Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Home is a returning














Report from Loving, New Mexico: Today, we are traveling north on 285 from Fort Stockton, Texas, to Westcliffe, Colorado, where we'll play a concert tomorrow night. We've never taken this road before and I can tell you that the part through Pecos County, Texas, was "flat as a pancake" as Mawmaw Ann would say, and covered in scrub. There is truly nothing but oilfields out here and the men who tend them. There are more white pickups trucks than I ever saw in my whole life, and all manner of temporary worker's housing from cinderblock shacks to trailers to purpose-built tiny houses, dozens of them all the same out in the middle of the sand. 

We've seen Cowboy Churches, pipelines, falling stars, towns with nothing but a few rusted out burnt out buildings, power lines, yuccas, and reservoirs and rivers with no water in them at all. 

Last night we played for our friends in West Texas – librarians, oilfield workers, children, a piano teacher, and a beauty queen who taught at the Agricultural (Ag) school. We talked quilting, grandmothers, armadillos, and brothers. We saw our friend Buddy who gave Billy a Mr Bill doll, we slept soundly at our friend Jody's house, and then we were on our way. 

And through all of this, a single thread keeps winding through my mind about the nature of home. What is home? A place you remember, a place you create, or simply a place to sleep at the end of the workday. When I see the temporary houses of the oilfield workers I think about how they probably live there alone and their families live somewhere else. This is their bunkhouse. Home is another place where their kids play softball. In this way, work and home can be at odds with each other. Where the oilfield workers sleep is a place that they stay because of work, but it's not where they live. 

Because we live mainly on the road, I think of home as a returning - returning to a familiar place, seeing familiar faces, and even remembering small things like how nice and cold the water from the water cooler is at the Fort Stockton Library. My ancestral home in the Appalachian mountains will always be my true north. But as a person who moved many times as a child and is constantly on the move as an adult, I find home in friends, in familiar landscapes, in listening to a favorite film score, and re-reading a beloved book. And home sits right beside me in the car on this 12 hour drive explaining to me what's happening musically in my favorite film score and listening to these tour reports.

Sending love out to all those searching for home.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our Neighbor, Ms Armadillo





Report from Orient, Texas: It's a very curious human thing how you can turn a place into home and get settled in so quickly, even if you move your campsite three times. We had such a beautiful time rehearsing under the trees, working on the bootleg CDs, sewing, cooking, and getting used to our neighbor - a very busy armadillo who peeked into our sleeping tent just to make sure we were all tucked in, I suppose. She was very calm and practically walked over my foot once in order to root around in some particularly promising grass. 

But just like that, our little camp is packed up into Mr Tomato and we are off to Fort Stockton, Texas, to play a concert at the library tonight. Ms Armadillo was napping in her burrow this morning and the birds sang her a lullaby. Goodbye til next year!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hobo's guide to Marilyn Monroe hair



Report from Buffalo Gap, Texas: The Hobo's guide to Marilyn Monroe hair: Wash your hair in a thunderstorm, toss your do overnight in a tent, wake up to 78% fluffi-fying humidity, and top it all off with a little dancing. Voila!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Buffalo Gap Thunderstorm



Report from Abilene State Park near Buffalo Gap, Texas: This thunderstorm is so loud and relentless that we can't hear ourselves sing in the tent. So, I am sewing up a patchwork pillow top and Billy is mixing and mastering our concert from the Conway Library on Thursday night. We've decided to bootleg our own concerts...still working on the concept.

Being your own boss can be risky (like your office may be a tent that seems to have a tiny leak all of the sudden), but it also means you get to try a bunch of things and there are no committees shaking their heads. If you fail, no biting your nails wondering if you've just lost a promotion. This is a relief.

We try, we fail, we try again, we succeed, we fail, we try again. It's exciting and we learn.

Our friends, you make it all more fun and beautiful, truly. Thanks for all of your lovely responses about my sewing shop. Makes my stitching even happier. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Jeni's Whatnots on tour!







Report from I-30 in Dallas/Fort Worth traffic: Jeni's Whatnots, my sewing mercantile shop, is on our cosmic scotch tape tour for the first time! I sew all of these little treasures by hand while we wend our way along the trail. Hand stitching! Old School. Yes, indeedy, every stitch a moment. This time around I have pocket squares/handkerchiefs, dresser scarves (as Mawmaw Margie called them, one small white one and one long patchwork one), an owl pillow with a repurposed men's dress shirt on the reverse with a pocket for stowing wishes and prayers, and a grumpy wool whale who carries his own bit of ocean with him. 

If you've fallen in love with anything here and want me to check the price and/or set it aside for you, let me know, and I'll set it aside for you or send it in the mail.

Looks like we'll be getting to the Abilene State Park near Buffalo Gap, Texas, right at sunset just in time to put up our pup tent and make some soup. 



Thursday, September 24, 2015

First Report, Way Out West Tour 2015






Report from I-40 heading west to Conway, Arkansas -- Reports are Back!: When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on Plato's Gorgias. Just in case you haven't had a chance to read it, the Gorgias poses the question, "What is the best life?" Don't rely on the Wikipedia page about it because the book they describe is nothing like what I read! Plato throws his lasso around a few possibilities of best life vocations: ruler, soldier, philosopher, and poet. That leaves out a lot, I know, like doctors, mechanics, and software developers. But you can kind of squeeze most jobs into one of Plato's categories. I'd put mechanics in with rulers because our mechanic told us that our Jeep was no longer ready for cross country treks, so I am writing from his tinyness Mr Tomato (our non-diesel VW Golf). 

I can't say exactly why I majored in Classical Political Philosophy except that my Dad suggested I major in something more practical than visual art (he doesn't remember making this suggestion and it's ok because I got a second bachelor's in visual art just to cover all the bases), but I have always been deeply interested in what people choose to or have been called to do in their lives. 

I do this weird job where I fight entirely against my nesting nature all of the time. Six or seven times a year, I spin myself (and my true love who was perfectly content tinkering in the music studio) out of our nest to spend a jillion hours in a car to perform music for a few hours (not joking - on this tour out west, we'll drive 5000 miles, about 83 hours, over 49 days, to perform 15 to 20 hours of music). This job is absurd and sublime in its absurdity. We mostly write songs about a tiny community in the Appalachian mountains and sing them to people from Los Angeles to London. In order to do this, I write people or we meet people and ask if we can play a concert for them, and if they say yes (thank you for saying yes), and when enough people who all live near each other say yes, we put six instruments and a bunch of other stuff in our car (or on a plane) and we go. It's all so loose and held together with the cosmic scotch tape of friendship, good will, and a love of music. 

When I was finishing up my thesis (which was good, but flawed because of sleep deprivation and the slipperiness of floppy discs, so I accidentally turned in the the draft before the final draft which still makes my stomach queasy), there were a lot of consulting firms and banks lurking around Davidson College making offers. A tiny person inside of me thought about that life of fabric covered cubicles, business clothes (hosiery every day!), water cooler chats, staff fridges, and mounting tiers of domestic furniture bliss from Ikea to Crate & Barrel to Bloomingdales. I thought about conference calls, meetings, and using words like "actualizing" and "potentialities." I thought about the Gorgias and how this job was the job of the soldier who might one day be a ruler and I gave the banks my answer. And thus, I gave myself a 90% pay cut, took a few illuminating detours through grad school for a few years, and heard the call to my best life at the Old Time tent at Merlefest back in the early 2000's where we'll be playing next spring. 

I still think about the Gorgias quite a lot which suggests that my thesis, though flawed as a scholarly paper, actually served as a culmination of my learning and a pushing forward into my own future thinking about what is the best life. I imagine not everyone feels that way about their thesis, so I feel lucky about that.

I feel lucky to be here at all, lucky to be freely crossing the country in a reliable vehicle with plenty of food and water on a mission to create and share art. What a luxury. What a luxury to consider what is the best life when I turn on the news everyday and hear of people living in fear, fleeing war, homeless, despised, dispersed, and seeking relief, fighting for life.

It is my work as a poet to write and at times, like when I think of refugees and homelessness, my job can feel frivolous. But I also realize that stories are the mighty connectors between people - electrical stardust maps of our search for the best life for us all. That's what I intend my stories to be - cosmic scotch tape between you and me. So, I am going to make reports, long and short, and I look forward to hearing what you say.

Let's travel together and see what we see. 

First concert tonight at the Conway Library, Conway, Arkansas, 7pm!


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Brown's Diner and we are on our way


Report from Nashville, Tennessee: We're getting everything packed up in Mr Tomato to head out west. Bebe the Jeep is retiring from cross country trips. So, no Airstream this fall, but there will still be lots of reports out there waiting to be whisked from the wind. I'll do my best to have my antenna up and ready. Here's a parting shot from Brown's Diner in Nashville. I am sure the waitress thought I was crazy when I kept trying to snap a photo of her, but I loved the way the little frame in the bar made her into a picture every time she came up to shout, "Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller Light, and a Coke."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Banjo Billy works on our new song


Billy has made a lovely present for me this week. Not only did he write the new song, "The Warm Morning Stove" (or should we go with "Warm Mornings"? listen and let us know), with me, but he wanted to compare some of our studio gear, so he's gone and put banjo, electric guitar, organ, slide guitar, and brushes on the new song. So, our fan club is in for a real treat this month!

Song goes up in a few hours - will try to get it posted before your bedtime, British friends - so still time for you to mosey over join the club or send $12.75 to jeniandbilly@gmail.com via Paypal for a whole year of new and rare tracks plus a nifty story full of photos and lyrics for each one. You can even just send $1.33 for this particular song and story if you are curious and want to try the whole thing out (the $0.33 covers the Paypal feels, if you wonder about the weird number). OR Fan Club headquarters is here for extra goodies like banjo lessons, quilts, buttons, and tunes: https://www.patreon.com/jeniandbilly

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Snoopy for President and Warm Morning Stoves


Another warm morning stove! Turns out we had one in the house at Davidson College when my Dad was a student there. We had cowboy hats, too, and a "Snoopy for President" sweatshirt. Fun! The stove is that brown shiny thing behind me. This one was gas whereas the one on Smith Ridge was coal burning.

We wrote that song about the warm morning stove and it’s so pretty. I love singing it. Billy said I did some of my best singing ever on this. Just tracked it on his little recording app on the iPad, but you can hear our living room in the sound. This was the second take where we added Billy’s harmony. If you want to hear it, we’re getting it ready for the fan club for tomorrow. No pressure – it may also end up on the new record. You never know with songs, how they’ll all fit together. But you can hear it, if you like, and there’s a no fuss way just to get this one song if you don’t want to fool with sign-ups, etc. http://littleyellowsewingbox.blogspot.com/2015/09/song-of-month-fan-club-scoop-decoding.html

Song of the Month, Fan Club Scoop, Decoding New Art



Here's the scoop on how to get demos of the new songs we are writing and previously unreleased tracks, plus stories, lyrics, and decoder rings. 

There are now TWO ways to join the fan club. You can go here to Mawmaw's Golden Biscuit Club and sign up. Lots of goodies for joining like quilts, buttons, guitar lessons with Billy, plus you'll have access to all of the archives of songs we've posted since April of 2015! OR you can go the simple route and send $14 to jeniandbilly@gmail.com via Paypal ($2 goes to Paypal fees) or $12 by check (write me for the address). 

Some folks found the Fan Club hosting website, Patreon, a bit confusing (and it definitely can be, it's not just you), so I thought I would offer a simpler way as well. $14 will get you a one year membership. The song of the month and the story which includes lyrics and photos will come to your email inbox. At the end of the year, I will write to see if you'd like to continue to get our song of the month and, if you do, you can just send a PayPal for year two! Simple! Be sure to let me know if you would like the song of the month to come to a particular email address rather than the one associated with your PayPal account. I know some folks use a dedicated email address for PayPal which they don't check very often. I don't want your song to get lost in the mail :)

Lots of smiles and thanks for being part of our new art-making happenings!

J&B


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Way Out West 2015


Announcing our Way Out West Tour 2015 and our most recent Newsletter:

Thurs, 9/24: Conway Public Library, Conway, AR
Tue, 9.29: Fort Stockton Public Library, Ft Stockton, TX
Thurs, 10/1: Hardscrabble House Concert, Westcliffe, CO
Tue, 10/6: Aliso Viejo Library, Aliso Viejo, CA
Fri, 10/9: Coffee Gallery Backstage, Altadena, CA*
Sat, 10/10: Sun City Library, Sun City, CA
Sun, 10/11: Cinema Bar, Culver City, CA**
Sat, 10/17: Shirley House Concert, Huntington Beach, CA*
Fri, 10/23: SLO House Concerts, San Luis Obispo, CA*
Sun, 10/25: Brickyard Theatre, Atascadero, CA*
Sat. 11/7: Billy and Jeni Hankins at the Four Corners House Concert Series, Farmington, NM

*with Very Special Guest Craig Eastman
**with Rick Shea and the Losin’ End plus The Good Intentions


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Warm Morning



I love the name of this stove I found in a disused wash house on Smith Ridge. "Warm Morning." Perfect.

Friday, September 11, 2015

In Remembrance



Chimneys of Abandoned Coal Camp Houses, Jewell Valley, Virginia. Mawmaw stopped the car at every place like this and let me take pictures. "They might not still be standing next time we come down here," she said.

In remembrance. 9.11.01

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Going up Chicken Ridge










Going up Chicken Ridge! Some folks said they wanted photos of Chicken Ridge, so I took these snaps on our visit two weeks ago. Mawmaw Ann was driving and even she said, "I hope we don't meet a coal truck comin' the other way!" You know it's a curvy narrow road if she says that. We did meet the school bus and we were on what Billy calls the "air side of the road." Mawmaw and I both sucked in and tried to make ourselves feel narrow. Enjoy!