Friday, October 31, 2014

Passing the prison in Salinas




Report from Soledad, California, outside the Correctional Training Center: When I was a kid, I was very determined to be good. Nearly all of the time I did the chores I was asked to do. I finished my homework each night. I practiced my trombone most of the time. I didn't like disappointing my parents and they expected me to work hard at everything that I did. And they were always there to help with homework and ferry me and my sister around to our extra-curricular activities. I was very lucky.

If I unwittingly made friends with kids at school who wanted to wreck things, steal things, or cheat, I found a way not to be around them. And, eventually, they found someone else to help them set books on fire in the teacher's yard (yes, that really did happen!).

But sometimes I wonder if I wanted to be good because my parents were very good. They read to us. They sang to us. They colored in coloring books with us. Even though they were broke college students, they took us to art museums, concerts, and movies. I distinctly remember going to see a claymation movie festival when I was eight with my Dad in Harvard Square. Mom & Dad encouraged us to think we could do anything and everything -- piano, children's theater, choir, dance, and on and on.

If I wanted to make a replica of a Swiss village out of clay, my Dad was in. If I wanted sew my own clothes, my mom got out her machine. We had good teachers and bad teachers. We went to excellent schools and some that were considered poor. But my parents were always our first teachers.

My sister and I argued, we threw tantrums, we were cranky, and we went through growing pains many times over. We weren't perfect, but we did try to be our best, all of us, as much as we could.

So when Billy and I rode by one of the nation's most famous overpopulated prisons (at 170% of capacity), I couldn't help wondering what kind of person I would have been if I didn't know where my next meal was coming from, if I'd never had anyone read to me, if I couldn't read, if my neighborhood was full of gangs and my parents were working three jobs each, never home. What if I was threatened every day of my life? What if my childhood had been full of guns, drugs, and fear, instead of ballet shoes, pizza night, and laughter. Would I be the same me? Or would I be one of the 200,000 women in federal prison in this country or one of the 1 million women on probation or parole. 

Or would I, like the girl I saw on McHenry Street in West Baltimore, have been able to find my way in the other America, the invisible America, to making flags out of a trash heap and a color guard out of a bunch of girls just as vulnerable as myself? 

Most of us will never be tested in this way. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On down to the Central Coast to play with Craig Eastman



Time to shimmy on down to the central coast for two concerts this weekend with our fiddling friend Craig Eastman!! The Red Barn in Los Osos on Saturday and at The Brickyard for a house concert in Atascadero on Sunday. Both shows at 6pm! Y'all come join the Big Picnic!  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Remembering Mawmaw Margie in collage, a lesson with Sally Haig




Report from Pleasanton, California: Sometimes being a traveling musician means that I get to make art with one of my favorite artists! Last night, Sally Haig showed me how to do gel transfer and collage with this photograph of Mawmaw Margie and my Mom, Marcella Hankins. 

It think it was fitting that we worked on the collage after watching the World Series -- Mawmaw Margie was such a baseball nut. Though, she wouldn't have had much truck with this series, since she was only interested in rooting against the Yankees in their pin-striped uniforms.


Mawmaw Margie loved Jim Reeves, Andy Griffith, and alyssum flowers. She let us eat as much Booberry and Honeycomb cereal as we wanted. She had a vinyl floor in her kitchen that looked just like bricks and I thought the wooden post that held up her laundry line looked just like a cross. Since she didn't go to church like my other grandmothers, my little self thought that she just chose to have church outside with the laundry. And though, people at the church talked about being "washed," Mawmaw Margie got right down and scrubbed. Sarah and I chased each other in and out, out and in, through the sheets and blue jeans -- Mawmaw Margie with clothes pins in her mouth and a pink hairnet on her head, laughing, laughing, laughing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Once more for the bay



Hey, let's do one more concert before we leave the Bay Area! Tomorrow night, San Mateo, 7pm, Owl Mountain Music Fair Trade House Concert. Contact the wonderful and musical Steve Eulberg for more info: steve@owlmountainmusic.com. Thanks to Sally Haig for the great photo. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Napa and Coal Country, not that different after all



Report from Napa, California: Napa has more in common with the Appalachian coalfields than you might expect. When Americans think of Napa, we think of elegant people drinking elegant wine, and when we think of the coalfields we think of rough people doing rough work. But in fact, a person living in Eastern Kentucky and a person living in the East Napa Valley Watershed have something vital in common and that is wilderness, water, and the people who would sell it out from under them for the almighty dollar.

I had no idea what Napa would look like -- green or gold, flat or rolling, forest or field. And I can tell you that it is all of these things. California wine country looks a bit like the Yorkshire Pennines, but done in gold instead of green, with low rolling hills dotted by crooked and wizened trees. It looks like the drive from Mawmaw's up on Smith Ridge to Aunt Bonnie's down in Kingsport, especially that part around Lebanon – but when the grass has gone dry. And much of these rolling hills are covered in acre upon acre of vines heavy with grapes destined for a sparkling wine glass. In the midst of these ordered rows, sit grand homes from the jumbo sized plantation villa to the ultra-contemporary house of glass. But what I did not know is that parts of Napa are wild and free in the way that fells of the Lake District are – because Beatrix Potter envisioned that and fought to make it so.

We had the honor to spend a day among a group of Napa's citizens who live quietly in one of the few remaining wilderness areas in wine country and, much like their counterparts in Eastern Kentucky, they love their mountain, their forests, and the animals who share them. But they are facing their own kind of mountain top removal where the mountain won't be blown up but cut up – 3000 acres of it. 500 acres of old growth oak forest, gone. The scarce water supply hurried into reservoirs which will serve the vine before the people downstream. And what water does trickle down will be thick with sediment from erosion. How will the company get it all done. Roads, blasting, and gravel crushing. Does this sound familiar?

And what are they mining? Wine and tourist dollars.

Driving through wine country, you can't throw a stick without hitting a winery, but a developer from out of state – who also has interests in oil and fracking – thinks that one more winery, maybe the daddy of them all, ought to be built across some of the last remaining wilderness up here. 

"I come from the mountains, Kentucky's my home
where the wild deer and black bear so lately did roam.
By the cool rushing waterfall the wildflowers dream
and through every green valley, there runs a clear stream.
Now there's scenes of destruction on every hand
and only black waters run down through my land."
– Jean Ritchie, 1971

"When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"
– Pete Seeger, 1955


Please hold the people of the East Napa Valley Watershed in the light as they try to save the wilderness and the home they love.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mighty fine night



Magical night. We felt all wrapped up in friendship and song. Thank you Stevie & Valerie. Mighty Fine, indeed. Photo by Valerie May at Mighty Fine Guitars.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The touring life and Zac



Report from Napa, California: This is Zac, he's 7. Friends like Zac are one of the many reasons that touring the way that we do makes for a beautiful life. I held Zac for about a half an hour today. Some artists would think taking two months on the road to play 17 dates is pure craziness. They would say that you can do that in 19 days tops and get back home, but I have a feeling they would have missed out on Zac. And that's probably OK for them, but not for me. 

For Billy and me, touring is a way of life. We leave home in order to see and to be with others, including small furry others like Zac. For lots of folks who make their living in the same way that we do, their job is a series of vans, bars, gritty green rooms, and motels, or a series of airplanes, drivers, luxury hotels, and dressing rooms. And they may feel right at home there. But our job is a series of grasslands, canyons, driveways, living rooms, libraries, lakes, community halls, campsites, sunsets, kitchen tables, a temperamental jeep, a patient Airstream, and unexpected friends like Zac. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Santa Rosa tonight

Word is that we might not have cell service up in Santa Rosa where we have a concert tonight. If you'd like to come, head to our website tour page for details! More tour reports on the way....been a little nutty this week. Hugs, friends. www.jeniandbilly.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Grammy Moment!



Much to our delight, a NARAS member submitted our CD, Picnic in the Sky produced by Dave Way and Dillon O'Brian, for the Grammys and our music has made it to the first round of voting in three categories including Best Folk Album! Ballots have gone out and we are launching a grass roots effort to get the word out and get Jeni & Billy through this first round of voting! We'd be tickled to pieces if you'd SHARE this post. You never know who might see it and decide to check out our music. If you are a NARAS member and would like a copy of the CD for review, please message us. To hear the nominated song, Picnic in the Sky, go to http://jeniandbilly.bandcamp.com/track/picnic-in-the-sky

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jeni & Billy's October 25 concert streaming on Stage-it





Good news for Jeni & Billy fans far and wide, our Saturday, October 25, concert at Stevie Coyle's Mighty Fine Guitars will be streamed live! Follow the link to find out how to watch: https://www.stageit.com/jeni_billy/full_strength_folk_music_from_mighty_fine_guitars_in_lafayette_california/40835

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Representing American Folk Music, one concert at a time


Report from Anaheim, California: Anson is from Taiwan and he's taking a college course on American Folk Music. Before tonight, he'd never been to a live concert in the USA. Now he has Sweet Song Coming 'Round and Picnic in the Sky and I get the feeling they are going back to Taiwan with him. He was very happy and a such a nice person to meet. This is one of those things that makes me feel better about not going into the foreign service or trying to get a position in the presidential cabinet -- being a musical ambassador involves more banjo and no bombs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Feeling sunny in sunny Burbank!


You know you are in Burbank when your friends make sure their neighbor's house matches your outfit! Burbank is the home of Warner Brothers. Stardom is just around the corner! But actually, we are much too busy for the movies just now, because we are heading caravan-style down to Anaheim with Susie & Steve for our co-bill at The Living Tradition! Come on out and hear a whole evening of song and story rooted in Appalachian and Southern Musical traditions! Susie Glaze & the Hilonesome Band and Jeni & Billy. The journey begins at 7:30. http://www.thelivingtradition.org/tltbodyconcerts.html

Photo by Susie Glaze with some color magic by yours truly :) teamwork!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jeni & Billy go to Hollywood!


Report from the desert outside Los Angeles, California: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a movie star. It didn't make great sense, because I was actually really good at things like physics and typing class and those things would likely have lead to truly attainable careers. I almost never got big roles in school plays because I was always trying to re-write the main character, even in the audition. The only exception was Cinderella, and then I was cast solely on the strength of my long blonde hair.

I first visited Los Angeles in 2009 and I was smitten. I laid a flower at Marilyn Monroe's grave and Billy never got tired of the fact that I had to take a photo of practically every star on Hollywood Blvd. He even took me on the Warner Brother's Studio tour.

When I came out of one of the restroom trailers, a very put-together woman with a Warner Brother's employee lanyard said, "Aren't you on The Mentalist?" And a nearly speechless me, who had failed to brush her hair that morning, said, "No." "Oh," said this woman to whom I was eternally grateful. "Are you working on that pilot next door?" "No," I said. "Well," she said. "You should be. Did anyone ever tell you, you have great teeth? And you look very chipper, but smart." Then she got a call on her cell phone and I walked on air back to the golf cart. 

As we drive these last 300 miles toward the dream city of my childhood imagination, I feel so thankful to be approaching the embrace of so many friends. I can hardly believe we get to tour in California every year and it's all because of the friends who take us into their homes and adopt us into their families for a meal or for a week. If anyone asks me if I'm in that pilot they are shooting next door, I'm going to say that I'm in the Jeni & Billy movie right here, right now. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Days of the Blue Tattoo




Special Report with musical gift from the Triple T Truckstop just east of Tucson, AZ: Being a woman with face tattoos in the 1850s caused quite a stir. Even today, when tattoos abound among the most provincial-seeming folks, full face tattoos are rare. But when Olive Oatman believed that her whole family was dead, when she lived with the Yavapai for a year as a slave, and lived with the Mohave for two years as a daughter to "chief" of the tribe, she asked to be tattooed by her Mohave family so they would recognize her in the afterlife. And the afterlife was very present to her, since her entire family had been massacred by the starving Yavapai and she watched her sister die in captivity.

But quite unexpectedly and reluctantly, Olive re-entered "civilized" society and eventually died the wife of a wealthy Texas businessman. She wore a veil over her blue tattoo.

Last May, we found a book called The Blue Tattoo in Sallie Sue's Gift Shop at the Triple T Truckstop just east of Tucson -- which has a selection of books on the southwest rivaling any university bookstore. For many years, we'd passed the Oatman/Shinarump exit on I-40 just inside the Arizona border. That's when I first read about Olive and her blue tattoo. But last May, everything fell into place.

We wrote the song near Bend, Oregon. We played it first in Summit, Oregon, for Karl Smiley at his dinner table. We recorded the song with the Big Picnic Band in November. Today, we delivered the CD to Debra, the cashier, at the Triple T and sang her the chorus of the song. She took our picture in front of the books with tears in her eyes. "Don't lose your innocence," she said. "Stay just the way you are. Keep being happy. Be safe." Such a lovely person, Debra of Sallie Sue's Gift Shop on I-10 just east of Tucson.

And here it is streaming for your consideration: The Days of the Blue Tattoo. 

http://jeniandbilly.bandcamp.com/track/the-days-of-the-blue-tattoo

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farewell Texas! See you again soon!



Report from West Texas: In ninth grade, my family moved from temperate, gorgeous Las Cruces, New Mexico, to cold -- unreasonably cold -- Omaha, Nebraska. We only lived in Omaha for one year because we protested and my Dad found a job in Nashville. But sometimes I

forgot all about the cold because of my friends -- Rachel, Shanna , Clint, Jason, and Shawn.


El Paso used to be a place we rushed through trying not to see the feed lots and resisting the urge to yell, "Run!," to the cows from the windows of the Jeep. But now it's this great place where Clint & Laura live with their very lovable kids. Alex took us on a narrated tour of their house. Samantha told us about a very gross centipede. And 18 month old Isaac nearly came out on tour with us! Cyrus was adopted into their family for a few minutes and us for a few hours. It felt really really good. And we even went away with brownies and a Juarez drink cosy. 


Tonight, we entered New Mexico and said goodbye to Texas -- a state that opened its arms to us for a week through the kindness of its people. 


Here's a parting shot from one of our favorite Texas landmarks, the diesel repair shop in Van Horn, Texas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fort Stockton Concert


Well, I suppose we might oughta play a concert while we're in Texas! Jeni & Billy tonight at the Fort Stockton Library, 7pm. 

Houston and the Live Oak Meeting House


Did you know that Houston is the 4th largest city in the USA? We didn't, until we decided to visit there. But despite its size, Houston still has the friendliness of a small town. It's true that we got on one of the various freeways here and counted ten lanes of traffic! Billy was exclaiming about it and he's from Baltimore -- one of the most congested cities in the USA.

Perhaps our happiness with Houston has to do with where we chose to go. I've already written about Rothko Chapel, the Menil Collection, and the Brazoria county fair. Yesterday, we went to what was my first visit to a Quaker meeting and Billy's second -- many years ago he visited the Sandy Spring meeting in Olney, Maryland. I had always wanted to go to a meeting because I wondered how I would feel meditating with a group of people for an hour. What I noticed most was how very elusive silence is. Children cough, parents unwrap lozenges, a person arrives with a breathing apparatus that sounds like the heartbeat of the earth, people shift in their seats, sneeze. Should I close my eyes or look up at Turrell's Skyspace? My neck hurts from looking up at the Skyspace. Maybe I should look forward. Maybe I should close my eyes. Repeat. repeat. repeat. And, already, it's over!

I loved Quaker meeting and wrestling with silence. I loved the people we met -- so open and full of conversation. I loved that we had a potluck and sat outside like a family. I loved that I could be among a faith community that celebrates peace and kindness to all creatures. I loved being in "church" again. I hope we can come back to the Live Oak Meeting on our way home. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Brazoria County Fair




Report from the Brazoria County Fair south of Houston in Angleton, Texas: In Brazoria, spangles reign. I have never seen so many cowboy boots, jeans, patterned shirts, and spangles congregated in one place -- men and women, both, had rhinestones and pearls on their jeans, belts, and shirts. Nor have I ever felt I was more of a hippie-intellectual-art-loving-vegetarian-flower-child of flower children. Billy and I stuck out among these thousands of people to the point that we got polite stares -- I almost felt I was back in Japan. But the other thing about Brazorians is they are Texans, and like nearly all of the Texans we meet, terrifically welcoming. We were completely adopted by a girl and her father. She was showing a cow named Duchess. They introduced us to Kelly whose son's steer may win the fair. He is a steer from Wisconsin bred by the May family whose son came down from Wisconsin to groom the steer just for the Brazoria county fair. We met a grand prize winning pig named Uno who weighed as much as Billy and me put together. And we felt the wiry hair and warm pink skin of some pigs who have already met their end this morning after not being chosen to be part of a breeding herd. County fairs are not for the faint of heart or vegetarians, either, I'm afraid. But, I will always remember running my hand along the back of this gentle Steer and feeling the thrilling softness of his coat. And I will also remember the gracious Brazorians in their boots and spangles.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Clouds & Rothko





Report from Rothko Chapel in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas: When I was a kid, my parents took me to see a Contemporary Art exhibit in Boston (thanks Marcella & Greg). My favorite work was a Mark Rothko painting. The pulsing, mutable canvas reminded me of clouds and how I could dream up stories in their movements. In the last 24 hours I posted clouds and so did Rosemary, Em Dee, and Alison. Clouds are telling us something. 
Rothko Chapel is a place of meditation and Billy and I have wanted to experience being there for so many years. But since we don't live in Houston, I'm glad we have clouds. They are a Rothko painting we can carry with us. Here's to looking up and out, with love.

Clouds & Rothko





Report from Rothko Chapel in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas: When I was a kid, my parents took me to see a Contemporary Art exhibit in Boston (thanks Marcella & Greg). My favorite work was a Mark Rothko painting. The pulsing, mutable canvas reminded me of clouds and how I could dream up stories in their movements. In the last 24 hours I posted clouds and so did Rosemary, Em Dee, and Alison. Clouds are telling us something. 
Rothko Chapel is a place of meditation and Billy and I have wanted to experience being there for so many years. But since we don't live in Houston, I'm glad we have clouds. They are a Rothko painting we can carry with us. Here's to looking up and out, with love.

Humble, Texas


Report from Humble, Texas: Humble is the ancestral home of our beloved Anet  who makes cherry pie and sings Forever Young at the dinner table. She is a Buddhist and loves Our Lady of Guadeloupe. We met Anet & Charley  at a B&B in Barnes, England, suggested by our devoted fan and friend, Peter. Anet & Charley invited us to stay with them when we came out to the Central Coast of California and they meant it. Here's celebrating five years of delicious friendship this fall with the lady from Humble and her true love, Charley of the cherry rice. We love you two. (Taken with the TimerCam app. I thought the photo had been taken and started to walk back to the tripod. Serendipity, Kim.)


http://www.brickyardtheatre.com

New Caney Flying J



Report from the Flying J Truck Stop just north of Houston at New Caney, Texas: The thing to know is that, in Texas, the Sheriffs haul around horses just in case they get a call that involves some travel over the range. There were three of them here, Sherrif's I mean, to eat a Denny's breakfast which makes me think of our friend Al in London who has always wanted to eat at Denny's. Since the only time we eat at Denny's is after running a half-marathon, we ate cereal and fruit in the Airstream. On a personal note, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 99% humidity here means that my hair is fashionably curly today. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nagadoches Carnival



Report from Nagadoches, Texas: Just passed this carnival full of lights, cars backed up at the exit, people on their way to cotton candy and laughter. We have a few hours to go before we reach our port for the night - the Flying J Truckstop in New Caney. 

Cloud Signs


Report from the Texas/Arkansas border: we came to the crossroads and decided that we are going to Houston. We don't know anyone there. I've never been there. Billy went there once and just happened to meet the famous bluesman Willie Dixon. We've both always wanted to see Rothko Chapel and I've always wanted to go to a Quaker Meeting and Houston has the Live Oak Meeting with James Turrell's Skyspace. We have the weekend free and it's only 200 miles out of our way which is like 5 minutes down the road in Texas miles. This cloudscape at the border seemed an auspicious sign for a new adventure. Here we go!

Dreaming in Arkansas


Report from Arkansas: A man driving a Jag who sounded just like Bill Clinton, and who had the bearing of an oil man, took a photo of the Airstream in the parking lot of Whole Foods. Said his wife had always wanted one. A friendly Asian girl in Keds without laces did the same. She even took a tour and some photos inside. I like living in a house on wheels. Hundreds of strangers from parking lots and truck stops have looked inside and taken a photo for their true loves and dreamed a little with us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Go West with Jeni & Billy


Our friend, Anne, asked us to re-post this photo of the Airstream in the forest. It's so good to be headed out west again.


We're off to California via the southern route, naturally! We get started tonight in Conway, Arkansas. I've got a little musing in here about fall and, if you click the link on the far left hand side of the newsletter for Billy's blog, you'll hear a swell new tune he wrote called Goldie's Chase. 


http://tinyurl.com/pba3b4q


Friday, October 3, 2014

Marcia Carruthers Kemp



Here's to you, Marcia Carruthers Kemp, who went on up to the picnic in the sky on this day back in 1991. Billy tells me that you made fantastic spaghetti sauce, you loved to read romance novels, and that you made gorgeous sounds on the piano in the basement. He says you came around to country music eventually and were Billy's biggest fan and you helped him straighten out his misunderstanding about Merle Haggard pitching woo and pitching wood in Okie from Muskogee. We certainly hope the picnic you are having today up there is under a rainbow umbrella on the beach. I wish I had met you, but I thank you for this crazy wonderful true love heading to Alabama with me today. Cheers!