Saturday, January 31, 2015

Satisfaction at the library

Report from Hudson, Florida: Libraries have been one of my favorite spaces since I was a kid. All are welcome here. You are surrounded by books. They have free wifi. They have big tables where you can lay out all of your thinking materials. They have water fountains and recycling and donation boxes for animal shelters. This library goes above and beyond because they have knitted characters, grocery baskets for your books, and they even made a display about Appalachia and Folk Music in honor of our visit. I spent my childhood and college years in libraries, so it's very fitting that we play music here now. Some "music industry" people are funny about artists who play in libraries like it's not a "real" venue. That's just silly. After all, Mr Rock-n-roll himself, Keith Richards said our libraries are America's greatest asset. And who am I to disagree? I listened to a lot of Rolling Stones when I was a kid, too. Snuck it out of my Mom & Dad's record collection. See, this all just makes great sense! Humpty Dumpty, the Rolling Stones, libraries, and Jeni & Billy :) happiness!

Dino might

Report from Hudson, Florida: If only Cyrus were here!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Dancing on to new ground

We danced right out of Naples and now we are headed up to Hudson, Florida, where we'll play at the library tomorrow. (2pm, if you are in the neighborhood). Then we have a bit of a break until our last two Florida concerts next weekend in Gainesville at Chuck Levy's and New Port Richey -- Gerry & Fred Cload, hosts.

You know, we were a bit bewildered when we started this tour in a fully packed tomato car, but the joy of this  tour has utterly exceeded all of our expectations!

Thank you, friends, near and far who have brought a smile at our concerts or right here with your encouragement. Happy weekend to you!

Thanks to Joyce for this terrific photo from our last Naples concert for 2015. See you in 2016!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Making it personal

Report from Naples, FL: in two hours this sea of chairs will be a sea of people. Some will be friends, some will be strangers. By the end of our concert, we hope they will all be friends. I am still surprised that in an hour of telling stories and playing songs for people, people will come to the table and buy CDs, tell me a story about their grandfather, and even invite us to stay with them the next time we are in town. We've been coming to Naples for six years and every visit has its own shape and character. Sometimes, a husband or wife will come to the table alone and I will learn that one of our fans who I've hugged and laughed with has gone on up to the picnic on the sky. It's a very personal business, what we do and how we do it. I once talked with a record executive and fellow songwriter who said that Billy and I make a point of making it personal. And he was right. What matters most to me is whether we brought joy today, whether someone may have cried, whether they learned something new, did they have a change of heart, and did they feel they were celebrated by being here and being part of this temporary group of 200 people who will never all be in the same room at the same time with us again? I am so very grateful that this is my work and that you, the libraries, the folk clubs, the cafes, the volunteers, our families, the truck stops, and the mystery of life are with us. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Travels with polka dots

Report from Camp JillyBenny, Naples, FL: I admit it. I gave in and bought a pair of delicious flannel polka dot pajamas at Marshalls for $15. It's not cold here compared to NYC, of course, but when the mercury drops below 50 at night in a tent I call that authentically chilly! And how is it that in all my moving from town to town as a kid, I never read Steinbeck's Travels With Charley? What a terrific book and only a dollar in mint condition from the library book sale! Thanks to Debbie Snider for knitting me this hat which I love so much. What is it about fab pajamas that makes me want to jump up and down with glee??

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New red shoes!

Commercial break from Camp JillyBenny, Naples, Florida: Ok, frivolous report about online shoe victory for my girl friends anywhere in the world and savvy husbands, brothers, sons, dads, & true many of you may know, I LOVE red shoes. I've worn them since I was a kid beginning with red Keds. About four years ago, my fabulously fashionable Aunt Edith gave me a pair of red Mary Janes right out of her closet because she was appalled at the desperate state of my red Danskos. I wore Aunt Edith's shoes until they fell apart and were way past the date of shoe decency.

I've been looking a replacement pair for over a year to no avail. I've actually had no less than 10 people scouting for me as well. But it's actually really tricky to find an unfussy red Mary Jane shoe. My friend Ali, who is basically marvelous at everything and who I miss til my heart hurts because she lives all the way in LA, said, "If only we were in the Bali, they could make you shoes right there in the market." 

So I tentatively googled "Custom Made Shoes" thinking there was no way I could afford such a thing. 

That's when I found Shoes of Prey which, I admit, has a terrible name for a vegetarian customer, but you can go on their website and literally build your own shoe -- colors, materials, type of heel, embellishment, even vegan shoes. What does it cost? $115 including shipping from Australia! Now, I am not a person to casually spend $115 on anything. I just bought a $7 pair of slippers to take the chill off these tent-living evenings. That's more my speed. But considering I wore my last pair of red shoes almost every day, I did some math -- say 300 days x 4 years = 1200 days -- and decided about 10 cents a day for shoes was not asking too much.

Now, I don't know if I'll wear these shoes for four years, though they are made very well and can even be re-soled, which my old ones couldn't, but that price hardly seemed outrageous. 

What's more, I got a $10 coupon for signing up on their email list which I put toward my purchase. The shoes were finished in 3 weeks instead of the estimated 4 to six. They sent me another coupon with my order, plus two coupons for friends. They also sent very nice heel & toe inserts in case my shoes stretch over time, care instructions, a nice bag to keep them clean during travel, and a photo of them to put on their shoebox in my closet. 

AND, if they don't fit or you don't like then, YOU CAN RETURN THEM & they will remake them or refund you, no hassle, for free. What!?!?!

How's that for old fashioned good business sense.

And how do I like my new shoes? They are so gorgeous, so well made, fit perfectly, and I think they are worth every penny. I LOVE them. They are not fire engine red and have a bit more pink in them which I don't mind at all, but I think if I were looking for a very specific color, I would take them up on their swatch offer. But, as you can tell, I am THRILLED with my shoes and with Shoes of Prey. 

I get absolutely nothing from them for going on and on about my new shoes except the hope that, if I tell you about them, you'll buy shoes, too, and they'll be around when this pair wears out. 

End of commercial break, back to your regularly scheduled program...its Jeni & Billy singing, "If I ever get $10, gonna quit this railway car, hang up my walking SHOES and stay right where you are..."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Queen of the Hollywood Shower, Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to our dear friend, Anet Carlin. She is the Queen of the Hollywood Shower, the Creator of Harmonious Living Protocol, The Baker of Delectable Soda Bread, Mrs Claus, True Love of Charley Carlin, Theater Goddess Extraordinaire, Texas Soul, Bringer of Ecstatic Joy. We love you and We miss you, Anet, wish we could be across the USA for your 75th Birthday!!! We send you this quote, since you asked for a quote party for your birthday, "All you need is LOVE." Hugs and kisses and more and more love.


Report from a sleep deprived correspondent with tent hair from Naples, FL: Concert at Headquarters Library at 2pm. Wear your own tent hair if you like!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hobitat hilarity

Report from Camp JillyBenny, Naples, Florida: It's a miracle that we remembered how to attach the vestibule to the Hobitat after seven years of tent camping hiatus. Thanks to Ken Anderson for capturing our hilarity!

Rainbows in the rain

Report from Camp JillyBenny, Naples, Florida: Business first, due to the very inconsiderate rain that persists on falling in sheets & drizzles the concert has been moved to the screened room just at the front entrance of the campground. Still at 2pm and they will have tacos.

The camp is holding fast. Despite torrential rain last night, we stayed completely dry in our tiny sleeping tent and our living room tent is water tight as well. Woohooo! On the other hand everything is damp and our hair just gets curlier and curlier.

If the rain stops in the next hour we will be able to do our load-in without getting completely soaked. Otherwise, I may look like a Pomeranian for the entire concert.

Spirits are high, though, in some part because everything in our tent happens to be rainbow colored so it's like we're in a cartoon of our own.

Happy adventures wherever you may be today! And stay dry!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Indifferent worlds

Report from The Hammock, Collier Seminole State Park, Florida: How many worlds flourish unseen and indifferent to us? Trees grow, then fall down. We do not move them, time does. And time moves us, too. My favorite scene from our walk on our first day off in Naples. 

Turbocharged start

Report from Marco Island, Florida: Do the fates know that we seriously need a new turbocharger for our Jeep even though we've just put insane amounts of money into the Jeep? Are they spinning their tapestry and deciding that they'll weave in green and gold strands for us? I only ask because we usually sell all of two CDs at this library, but we sold ten times that many this time around! Did we sing better? We're we funnier? Did we accidentally hypnotize the crowd? I am just really thankful that the first four gigs of the year went even better than expected -- by miles! One thing I loved about Japan is that the Japanese were not at all funny about making offerings for things like success with a turbocharger. Turbocharger prayers are most appreciated. If the tour continues in this vein, we may have one in our future and the Airstream will be swimming the asphalt sea again! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hungry for Hungrytown

How absolutely thrilling to get to hear our dearest friends Hungrytown perform in Naples. And how happy we were to have them come hear us, too. Like us, they are on a tour around Florida right now, so check out their calendar and go hear them before they head over to New Zealand or something wild like that.
I took this snap as they sang a gorgeous a capella version of Woody Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty, which I am glad to say is on their next record!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tent tuned

Short report from Camp JillyBenny, Florida: Tunes in the tent. Getting ready for our 2 o'clock show at the Naples Regional Library downtown on Central. Working on a new song. Rain stopped, sun is shining, time to unzip the windows :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

First of six Naples Concerts

Short Report from Marco Island, Florida: Here goes the first of six Naples concerts! Setting up now, come over to the Marco Island Library if you're tired of this cloudy day and hear some sunshine at 5:30. 

Jeni & Billy's own festival village!

Report from Collier Seminole State Park, Florida: Look out Kennedys, it's the JillyBenny compound complete with hovercraft bedroom, green apple living room, and screened dining room! Pitter patter goes the rain, but no matter, we can rehearse in our tent domain! Mr Tomato says, "Where's the garage?"

Send us the dream

"Send us the dream of Martin Luther King. Send us the dream of Dr King. Send us the dream of Martin Luther King and a holy union we will sing like the rock of ages."
-- from Cecil Roberts' Hand by Jeni & Billy

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tent time!

Report from Naples, Florida: We are on the verge of arriving at the Collier-Seminole campground where we'll be reunited with our terrific friends, Hungrytown! We'll get to hear them perform & play some concerts ourselves, too! We'll be setting up our tent compound & making dinner! Yummmmmm.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The GarageMahal, Boodini, & Blue Men

Report from Southern Georgia: Mr Tomato has already jumped fully into the spirit of being a touring vehicle by kicking off one of his hubcaps, eschewing fancy adornments. I hope he doesn't think we play grunge, even though I am not opposed to the idea of learning a Nirvana cover. I think he's just anxious to get to our concert tonight at the GarageMahal in San Antonio, Florida! It sounds like a place cars would like to go! I don't know how to tell him it's more like a living room with couches and comfy chairs for music lovers. Concert is lovingly hosted by two of our favorite DJ friends, Jim Strickland and Jeannie Holton Carufel. Shoot Jim an email for directions at Doors at 7, concert at 7:30. $15 suggested donation to Mr Tomato and us.

Here's a picture of Boodini who is behind the scenes on every Jeni & Billy tour and was even shipped from London to Yorkshire once when he got into a very deep discussion about marmalades with a very British bear who lives with our friend Graham. He forgot to jump in our suitcase and ended up being posted. He really hoped that would somehow give him dual citizenship in the United Kingdom and the USA. 

The Macon, Georgia, Super 8 was actually pretty super at $57 with fast wifi, black-out curtains, hot shower, fluffy pillows, and soft but nicely starchy sheets. I think that's our only planned hotel stay for the tour and it was brief given that we rolled in at 1:30 am. I had to smile when the certificate by the desk said the hotel was owned by Blue Krishna Enterprises because it took me back to when I went to see the Blue Man Group in NYC with Letitia Campell's Divinity school class. They were so loud I had to stuff my ears with all of the tissues in my purse and probably anything else I could find in there. But I loved it all the same. We promise not to be too loud at the GarageMahal, so just bring tissues for the sad songs and your laughs for the happy ones!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Report from Nashville, TN: Florida Bound

Report from Nashville, Tennessee: Against all odds, we are headed to Florida! Mr Tomato has attained official heavy duty tour vehicle status now that he is sporting an attic and carrying about 1000 pounds of camping and audio gear! Bebe the Jeep is sitting this one out while she waits for a new turbocharger. The Baked Potato (aka our Airstream) sits winterized in the back yard.

Yep, we are tent camping for most of the tour! Glad we already had all of the camping gear from 100,000 miles ago when Bebe's first turbocharger was replaced. 

It's all been a bit nutty here over the last week, but on the other hand, we are super excited about the 11 shows we have planned and playing our new songs for our Florida fans! Rehearsal last night was a blast and Mr Tomato has a great radio. Gonna throw on some records by our friends and sing out! 

See you in San Antonio (FL), Lakeland, Naples (6 shows!), Hudson, Gainesville, and New Port Richey! Here goes!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A masterpiece!

Here's the second of the terrific reviews that came on yesterday! Thanks so much to  Richard Smith for writing it and sending it out of the blue yesterday! One of our all time favorites along with especially smart reviews by Hazel Davis, Paul Kerr, and Three Chords & the Truth.

This and the Sing Out review take the edge off the totally chaotic scene here in Nashville as we quickly switch to touring in a VW Golf & tent for the next four weeks instead of the Airstream. Bebe the Jeep is still in the ER with a major costly repair ahead. Crossing fingers for Hollywood to call & say they want to use Reckoning Day in a new Keira Knightley film, so that we can get the Jeep out of hoc in February! :)

Ah, the glamour of folk music! But at least we are going to Florida where tent camping is feasible in January! We could have been destined for South Dakota!

Hope you'll send us luck as we get everything packed in time! Here we go into the attic for the sleeping bags....

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The best review of my life just happened to come in today….

Sing Out on Picnic in the Sky!

When you send your CD out for review, it's a very odd act of hope and fear. When you get back two of the best reviews of your life in the same day, you wonder if something is in the air. I'll post one today and one tomorrow. Thanks very much to Sing Out for this review!
I hope you will read it and leave a comment on their site and/or here!
This is the review I have been dreaming of ever since I decided to hang up straight poetry and start putting my poems in song form about 12 years ago. I was sitting in the Old-time tent at Merlefest listening to Polecat Creek sing a bone-chiling a cappella ballad about a widowed man overwhelmed by his children. They were singing, what to me, was a poem. Later that same year, I heard Anne Hills sing a haunting song with a Tibetan singing bell, and I felt she was calling to me to lift my voice and sing simply about “them that made me.”
The place I come from in the coalfields of Appalachia is one of the the most beautiful and misunderstood places in the world. And it is my aim in life to continue to tell the stories of my home as best as I can. If I am called to turn my pen to other places like West Baltimore, then I will follow that call and bring my best words to it. I am ready to tell every story that comes to me and I can only hope that someone like Mr Weir will take notice. Absolutely, because it feels great and encourages me. I cried when I read this review. But I also hope this review will mean that the stories of these places and these people who called to me, will reach others who may need to hear these particular stories.
I have been sustained, galvanized, soothed, and troubled by storytellers, including mentors like Hazel Dickens and Sarah Ogan Gunning, in my life and I hope very much to “do them proud” as Mawmaw would say. This review encourages me to keep at it.
Thank you very much, Mr Weir, from me, Billy, and the Big Picnic Band!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Coal Camp Life Letterpress Series

How nice to be bringing some new letterpress cards with us on our Florida tour! My Dad (Greg) and I got my 1911 Golding Official table-top letterpress machine working and we made the first in a series of "Coal Camp Life" cards using type and ornaments from the Montgomery Herald, a newspaper once owned by Grandaddy Hankins. The little "Milk" ornament on the envelope flap is from Montgomery Dairy in North Carolina.

This is something that Mawmaw told me about Jewell Ridge Coal Camp which was nicer than many coal camps. Even though her father built their house over on Smith Ridge, he still made sure they had a fruit tree, a nut tree, and a cow, too. Though Mawmaw did say the cow was ornery and prone to kick.

I've done them in pink and brown and packaged them 6 cards for $12. There are all pink sets, all brown sets, and neapolitan with 3 pink and 3 brown. We only had time to make a few, so if you are keen to get some before they hit the mercantile table in Florida, just message me and you can get your own set or sets for an additional $2 in postage/packing (so $14 total) via Paypal by sending money to or via check by mail. International postage is more dear, so please check with me first. But I can always bring over your set at no additional charge in May/June if you are in Britain (8 pounds sterling). Hand delivery and a hug, too!

They really make me smile. It seems my Dad, my grandmother, great-grandparents, grandfather, and I are all wrapped up together in these cards. Heritage.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy New Year, New Newsletter

Our newest newsletter is heading out to emails inboxes everywhere (read it below)! If you don't get one, it might be that I have an old address for you, or I couldn't read your handwriting when you signed up, or a space alien is at fault. You can make it all better by going to our website and signing up in that little white box on the righthand side. It would be so nice.

Here we go, 2015! Let's make it wonderful!
We are thrilled to announce that we will be touring far and wide again this year! 2014 was one our of our busiest years of touring since we put our toe in the traveling troubadour waters back in summer of 2008. Thank you to all of YOU for making our winding ways that much more joyous.

Our goal for this year is to bring happiness and kindness wherever we go. Life is short and sometimes plain fierce. Let's all create a world full of freedom, understanding, and compassion.

This year, we will be releasing at least one, and possibly a few, live CDs from our touring last year -- and rumor has it we'll be heading back into the studio with the Big Picnic Band in the fall!

Next week, we begin our touring year in sunny Florida -- and none too soon given the arctic temperatures here in Nashville.  In March, we'll head up to windy Chicago, Detroit (for the first time), and Bloomington (IN). In late April, we'll be flying over to Britain for all of May, June, and part of July! Seventy-three days of toast and tea with our friends across the pond. In August, we'll visit our home states of Virginia and Maryland as well as making an annual stop in NJ. We'll finish out our touring for the year in California via Arkansas and Texas.

That's the plan so far! I have most of the concerts for the first half of the year up on the website and I'll be adding more as the year rolls on, so stay tuned and check back frequently!

If you are on Facebook, let's be friends, if you are inclined. Facebook controls who sees posts from our Jeni & Billy page, but you control how many posts you see from me, Jeni Hankins. So, your best bet for getting day to day news from us is to befriend me. OR, if you aren't keen on Facebook, you can visit my blog. Nearly every one of my Facebook posts ends up there.

If you are looking at our calendar and feeling dismayed that we don't seem to be coming your way, how about hosting a house, church, synagogue, garden, barn, or community center concert? Some areas are hard for acts to crack and sometimes it works better to buck the system and make your own event! Lots of our friends have done it and most of them had never done anything like that before! And it turned out a lot better than a noisy cafe or rowdy brew pub. Just write to us.

Well, I had better sign off since the pre-tour checklist list still has a lot of unchecked boxes!

Billy and I wish you all lightness, kindness, and understanding in the year to come. We wish you laughter and love. And we wish you peace.

Many smiles, see you soon,

Jeni & Billy too

Flo dreams

Just sitting here hand coloring and stamping a bunch of "Flo Dreams" cards. Flo the dog-bird-fish was inspired by real life wonderdog, Flo, who takes her human friend, Jill, all over Britain. Celebrating dreams for all!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In Solidarity

What can you say in the face of violence? You can keep walking, one foot in front of the other, and making, one stroke of the pen, one sweep of the brush, and then another. Never give in, keep going. Keep making. Tell what you see. Challenge what you doubt. Keep making. Ask questions. Keep Making. In solidarity.

Haircut Nirvana, just down the street at the Chop Shop!

Celebrating haircut happiness! Back to my short locks, courtesy of hair magician and style guru, Sara Plambeck, at the Chop Shop! Soooooooooo thrilled! Now, if it weren't so cold here, I could take off this wool hat I am wearing in the house! Good thing we are headed to Florida next week :) Red face courtesy of wind chill and Dutch heritage!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

From the Commodore 64 to Paper and Pencil

Ok, to be fair, I did also get an up-to-the-minute piece of modern technology for Christmas. Billy got me a Pencil by 53, so that I could make something on Paper. It may seem like we've had pencils and paper for a long time, but, lo and behold, you can buy digital paper and a pencil to match that let you make art on the go without carrying around a mobile craft unit :) And the "marker" in the paper never goes dry like those pesky dry markers that plagued my childhood. Remember those markers where the only working ones were brown or black. Hmmm, let's draw a bear, so much for rainbows! 

Anyhow, this is the first thing I made with their collaborative Mix community. Good grief folks, there's a lot of worlds out there, aren't there!?

I won't be giving up real paper, pencils, watercolors, or markers, but it's fun to be able to draw on the iPad and see what all of these new Paper and Pencil parameters inspire.

I remember these "HELLO my name is" tags from many coffee hours at the First Presbyterian Church in Brookline. They take me back to learning Bible stories in the eighties -- the knitted tie worn by our Sunday school teacher, Mark, and the wooden clogs and jeans wrap skirt worn by his wife, Mary Lou. And then there was our Commodore 64 computer where we played games using the space bar . . . 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to the future with my "new" eMate 300!

What did you get for Christmas or Hanukkah this year? In true "back to the future" fashion Dad & Mom got me a 1997 Apple eMate 300 for Christmas this year! It's the perfect distraction free typewriter-like computer. It can't do email and it's never heard of Google, Twitter, or Facebook. It's battery life is WAY longer than any tablet or laptop, so I can write thousands and thousands of words in the desert without having to go down to the diner on I-10 and ruin my health with French fries in order to use their internet :) And, possibly best of all, my vegan inspiration, Alicia Silverstone, used one when she played Batgirl. So late nineties cutting edge -- I am thrilled to pieces! Time to go back to rehearsal, booking, publicity, correspondence, and travel planning tomorrow, but, for the rest of today, I am going back to the future!

A Guest Appearance in my family's newspaper!

I was really chuffed when my Dad told me he was printing one of my tour reports in The Seven Lakes Times -- the North Carolina newspaper published by my parents! It's the report about bagels, menorahs, bible songs, and the desert -- Advent & Hanukkah.
The last time I appeared as a guest columnist in the Times was back in 1995 when I provided an emergency zucchini nut muffin recipe to fill up space for the publisher at that time. She'd found an empty space just as the paper was going to press. Little did I know at the time that my parents would become the publishers of the Times a few years later.
I'm excited that the wonderful community of Oseh Shalom makes a cameo in the article! Sending love to you all.
I think my sentiment will hold up until the season of expectant waiting begins again: "The greatest lesson I learned from The First Presbyterian Church of Brookline, from the Friendly Chapel, and Oseh Shalom are the enduring gifts of love and kindness, and the call to celebrate the goodness of others."
Wishing all of you, our dear friends, love, kindness, and understanding in the coming year! We can't wait to see you along the trail.