act one step further: They have invested in their own sound system.
And they have a goal.
“We want to pay it off before we die,” Fitch said.
Neva and Fitch are Pies on the Run, a spinoff of a band called The Flying Cowpies that entertained locals in the ’80s.
Playing music is their passion, Neva said, one that led to performing, which leads to the need for a decent sound system.
The system they bought — two speakers, a monitor, microphones, stands and mixer — cost $2,000, but the musicians figure that it’s worth it not to wait around for someone else to run sound tests at each venue.
They also want to sound as good as they do when they are rehearsing in Fitch’s living room, which they did last week for upcoming performances on the Peninsula.
“We have great harmonies,” Fitch said. “That and a sense of the absurd are our strong points.”
The Pies should be in harmony. They have been playing music together since 1974, when Neva moved to Port Townsend.
Fitch, who had moved here the previous year, heard that there was a new woman fiddle player in town and went to the weekly musical gatherings that Neva hosted.
Hitting it off, Fitch suggested they work up material and play at local venues.
There was just one hitch.
“Claudia had never performed in public,” Fitch said. “I made her go down to the Town Tavern and play with me so she’d get used to playing on stage.”
For early performances, they enlisted pianist George Radebaugh, who was living in Keyport at the time, playing at the Point Hudson tavern where the Shanghai Restaurant is now.
Fitch and Neva also played the first Wooden Boat Festival with Tom Carroll and Barney McClure.
“The Golden Vanity,” a sea shanty, is still in their repertoire, but they mainly do western swing.
“Swing fiddle is Claudia’s forte,” Fitch said.
They also played with Loose Caboose with Fred “The Head” Apstein, Steve Grimes and Carroll, and Bob and Weave with Radebaugh, Tom Barrett and Russell Williams, one of the original owners of the Back Alley, which is now the Upstage.
Reach for the Sky preceded The Flying Cowpies, which they formed in the ’80s with Radebaugh, Greg Grupe, Jan Daline and Gail Saxonis.
The Cowpies played at Wooden Boat festivals, Port Ludlow conference barbecues, The Back Alley and the Uptown Pub.
Guest artists included the Levy brothers — Joel and Bertram — and Gus Lindquist.
“It [the Cowpies] lasted the longest — seven years,” Fitch said.
At the Uptown, the Cowpies were virtually the house band, Neva said, putting on shows with themes — “romance night” for Valentine’s Day and an annual holiday show in December.
The Cowpies also played the Roma, a bar and card room where the first of the condominiums on Water Street is now.
“There was a sign out front that said ‘Chicken — Cards — JoJos,'” Fitch said. “George wrote a song about it.”
The Cowpies skidded to an end in the early 1990s, Fitch having her hands full as conference manager at Fort Worden State Park and Neva with a new baby.
But they played together when they could.
And when Saxonis, the other female Cowpie, who had moved to North Dakota, was in town for a visit, they started performing several years ago as a cowgirl trio.
“I like the tempos and the melodies,” Neva said of western swing.
Neva, who grew up in the Shoreline area of Seattle, is a natural; she has been playing the violin since grade school, when she signed up for the school orchestra.
Fitch said she learned to play folk music from her roommate during her first year at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
“She had a four-string tenor guitar,” Fitch said. “That was the end of my scholastic achievement.”
Fitch continued to play through college and her working years, only taking a break when her daughter, now 33, was born.
Now retired, Fitch still puts in one afternoon a week proofreading copy at The Leader, while Neva works full time at Peninsula Floors & Furnishings.
To recoup their investment in their sound system, the Pies are looking for private parties and venues to play (e-mail Fitch at email@example.com).
They charge in the “under $200 range” for a two-hour performance, Fitch said, but there are stipulations.
“We only perform early,” Fitch said.
Their next appearance is Friday at the Uptown Pub starting at 5:30 p.m.
On Friday, Nov. 12, they will be at the Oasis Sports Bar and Grill in Sequim from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. That’s prime rib night at the Oasis, at 301 E. Washington St.
The show includes “trick roping” by Neva, with Fitch providing background music on guitar and kazoo.
At each performance, the Pies will have the tip jar out to receive contributions to help them reach their goal.
The Pies even yodel in two-part harmony, which comes in handy.
“We’ve been playing music together since 1974,” Fitch said, “and we still can’t remember the words.”
________Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.