Among the many groups performing at this year's Norman Music Festival will be Annie Oakley, a local Americana-folk girl band comprised of Grace and Sophia Babb, twin sisters, and their best friend Nia Personette.
Personette and the Babbs attended All Saints Catholic School in Norman, where they met and became inseparable.
When Grace and Sophia Babb decided to become an official band, they reached out to a few friends to join them. Personette joined them six months after the formation of the band in 2013, and they've been playing together ever since.
“I’ve been friends with (them for) so long that it’s like their lives are permanently bound to mine,” Personette said. “All the best experiences of my life have been related to playing this music in some way.”
When Annie Oakley began, Sophia Babb had just discovered feminism and found a strong female figure in Annie Oakley, a renowned markswoman from the 1800s. At the time, it felt fitting to name their band after her, as it aligned with the girls' newly discovered ideals.
Their music is reminiscent of growing up, facing trauma and experiencing first joys.
“Music is universally beautiful and accessible,” Sophia Babb said. “I can create melodies and words that have some sort of emotion, but when I put them out there they can mean anything for anyone. It feels like I’m able to give something out back into the world.”
For Grace Babb, Annie Oakley has the perfect dynamic. Their friendship and sisterhood allow them to trust each other with the personal nature of their music, as well as confront each other or be frank when something is not working.
“The band for me is just constant improvement. I think you need honesty to make something good,” Grace Babb said.
Annie Oakley has made a point to call out issues in the music industry and raise up other girl bands.
“We love going to (other girl bands') shows and spending time with them because it’s so cool and kind of rare to see young girls taken seriously,” Personette said.
“It’s more joyful to play music with people you’ve loved forever,” Personette said.
Then to now: Norman Music Fest
They began playing local gigs around Norman in spots like Othello’s Italian Restaurant and any local venue that would accept them. The girls learned to be critical of themselves early on and learned from their mistakes in small shows.
The group continued to play through trial and error and slowly began to gain notoriety. According to Personette, the Norman community was supportive of the group, giving them places to play and encouragement. Older girl bands in and around Norman at the time championed the group, often inviting them to play gigs together.
“They saw a lot of potential in us and invited us to play for them, even though we were awkward,” Personette said.
As they gained more confidence as a band, they set their sights on becoming good enough to play larger shows. They made pointed efforts toward specific venues such as The Blue Door, which Sophia Babb said was their dream venue to play.
By 2014, the group played The Blue Door with Samantha Crain.
They were the youngest group to perform in that venue. According to Grace Babb, playing The Blue Door opened them up to a level of professionalism.
“Before that we were just immature, just gigging around. After that, we were serious,” Grace Babb said.
Annie Oakley has played at Norman Music Festival for the last four years and will perform there again this April.
For their first Norman Music Festival, they played at Michelangelo’s as “Grace and Sophia,” and their crowd filled up the entirety of the space. The following year as Annie Oakley, with Personette, the group was given a main stage: the Depot Stage.
While performing on such a large stage was initially daunting to the group, they conquered the challenge and had a second substantial audience, Grace Babb said.
The following year, they finally reached the Sooner Theatre, where Grace Babb said she hopes they will always play.
“For Norman Music Festival, there is no better place for our type of music,” Grace Babb said.
This will be Annie Oakley’s third consecutive year playing the Sooner Theatre. Although performing at Norman Music Festival is a regular occurrence for the band, nerves can always set in.
“We’ve always done pretty well, but there’s always a fear that, 'No one’s going to show up this time. This is going to be the time where it’s empty,'” Personette said.
Newcomers to an Annie Oakley show can expect an intimate experience, according to Sophia Babb. The nature of Annie Oakley’s music is incredibly personal, with light voices and warm melodies.
Annie Oakley’s songs are written by Grace and Sophia Babb and tell the tales of their struggles and joys, both in their own lives and in the lives of those they love. Attendees should expect to feel like they are a part of a storytelling experience and will hopefully walk away feeling like they are friends along for the ride, Sophia Babb said.
Annie Oakley has dreams of taking the band nationally and internationally. The three of them are currently students: Sophia and Grace Babb are multimedia journalism juniors at Oklahoma City University, while Personette is an engineering junior at OU. Due to their studies, the band members are limited in their touring and playing performances. They meet together weekly to practice and plan for future gigs and tours, which they organize for weekends and holidays.
It is not uncommon for one of them to be doing chemistry homework prior to a gig or even on the way home after a show on the road.
Even in their pursuit of other careers, the group hopes that Annie Oakley can survive and continue to play together. Both Sophia Babb and Personette plan on studying abroad in the fall semester, with Grace Babb staying at school. The group is planning future shows after Sophia Babb's and Personette's return to Oklahoma.
Annie Oakley would like to break out into the European market eventually, Sophia Babb said.
Through Annie Oakley, the group hopes to inspire future female musicians to put themselves out there and keep pursuing the music they love.
“Men feel like they have the right to play, and young girls are more timid,” Sophia Babb said. “For young girls specifically, don’t be afraid to ask for things.”