Friday, April 29, 2016

My Heart! Elementary School Outreach at Merlefest

Report from Merlefest, Day 1: Our super MerleFest volunteer, Brad (thanks, Brad!) sent us this fab photo of our big time at Mulberry Elementary!! These kids set a high bar for our festival audiences for tomorrow! I will be on a permanent high for the rest of the year from all of the hugs and zany wonderful comments from the kids. One little boy gave me a cracker-jack box bracelet which I am wearing for luck. Aww, what a beautiful day! Some of the kids asked if we could come back next week and do it all again – and would I give them dancing lessons! My heart!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Watercolors in the car

Making more watercolors in Mr Tomato on the way to Merlefest! The thing that tickles me about my watercolor tray is that I put these colors in here about 15 years ago and all I have to do is touch the paints with a bit of water and they spring back to life. They make me think of our ragged garden which is suddenly pushing up bright flowers. Sending love out there to you, friends! 


I am so happy that we were home for the irises this year. This one smells incredible – like muscadine grapes. But now, it's time for some adventures! MerleFest first and then over the sea we go. Our tour in Britain starts May 13th in Filey!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Merlefest 2016

In 2003, I went to Merlefest with my Dad and heard a single song, The Bottomland, written by Cindy Castevens and performed by Polecat Creek, which showed me how I could bring all of my loves together – writing, singing, playing instruments, performing, storytelling, and art-making. Six years ago, we played MerleFest for the first time. This coming weekend, we play there again! Come hear stories, harmonies, strings, and songs, and dream with us. It's going to be a big time!

If you'd like to hear the song that showed me the way forward, here you go:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Painting in the car

I discovered I can work on my watercolors in the car! Some very special Jeni & Billy merch on the way. So thrilled! 

New season on the road

Report from I-40, heading east: A very rare early morning for Jeni & Billy. I always say that a 4 am wake up time should be reserved strictly for international travel and emergencies. We sent off the master and the artwork for our new record at 1:37 am this morning (fireworks, shooting stars, ancestors waving from photographs), had a quick catnap, and here we are at the front of 600 miles that will take us to Richmond, Virginia, for a concert tonight. 

We don't always cut things this close, since that helps us avoid those 4 am alarms, but we used all of the available time to make our new song document just like contestants on cupcake wars or jeopardy. Now we wait.

But no, quick, here we go to Richmond. And by a strange and comical turn of events, we'll drive right back to Nashville, tomorrow. Then we'll head to Merlefest on Wednesday! 

Last night, while we were waiting for our massive album file to whir and click itself into being, we played our songs without the record light on for the first time in months. We laughed, tried some of the new songs, and scowled at tuning pegs. Singing together again. The best thing. And suddenly, in the space of our two hour catnap, our studio season has ended and our touring season has begun. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Library Concert, Chesterfield, VA, on Thursday

Hey! Guess what? We are playing a concert at the Chesterfield County Public Library, just west of Richmond on Thursday night at 7pm. Free concert sponsored by the friends of the library. Main branch. Part of their acoustic music series! We love playing at this library and we get to do that every other year or so. How about coming along and helping us kick off our seven month tour of the USA, Canada (Ontario, really), and Britain!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Ants, a poem

The Ants

The ants have chosen our fingernail brush,
the wooden handle shading the worn
bristles – a dandelion leaf cooling blades
of grass.

I wish they hadn’t chosen us.

First, I tried running vaseline
along the crevice between the
wall and the window facing.
The ants were confused, but
undeterred. They spent days
finding the weakness in my
petroleum wall.

Then I took to smooshing them
into the bowl of the sink, which
made my stomach turn.

Mary Beth, our neighbor, says she read
that ants are thirsty this time of year.

Crushing them into the porcelain,
whooshing them down
the drain, made me feel a potentate.
The old ceramic sink, my fiefdom.

So, I stopped,
curious to see what would happen,
how many of them would come.
Would we be overrun?

Once a few scouts determined
I had retreated, they scurried
into the crevice to alert their
compatriots. And in an orderly line
down the cool backsplash
to their home under the fingernail
brush, which, I admit, was mainly
ceremonial before the ants arrived.

Now, I take care when I wash my hands
not to splash too much water. I feel sorry
when they about face and start climbing
back to the crevice, nervous at my shadow.

After all, I have room for the ants, and the
fingernail brush looks suddenly useful
with these settlers raising committees
among the bristles.

– Jeni Hankins, April 18, 2016
Written while waiting for a checkup at the doctor’s office.
The ants were out to lunch when I got home, so I couldn’t take their photo.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Roses of California

Fridays in the Studio – a new series of videos leading up to the release of our new record – “The Roses of California.” Back in the 1950’s, one of my Aunts went out to California with a fella who thought she looked like a movie star. And she did. And she was glad to escape being a miner’s wife. But, eventually, she ended up peeling potatoes in Idaho. Much of this song is true. I like what Billy’s Dad, Bill Jr, had to say about it: “These things happen.” And they do.
Thanks very much to Peter Knipe, our great friend and chief archivist in Britain, for capturing our process as we recorded songs for our upcoming CD, “Heart of the Mountain.” Here we are last July in All Saints Church, Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire, England, by invitation of Si McGrath of the fabulous band King Courgette.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Throwback to fourth grade and beyond: Adding some 11th hour trombone to the record. You know who gets the awesomeness award? Mom & Dad. They were young parents in grad school living 1000 miles from home in a huge, expensive city, yet they still bought me my very own used trombone – a trombone that would be my conduit to friendships across the USA from fourth grade all the way up through college. No matter where we moved, there was always symphonic band, jazz band, or marching band. And yesterday, I got to play trombone on our record. One fat, round, low note. My favorite kind. Thanks Marcella and Greg Hankins. They should have given you a Heisman-sized trophy when you won the “Best Parents” award in the Blue Tornado yearbook!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Recording some flatfoot dance at the 11th hour of this record project. The birds can't help themselves and are singing along outside. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Britain, 2016 Tour

We are tickled to pieces about spending our seventh summer in Britain! Thank you to all of our friends, fans, and hosts across the sea for welcoming us back. Details of all concerts on our website at www.jeniandbilly/tour

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Double exposed photo of Aunt Phyllis who had the same birthday as my Dad and always told the same great joke about a big mouthed frog. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


From my bathroom office, my great great grandparents. Mawmaw Ann said Granny kept a beautiful fluffy feather bed all in white linens. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Edith Emerges

Aunt Edith emerging from the paper - one of my favorite drawings from my work on the CD packaging. I love this woman so much! 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bathroom Lightbox

Sometimes, I work in odd spaces to get the best light!
Wow, after five days of admin, I spent most of yesterday drawing, which was thrilling. And I was reminded of why the admin is important. Because all of that organizing means that I can bring these drawings to life in song for an actual group of folks who are curious to hear. I am feeling very happy!