How to Keep Up with Jeni & Billy–Ness

The best way to keep up with Jeni & Billy is to click one of the buttons to the right and follow Jeni (Hankins) on Facebook or Like Jeni & Billy on Facebook. Our Facebook posts are automatically sent to Twitter if you prefer Twitter. We post lots of photos of our travels and adventures on Facebook and we post 90% of our gigs there and only fail to do so when wifi is not readily available to us.

Another super way to get our news is to sign up on the righthand side for our newsletter. We send one out at the beginning of each tour and very occasionally to announce special moments like the release of a new CD or Cyrus (our pet dinosaur) getting us through another border crossing with aplomb.

We always have our tour dates up on our "Tour" page on this website. But, if there is a concert you would like more about then just write to us at jeniandbilly(at)gmail(dot)com (replacing the at and dot with the appropriate punctuation marks).

If none of these options suit you, then just send us an e-mail to the same address as above. If you want to send us an old fashioned letter, e-mail us and we'll get you our address or one that is better than that depending on where we are in our travels.

Thank you for staying in touch and keeping up with our doings! It makes us feel happy.

Happy Holidays and THANK YOU!

We feel blessed to be able to make our way in this world as artists; and we thank all of you who come out to see us, who host house concerts, who let us know about venues in your area, who play our music in your homes & cars, and who share our music with others! Our work would not be possible without you, and we are very grateful to you. THANK YOU!

Fan Focus: Human Rights Watch

We are constantly amazed by you, our fans and friends. We can sing "Chicken Ridge" to a room and later find out that it kept a fan company while he worked to understand the conditions of Burmese refugees in Thailand.

So many of you do incredible work: from raising a small child to be a wonderful person, to fitting someone with better glasses so they can see more, to organizing for the UMWA, to helping soldiers understand life-saving equipment, to teaching the importance of story, to reporting on the conditions of refugees.

Our friend and his colleagues at Human Rights Watch do dangerous and sometimes unpopular (with those in power) work in order to reveal the truth about how people and governments treat people around the world. And they remind us that living with dignity is a human right that many are seeking on a daily basis.

We are honored to sing for you, our fellow workers. Thank you for continually inspiring us to work for kindness and justice.

Jeni on Etsy!!!

As many of you know, I love to make things.  Over the years, I have been encouraged to set up a shop on Etsy, and I have always dreamed of doing just that.

So, I have opened up a little shop there called JenisWhatNots, and I hope you will visit and that you find something you like there! Here is a link to the shop.

Right now, I am featuring letterpress cards printed with my original folk flower artwork.

Did you know that my family had a letterpress shop? We sure do -- in South Central North Carolina. We have a Chandler & Price Platen press built in 1900 and a Vandercook proof press from the mid-1960s.

They are the very best in old-timey technology!

I will be adding my quilt postcards that you have seen at our shows, as well as sewn items, to the shop real soon!


Florida and Alabama Tour Coming up in Jan/Feb

Hello Friends!

Right now we are busily mixing the Live Jeni & Billy CD that we made out west this past spring. We are pleased to announce that we will have it for most of our January/February tour in Florida. For those first few concerts of the tour in mid-January, we will be taking orders for the CD at the concerts and offering free shipping to those who pre-pay. It should be on CD Baby for ordering by the middle of February. If you would like to pre-order a copy in order to get it sooner, we will send more info on that in our January email.

We have a very full tour coming up in the New Year that is absolutely full of libraries! We find libraries to be one of the most ideal venues for us, because they are quiet and friendly -- and lots of times they have nifty theaters inside! If there is a library near you and you would like to hear us play there, send us a note and we will get in touch with them.

We'll also be returning to the home of the terrific banjo player and teacher, Chuck Levy, in Gainesville, for a house concert there. If you would like more information on that concert, please contact us. You would be most welcome to attend!

We have a very exciting schedule for the whole year, with a return to the West Coast, England & Wales, Ontario, and the Fox Valley Festival near Chicago. We'll also be back in the mid-Atlantic states at our familiar spots in late summer. We continue to look for ways to fill holes in our schedule, and we are especially looking for more work in May in California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as near Chicago and in Ontario in early to mid-September. If you can suggest a venue or host a house concert, we would love to talk with you!

We send you wishes for love and happiness in the NEW YEAR!

Jeni & Billy, too

01/15/13, Marco Island, FL  Marco Island Library
01/16/13, Naples, FL  Naples Regional Library
01/23/13, Naples, FL   Headquarters Library
01/24/13, Naples, FL  South Regional Library
01/26/13, Boynton Beach, FL  West Boynton Branch Library
01/27/13, Delray Beach, FL  Hagen Ranch Road Branch Library
02/01/13, Deltona, FL  Deltona Branch Library
02/02/13, Oak Hill, FL   Oak Hill Library, VIA Hall
02/02/13, Orange City, FL  Orange City Library
02/07/13, New Port Richey, FL  New Port Richey Library
02/10/13, Lakeland, FL  Lakeland Public Library
02/12/13, Eufaula, AL  Eufaula Carnegie Library
02/16/13, Gainesville, FL  House Concert Hosted by Banjoist Chuck Levy
02/24/13, Orlando, FL Jeni & Billy run the Disney Princess Half Marathon!!!

Five Years of Jewell Ridge Coal

July of 2013 will mark the five year anniversary of our release of Jewell Ridge Coal. Sometimes it feels like the time has flown by and that first summer of sharing the stories of Jewell Ridge was just yesterday. Other times it feels like summer of '08 happened a lifetime ago because that was before we met many of you.

I can hardly believe my lucky stars - that anyone else found the funny and sad, tall, but (mostly) true stories of my home in the Allegheny mountains of Southwest Virginia the least bit entertaining just thrills me. But I am so happy that you all have gone to school on Jewell Ridge and I fully expect that if you went up there, you would feel right at home in Mawmaw's kitchen or on a pew at the Friendly Chapel Church. Thank you for listening and joining in!

Fall Tour -- AL, TN, VA, and MD

Columbia Lakefront


Hello friends, family, and fans!

We've been shining up the resonator guitar and getting all of the pie crumbs out of the Luscomb banjo just especially so that we can make music for you in the coming weeks.

This coming weekend we'll make a little ole mini-tour down to Huntsville, AL, and Chattanooga, TN. You will have read about our benefit concert for NAMI Huntsville above. Please come out and send your friends and family too. We will also be back at Charles & Myrtles in Chattanooga for our third appearance at this lovely little friendly space.

Then, beginning on October 5, we will revisit our home states of Virginia and Maryland for another round of concerts. Three of these events are house concerts and we invite you to email us if you are interested in joining us for those. We are sure as my Dad's T-square that our hosts would be delighted to have you along for the musical journey.

We have long sets on both days of the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival, so this is a great opportunity to hear a bunch of Jeni & Billy songs. This is our fourth season at Crozet, and it is just as pretty as can be there, so treat yourself and come out!

We would be tickled if you would have a look at our calendar. We are planning our future tours and would love to know if you would like to be part of one by hosting a house concert or suggesting a venue.

We love the intimacy, kindness, and laughter that comes from a house concert environment; and most of our hosts only do Jeni & Billy concerts, so you don't need to be a house concert expert or anything like that. All that is needed is a love for our music.

With the help of fans, we have also recently added some other kinds of private events to our calendar like an elementary school concert, a senior living concert, Young at Heart Meeting and a family reunion - we played for ages nine to ninety one day this past year. Now, that made us smile to see grandfather and grandson both going up Chicken Ridge. So, let's imagine an event together and chances are we can make it happen!

Love and happiness from us both,

Jeni & Billy, too

Fly Down Little Bird

Fly Down Little Bird

I recently ordered Fly Down Little Bird from Mike Seeger's website. This CD of traditional music by Mike and his sister, Peggy Seeger, is very timely, particularly for an election year. Check out the "The Dodger Song" and "The Farmer is the Man" - campaign finance, healthcare, big business, and the fella just makin' a livin', they are all in there.

But of course there are songs that are good for all year round, too -- including a stellar version of "Little Willie's My Darlin'." Getting your heart trampled, it seems, can happen in any season, where Little Willie is concerned.

Billy and I had the chance to take a little flatfoot dancing lesson from Mike a couple of years before he passed away. He was an excellent dancer even in sneakers!

I have listened to this CD many times since I first put it on the player last week -- which is saying a lot in a house where a bunch of rehearsing and live CD mixing is happening daily!

Enthusiastically recommended!

A Special New Song


This past summer, as part of a house concert in Arlington hosted by Virginia and Royce Burton, we presented a song commissioned by Virginia about the murder of her great-grandfather, William Preston Taulbee. Our song was informed by an NPR story by Peter Overby, and Peter attended the concert and interviewed us all which was a lot of fun! No word yet on whether that will make it onto NPR or not. But we have uploaded an early recording of the song to our website so that everyone can learn more about this vital piece of American history. We made the recording on our newly restored TASCAM Series 70 eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. Enjoy!

Live CD in the works!

Live CD Cover

Some of you may have heard that we recorded all of our concerts out west. It's true! And everything turned out so well (whew! relief!), that we are going to fix up a full-length, two-set CD with stories and laughter. This project is taking a bit longer to put together than we first imagined since there are a lot of concerts to go through, but we hope you will cross your fingers with us for an early 2013 release!

Coming up on October 11, a new Jeni & Billy concert

This Fall we begin our "Songs by the Book" program at libraries. This is a one hour concert of songs based on books that we love! If you would like to see about having this program at a library, school, or college that you love, please get in touch! Jane Austen to the Bible, it's all in there!

Jeni & Billy reading books

Back to the Old Homeplace

It's that beautiful time of year again, where we knock the California dust off our Airstream and head up to our homelands. Yes, we are going to be in Virginia and Maryland again this summer (and in October too!) -- and we'll be making a side trip up to NJ and PA where some of our favorite people will be hosting house concerts for us! Thanks, friends.

We have some very special news about our house concert in Arlington, VA. This will be our third concert hosted by the most fabulous Virginia and Royce Burton. (If you need spectacles, go no further than Virginia, and if you need 20th Century works on paper, please see Royce!) This year, we will be presenting a song commissioned by Virginia about the murder of her great-grandfather, William Preston Taulbee. Our song was informed by a NPR story by Peter Overby, and Peter will be coming to the concert! So, if you can make it to our concert in Arlington on Sunday, July 15, we would be so glad to have you share in the excitement.

As I mentioned, we will be playing in PA & NJ as well as our home states. Two of these concerts are private house concerts, so there is no contact info on our website, but if you would like to come to them, just write to us and we will put you in touch with our gracious hosts!

Finally, we are planning our future tours and would love to know if you would like to be part of them by hosting a house concert or suggesting a venue. We love the intimacy, kindness, and laughter that comes from a house concert environment; and most of our hosts only do Jeni & Billy concerts, so you don't need to be a house concert expert or anything like that. All that is needed is a love for our music.

Some of you may have heard that we recorded all of our concerts out west. It's true! And everything turned out so well (whew! relief!), that we are going to fix up a full-length, two-set CD with stories and laughter which we hope to have ready this fall!

Well, it's time to pack our bathing costumes and our rescue dinosaur (and his bathing costume), so we'll close for now. Wishing you all a most beautiful summer and looking forward to seeing many of you, our dear friends, soon!

Love and happiness from us both,

Jeni & Billy, too

Bluebird Calling!

Jeni & Billy at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville TN

Photo by Kim Sherman

What a magical night at the Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville! Thanks to Clint Alphin for inviting us to be part of his round and to Haley Dreis and Jeff Talmadge for creating such a fine sense of fellowship.


Well friends, it's official, we made our debut at the Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville on July 5th! We moved here six years ago, and one of the first things we did was to go down to the Bluebird. Billy had played there many times when he lived in Nashville before, and he was so excited for me to get to play there. But wouldn't you know that when we moved here, the Bluebird was just changing hands and Nashville Songwriters International was stepping up to run the Bluebird. Well, that changed things a bit, since those weren't the folks Billy knew and then there was a super long list of rules about how you get to play the Bluebird! Whew!

Between all of the touring and songwriting, we just let the years slip on by. Then we got a text, a very nice text, asking us to play at the Bluebird. No rules, no open mic nights, like a little gift across the cellular waves. Wow!

Thanks to our friend, Clint Alphin, who thought it was time that we were at the Bluebird and who had us in his round! I think this illustrates what MawMaw would call, "biding your time!"

Spring 2011 Newsletter

Newsletter 2011-05-02

Here we come! See you there!
    Hello fine friends! Well, we've dusted off the Airstream, tuned up the Gibson mandolin, and stocked up on tea - it must be time for another tour! This time we are starting out in my dear ole home state of Virginia, moving on to the mushroom fields of Pennsylvania, the high atmosphere of Vermont, and, finally, to one of the friendliest places on Earth, Southern Ontario.
    Nothing would make us happier than to see all of our friends, fans, and families along the way. Traveling ten months of the year means that we find our friendships on the road and that means you!

Click here to download a copy of our latest newsletter!

Way Out West Slide Show

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January-February Newsletter

January-February Newsletter

Happy New Year Everyone!

We hope that you are off to a swell start this year. Billy and I have been enjoying Nashville in January. Aside from writing a few new songs, Billy has been composing and I have been sewing. We enjoy getting into other things now and then and getting a little space from touring. But tomorrow, we will be back on the road and this time around in warm weather. Ahhh! Florida.

Click here to read our newsletter.

So Happy! A super review from our beloved Sing Out!

sing out fall 2010

Longing for Heaven is some of the best Southern Music I've heard in a long time – Tom Druckenmiller @ Sing Out

San Fran Bay Area & Other Concerts Added

Sept 16 Newsletter Image

To read this newsletter, please follow this link:

Midwest and Way Out West Tour News


Hey, call us crazy, but we think that's Willie Nelson's Bus next door!

Read all about it and about our upcoming tour here:

Wow! What a review in Bluegrass Unlimited! Gosh!

Bluegrass Unlimited Banner

Duet partners Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp have brought impressive measures of inspiration, artistry, and austerity in this minimalist collection of old-time ballads, heartsongs, and spirituals.

The focus of Jeni & Billy’s fourth CD, as heard on the lovely Sacred Harp classic title tune, is otherworldly affairs. A standout in this category, along with the title song, is their original, “Father Will You Meet Me In Heaven,” a powerful elegy for Johnny Cash’s older brother, Jack, who was killed in a gruesome childhood accident. The duo’s rendition of “On A Hill Lone And Gray,” inspired by Ralph Stanley, is also heartfelt and moving.

Hankins is the soulful wellspring of this collaboration. Born and raised in Virginia coal country, she brings a writer’s and singer’s finely nuanced ear to the cadences and imagery of her native Appalachia. You can hear this gift on “The Ballad Of Sally Kincaid” and “Cecil Roberts’ Hand.” These originals and others stand proud alongside covers of traditionals such as “Single Girl” and “I Saw A Man At The Close Of The Day.”

Kemp, a gifted multi-instrumentalist with an impressive list of studio and road credentials, also does some of the writing. But his major contribution is framing these songs with austere and subtle acoustic arrangements built on various combinations of guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, harmonica, and occasional fiddle from Shad Cobb. (Jewell Ridge Records, 2126 Yank Rd., Mt. Gilead, NC 27306) 

Bob Allen, Bluegrass Unlimited

MD, NC, VA & TN Dates, Back from Las Vegas


Two week of concerts at our favorite summer spots coming up and then off to Ontario. 

Thanks to all of the folks at the UMWA Conference in Las Vegas!

To read the whole kaboodle, click here:

Thanks Maverick!

MaverickBanner.jpgMissing your No Depression or Performing Songwriter?

Maverick is a top-notch magazine with lots and lots of reviews of roots, folk, country, and bluegrass. They are based in the UK, but the slightly higher cost of a subscription in the US is well worth it.

Jeni & Billy recommended!

Click here to read their starred review of our new CD "Longing for Heaven."



Thank You Birmingham!

Birmingham-Mail-2010-06-11S.jpgThanks to all who came out for our very first performance in Birmingham (in the UK, not Alabama!)

Click here to read our interview in the Birmingham Mail.

Here's a bit of what Andrew Coleman wrote:

JENI Hankins and Billy Kemp, aka Jeni & Billy, draw on Appalachian roots music for their songs of miners, preachers, ramblers, lovers, and plain-living folks. They’ve struck a chord with UK music fans, prompting a second British tour, including a show at Kings Heath’s Kitchen Garden Cafe on Sunday. Jeni answered our questions.

How did the two of you get together? 

I was working on a record called Jewell Ridge Girl when we met. The producer took me to Billy’s recording studio in Maryland. Billy heard my songs and my singing style, I heard him play and sing harmonies, and that was the end of Life A, as we say, and the beginning of Life B. In just a few months, we turned everything upside down to start this duo. A year later, we moved to Nashville and we’ve been living the life of a true love duo ever since. That’s been just over five years now.

Click here to read more.

UK Tour & Merlefest Thoughts

June Newletter

Tea Time Anytime Tour 

Well, the time has come for us to put on our wings and fly over the ocean to Great Britain! How that giant hunk of metal is going to carry our luggage and instruments, plus everyone else's things is a wonder to us. God bless the riveter!

We'll be playing a whole bunch up in Yorkshire - home of some of the kindest folks on this planet - and we're thrilled to be making a stop in Birmingham, home of The Moody Blues. I remember when I was kid imagining all of those Knights in White Satin and wondering how they kept their satin clean walking through dirty Medieval towns and riding sweaty horses. Imagine my disappointment when I learned it wasn't "Knights" but "Nights."

Click here to read the rest of our June newsletter.

New Newsletter and NEW CD!

 Longing No MoApril Newsletterre!

We are so very happy to announce that our new CD, Longing for Heaven is now available at the trusty and independent musician friendly CD BABY! Yippee! Break out the tofu and broccoli! Pass round the carrot juice!

We'd be delighted if you'd head over there and overwhelm them with orders . . . And, while you're at, it you can also pick up a copy of Sweet & Toxic, The Extra Sweet Edition. This is the re-release of our first EP, with three new bonus tracks including the never before released song "Coronation Day." The new version of this EP has a booklet with all the lyrics and alternate takes of "Sweet & Toxic" and "If the Gun's Not Loaded." Sweet indeed!



Check the New Jeni & Billy Newsletter!

NewsletterThumbTemplate.jpgWell, dear friends, I'm not sure how this monthly newsletter became a quarterly newsletter, except to say we certainly have been as busy as we could be this first part of 2010!  How is everyone out there? Hope you're doing well and doing a snow dance. Spring sure has been slow in coming this year, and this sunny day in Nashville certainly has us getting springtime notions.

Billy and I are heading down to Austin for SXSW. We are especially looking forward to the film part of the conference where we get to see scads of films that never seem to show up in the regular cineplex. After that, we'll be touring our sox off all over the USA, UK, and even heading up to teach in Ontario, Canada. Didn't the Canadians just knock you out with the Olympics? What a fine job! We'll be on the road from the end of March until mid-November, so please come out and say howdy.

We started this year off finishing up three CD projects. (Note to selves - never do this again!) January was supposed to be our time off! Oops! Right now we have in our sticky little hands (I just made cupcakes) our new EP, Pretty Fair Miss. Folks, this CD has a whole story of it's own, so look down below this letter for the scoop on the Great Fabric Exchange to learn more.

At Easter, we will be bringing out our shiny new CD, Longing for Heaven, a collection of original and traditional songs. You all have heard many of these songs at our concerts and we just wanted to get them down for those of you who have been asking for them. Plus there are a few new songs. We recorded most of the CD at a little cabin in the dead of winter 2008/2009 in Western NC. The rest were tracked with the fine folks at Bias Studios in VA.

Click here to read more of the January, February, March newsletter.

The Great Fabric Exchange

This year Jeni & Billy will be touring in the USA, Canada, and the UK with a new record, Longing for Heaven, duo out at Easter! As part of the tour we are giving away a three song CD, Pretty Fair Miss, to any audience member who brings Jeni a piece of fabric.

From Jeni's blog:

What, you ask, will I be doing with this fabric?  Well, I'll be carrying on the work of three generations of women in my family by making a Trip Around the World Quilt.  In November, Billy and I will be heading to the John C. Campbell Folk School, where he will study woodworking and I will study with the famous North Carolina quilter Georgia Bonesteel.  So, every piece of fabric we collect will become a part of a quilt that will remind me and Billy of all of the kind people we have met and the beautiful places we have visited in 2010.  You’ll also find me hand quilting a Single Girl Quilt and hand piecing a Floating Stars Quilt on tour.

Won’t you come along and be part of our scrapbook?

To Learn More about the Fabric Exchange vist Jeni's Site

Jeni & Billy to teach at Woods Music & Dance Camp in Ontario!

What better way to repay all of the wonderful mentors and teachers that have inspired and encouraged us than to pass it on!  It is with tremendous excitement that we announce that Jeni & Billy will be teaching at The Woods Music & Dance Camp in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada in August of 2010!  After hearing "there is a town in North Ontario" growing up and thinking of it as some magical place, I can hardly believe that next year Billy and I will be setting foot on that hallowed ground! More details to come next spring.  The camp runs August 11-15 and we can't wait!!!

Three more shows and then see you in January 2010!

Thanks to all of you who came out to our shows, bought our CDs, encouraged us in every little and big way and helped to make 2009 a brilliant year for Jeni & Billy!

We are playing two shows in North Carolina with John McCutcheon this weekend and one in Arkansas next week. After Thanksgiving, we are leaving off touring until mid-January to finish up our new CD, "Longing for Heaven", and to rehearse all the new songs for our 2010 tour.

Our 2010 tour will take us back to the UK for May & June, out to California for our first full West Coast Tour in September & October, and up to Canada in August for our first teaching camp at the Woods Music and Dance camp in Muskoka, Ontario.

One of the most thrilling dates of our year will be Merlefest in North Wilkesboro, NC, in April.  Merlefest was one of the greatest influences in my (Jeni's) journey as a songwriter -- exposing me to the powerful voices and songs of Polecat Creek, the sophistication of Gillian Welch, the raw emotion of Ginny Hawker, and the all out enthusiasm of the Avett Brothers.  It was the first live music event that I wanted to share with Billy and has been a wellspring for us both!  We are still pinching ourselves to be chosen as performers!

As Billy and I reflect on this past year, we are especially thankful that our songs about coal have brought us together with coal miners and the Union that stands by them.  As a global community we are faced with many difficult decisions and a long road ahead in making smart choices about where we get our energy.  But as long as coal miners are going down in that hole so that we can light our theaters and perfomance halls and string power to microphones that get our voices to the back of the room, we are determined to make sure their job is a safe one and that they and their families have proper healthcare.

God bless you all during the Holiday season and in the new year.  Thank you for your stories, your kindness, and your beautiful spirits,

Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy and the Leaving the Left Coast Blues

Well folks, we made it home to Nashville after ten glorious days in Los Angeles!  It was hard to leave the tree-lined streets of Pasadena, the endless produce section at Whole Foods, MyVegan Restaurant, the Cinerama, Amoeba Music, and all things Marilyn Monroe, but somehow we consoled ourselves with visions of our two month tour out West in 2010!

There is just not sufficient room in this newsletter to extend all of the thanks that we want to send to everyone who hugged us, encouraged us, and gave us directions in California!  We felt so much at home we began to wonder if we'd only write songs about fruit, freeways, and Freebo when we got home to Nashville.  But our first song on our return turned out to be a sweet lullaby written on our new-old Martin Ukulele that we got at Westwood Music in LA and a toy xylophone piano we picked up back in 2007 in Galax, VA, while taking a break from the fiddler's convention.

If you happen to live on the left coast or have friends blessed to be planted there, please by all means let us know if there is a venue near you that is calling our name or, better yet, write our trusty and kind agent, Josh Dunson of Real People's Music.

New Video of Longing for Heaven

Here's a great new video of Longing for Heaven, a traditional shape note lyric and melody that Billy arranged for two voices. We hope to have this one on our new CD.

Performance Alley Showcase in Memphis 2010!

We are thrilled to announce that Jeni & Billy have been chosen as Performance Alley Showcase artists for the 2010 22nd International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, TN!

Jeni & Billy -- cameo on the West Coast

If you looked carefully at our upcoming tour dates above you might have noticed that we are going to be in sunny California in November! That's right -- the home of Disneyland, Marilyn Monroe's Star, and the FAR-West Conference. We'll be showcasing all weekend and (yikes!) part of a panel on Appalachian music. If you have some friends in LA who need to hear Jeni & Billy send them to the Coffee Gallery Backstage on November 10!

Maryland House Concert

We are heading back out on tour for a few weeks and we are really looking forward to being back up in Billy's hometown of Baltimore, MD! We'll be tracking at Bias Studios in VA where we cut several tracks for our debut EP, Sweet & Toxic. And on Saturday, October 17, at 7:30 pm we'll be playing a Soup & Song House Concert at the home of Charlie and Marilyn Bernhardt in Laurel, MD! The concert will be recorded live! So come on out, be part of our audience, make some noise. Black (as coal) Bean Soup for everyone! For directions please contact Charlie at

Jeni & Billy and the UMWA

This Wednesday we will have the honor of playing for Cecil Roberts' Inauguration as UMWA President. Mr. Roberts is the longest running UMWA President since fiery John L. Lewis. Here ( is a stirring clip of John L. Lewis testifying before Congress after the Centralia (IL) mine disaster, which took the lives of 111 miners.

Mr. Roberts, too, is a fiery speaker and a tireless advocate for miner's rights, especially for mine safety. Here ( he speaks at the Inauguration of AFL-CIO President, Richard L. Trumka, also a former coal miner. Roberts' admiration for his predecessor and mentor, John L., is unmistakable.

Billy and I are just past the one year mark since we officially released Jewell Ridge Coal. We can hardly imagine a more fitting way to celebrate the anniversary of our tribute to the small Southwest Virginia coal mining community I called home as a child. We are humbled that President Roberts invited us to attend his inauguration and to share our music there! Goosebumps all over! I wish my great-grandfathers Avery and Sutherland could be there to see it!

Jeni & Billy sign with ADASTRA in the UK

We are thrilled to announce that Jeni & Billy are now represented exclusively in the UK by Kelly Foley at ADASTRA. Kelly is a lovely person whose family is plagued by a seagull named Egbert. Egbert has gone as far as stealing their phone off their back deck and depositing it days later on the roof of their neighbor's garage! We are touring the UK from May 5 through June 22, 2010 and would be thrilled if you would contact Kelly for venue and festival recommendations. If you would like to host us for a house concert please let Kelly know and we will be delighted too! Kelly Foley: ADASTRA:

Jeni & Billy in Charlotte, Richlands . . .

We've just spent a great weekend sharing our music at Bristol Rhythm & Roots, one of our favorite festivals! Thanks to all of the folks who came out to see us and who shared their stories of the coalfields and the Carter family with us! Billy and I are very excited about the gigs we have this week and wanted to send out a short message just to say we hope to see you there! We're heading from the Birthplace of Country Music to my birthplace, Richlands, VA. On Tuesday night we'll be giving a concert sponsored by the Citizens for the Arts. 7 pm at the Middle School. On Thursday, Sept. 24, we'll be heading to Charlotte, NC, a city I frequented as a student at Davidson College. We'll be in fine sweetheart duo form at the lovely Evening Muse. On Saturday, Sept. 26, we head over to Wilkesboro, NC, to play a set at Carolina in the Fall. For a few numbers we'll have the pleasure of the Kruger Brothers' company!!! A whole new "Chicken Ridge" will be created on the spot with a banjo duet played by Billy and Jens Kruger. We are doing a bunch of traveling from now through November, so please check our calendar and come out and see us!

On the Road Again

On the Road Again! This weekend we're looking forward to seeing our Tarheel State fans at Summer on the Porch, a beautiful series put on by the Rooster's Wife in Aberdeen, NC. Next Friday we'll be at Music on the Square in beautiful Jonesborough, TN, Storytelling Capitol of the World. We have just added the Fox Valley Festival in IL and the Mountaineer Folk Festival in Fall Creek Falls, TN, both in September. Also in September -- Bristol Rhythm & Roots, one of our favorite festivals! We will be traveling out to California in late October. We are booking dates on a northern route to CA in October and a southern route home to Nashville in November. Anyone interested in hosting a house concert along these routes, please get in touch, or if you have a venue suggestion, please let us know! Thanks to all of the folks who came out to see us in July & August in Maryland, Virginia, New York, Vermont & Maine. We are planning a Northeast tour next July & August and we welcome your ideas! We are doing a bunch of traveling from now through November, so please check our calendar and come out and see us!

Remembering Miners in Harlan County, KY

Yesterday we were honored to share our music at the unveiling of the Tri-Cities Miners' Memorial in Cumberland, KY. Stella Morris, who lost her husband, Bud, to a mining accident, raised the money to install a beautiful memorial at the mouth of the Tri-Cities Miners Memorial Highway. For us, the highlight of the service, was a rousing speech given by UMWA President Cecil Roberts. Mr. Roberts reminded us that since coal mining began in the USA, 200,000 miners have died from mine accidents or black lung and that in any other US industry that number of fatalities would foment public outcry. US Citizens and Congress would not stand for 200,000 dying on the job at Walmart. Yes, it's a dangerous job, but we had no Mine Safety Act in this country until 1969 after the Farmington, WV, mine explosion took the lives of 78 miners. In the 25 years preceeding Farmington, 12,000 miners died in accidents. In the 25 years following Farmington, 3,000 miners were killed. Those 78 miners in Farmington -- whom Mr. Roberts called heroes -- and the 1969 Act saved 9,000 miners' lives. Mine Safety is not an issue to be debated among politicians or coal bosses, it is a life or death matter and deserves our advocacy 100%.

Maverick Magazine Review of our Beverley Folk Festival Performances

"A sweet and surprising high point [of the Beverley Folk Festival] was the Appalachian duo Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp. Singing songs from the Southwest Virginia coal mines, the pair melted hearts with songs like Tazewell Beauty Queen and Back Then, a heartbreaking tale of tragic love. Jeni Hankins' smile-infused Mother Maybelle voice was . . . perfect." - Hazel Davis Maverick Magazine

UK Tour! Motoring, Wellingtons, and Tea! YES!

We mentioned in our last newsletter that we would be heading over to the UK and Ireland in June & July. Well, we've been over and back and feel like we found a second home over there. We want to thank everyone in Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northern Wales, and Ireland who made us feel so welcome! We thoroughly enjoyed every place we played. One highlight was meeting a lovely singer named Fiona who had sung "Tazewell Beauty Queen" at her local folk club the week before she met us at Beverley Folk Festival! What a compliment! As vegans, we were certainly challenged by the abundance of dairy, but were rescued by the Marks & Spencer ready-made salads at the Moto stops on the M's. Billy quickly adapted to driving on the left and our Sat-Nav made the going easier, but the A-roads made Chicken Ridge look like an interstate. Speaking of Chicken Ridge, while in the UK, we were asked to play for the Sydney Smith School in Hull and had the pleasure of singing it with about 200 school kids! We are returning to the UK and Ireland in May & June of next year, so we welcome suggestions for venues, festivals, and folk clubs. We also love to do house concerts and would love to hear from those interested in hosting one! Also, if you have any photos of us from our visit, we would love to see them and add them to our scrapbook. See you in 2010! A special thanks to Chris & Sue, Barbara, Harvey & Thelma, Gill & John, Laura & Kelly & Chris W, Dave, Bill, Peter, Richard, Hedley & Lynne, and Nigel in the UK. And to Michael, Barry, Niall, Sandy, Charlie, and Ralph in Ireland & Northern Ireland.

Jeni & Billy back in the USA!

We're back and full of gratitude and wonder for the beautiful people and places all so welcoming in the UK and Ireland. Gigs coming up right away and then a writing retreat in Maine, so we'll be getting together a new newsletter at the beginning of August. Hope to see you at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival the first weekend in August!

Dirty Linen Review of Jewell Ridge Coal

In recent years it's been practically considered a given that the writing of coal-mining songs is a thing of the past, but lo and behold, along comes an album of new songs related to, or inspired by, the coal-mining lifestyle. Jeni Hankins is the granddaughter of coal miners, so she is well steeped in the tradition. Her mournful vocals compare favorably with other Appalachian old-time folks singers . . . the accompaniment is always very spare, and the performances are never rushed . . . Jewell Ridge Coal is a very worthy addition to a genre that may not be so antiquated after all. - Paul-Emile Comeau Dirty Linen

Jeni & Billy in the UK and Ireland!

You may have noticed a slight change of continent on our tour schedule above! That's right, we are heading to the land of tea & rain, pints & pixies, Beatrix Potter & many non-vegan breakfast options! Are England & Wales too far to travel to see Jeni & Billy, not for Maryland fan Al Goldstein who may find himself on a plane to the North Wales Bluegrass Festival if he can eliminate all of the Welsh consonants in his flight path! Honestly we are as thrilled as can be to bring our music to the UK. If you know any folks over there, we hope you'll encourage them to seek us out!

Jeni & Billy on YouTube!

Thanks to some family photos, a little Flip camera, and the magic of iMovie, we have entered the world of YouTube! Jeni's Dad put together a lovely slideshow using the photos from MawMaw Smith's Stride Rite Shoebox for our song "Tazewell Beauty Queen." We caught a few of the performances from our May tour and they are collected in a short film on YouTube as well. Hope you enjoy them!

Thanks for a great May Tour!

We just returned to Nashville from a 21 day tour that started in Kirksville, MO and ended in Annapolis, MD! We fell in love with a new town, Kirksville, MO, signed with a wonderful agent, Josh Dunson, in Chicago, picked up our home on wheels, Little Grey, from the Airstream hospital, made a mini-world tour of one of the loveliest places on Earth, Central Virginia, where we ate way too many Bodo's bagels, and topped it off by enjoying our very own dressing room with bathroom & dining room at The Ram's Head! Heady times indeed! Thanks especially to all of the wonderful folks who made us welcome as John McCutcheon's opener in VA & as Bill Frisell's opener in MD. And thanks also to all of you who came to see us in our own right. We'll be back in Central VA on March 27, 2010 at the Richmond Folk Music Society and in MD this coming July 12 at the Columbia Lakefront Festival.

Philly Concert on Jeni's Birthday

Jeni can't think of a better birthday present than having a whole bunch of people come out for Jeni & Billy at PSALM, The Philadelphia Society for Art, Literature, and Music. Saturday, May 30th @ 8 pm. The PSALM Salon is reminiscent of the old-world salons of Europe, where the cultural cognoscenti would gather to experience and discuss the works of the leading artists of the day. In that spirit, the evening will begin with a guest appearance by mountain-top removal activist Larry Gibson. There is also a stunning gallery exhibit of Coal Country by photographer Mark Schmerling. The PSALM Salon is Philadelphia's premiere small space for serious listening. It boasts an audiophile quality sound system in an acoustically pristine space, allowing guests to experience performances with ultimate clarity in a stately old Overbrook Farms mansion. It is a space for performers to connect with guests one on one.

Jeni & Billy Open for Bill Frisell

Bless our lucky stars! We can hardly contain our excitement! Bill Frisell is one of our favorite music makers, so this makes our debut at the Ram's Head all the more sweet. It's a weeknight, Tuesday, May 19 @ 8 pm, but we promise you won't regret staying up with us.

Jeni & Billy Sign with Real People's Music

We are proud to announce that Jeni & Billy have signed with Real People's Music. We visited with agent, Josh Dunson, in Oak Park, just outside of Chicago earlier this week to seal the deal over some authentic Greek food at The Parthenon. We are particularly honored to be in the company of 2008 Grammy nominee Peggy Seeger, and songwriter-activist Si Kahn. Real People's Music has been helping artists share their music for 35 years and we are certainly happy to be part of their roster!

Jeni & Billy Review in Now & Then

Jewell Ridge Coal, is steeped in the traditions of the mines and the families whose lives depended on them. The production is simple and uncluttered; the lead instrument is clearly the voice of Jeni, for whom these songs are like members of the family. - Wayne Winkler, Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine

Jeni & Billy in Feminist Review

I found Jeni & Billy's second album Jewell Ridge Coal to be like Billy Elliot meets the Mamas and the Papas meets Dolly Parton. A little bit bluegrass, a little bit folk, and all original, the music feels simultaneously familiar and completely new. Their combination creates this powerful and unique flavor, and they sound so natural together, it feels calming and clear. Its as if you were there sitting on a back porch in old-timey South and they were right there with you and just stumbled upon some instruments. - Nicole Levitz, Feminist Review

Jeni & Billy Live on WFHB Radio!

Hi all, Just a quick note to let you know that this Friday we'll be performing live on the air as part of the WFHB Community Radio's "Radio Variety Extravaganza -- An Evening with Border Radio." This event will raise funds for this wonderfully diverse Bloomington, Indiana, station. If you are outside of Bloomington, which many of you are, you can stream it live on the web from! We'll be playing several tunes from Jewell Ridge Coal, songs from our upcoming record & a couple of songs especially worked up for the show. Here are the details from the WFHB website: On Friday, March 27th from 8 to 10 pm Bloomington's historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater will become a time portal to another age; the age of "Border Radio" when high power stations on the Mexican border could be heard over large areas of the U.S. from the 1940's to the '70's. The show will also be broadcast live on WHFB, at 91.3 and 98.1 FM in Bloomington, at 106.3 for Ellettsville, at 100.7 for Brown County and online at as well as on CATS television. We hope you'll join us! Happy Spring to all! Love & Happiness, Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy in England!

We have just confirmed that we will be playing the Beverley Folk Festival in Yorkshire, England this coming June! Time to try out our wings! Thanks to all of the prayers and positive energy that folks have sent our way! Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy News, February 2009!

Well, January snuck by us and we are just coming to our first newsletter of the year! We just finished our first leg of touring for 2009 in Florida. Thanks to all of you who came out to hear our songs and stories! We are already booking dates for late January/early February in Florida next year, so if you happened to catch one of our concerts there and are interested in booking a house concert with us or if you have any suggestions for venues, we would be all ears. We already have a lot of dates booked for this year, so please check our calendar to see if we are coming to your area. If we aren’t and you wish we were, then please get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. We are planning to head out West next spring at the end of April, so we are really interested in hearing from folks on the West Coast about ideas. Thanks to those of you who have already written! Some really special dates on the horizon: March: Opening for Claire Lynch at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta, GA, on March 8! Bloomington, Indiana -- three shows, including a benefit for WFHB Community Radio. May: Kirksville, Missouri -- two shows, including a performance at the Kirksville Arts Association to celebrate the Smithsonian exhibit New Harmonies. Philadelphia, PA, concert at PSALM on Jeni’s Birthday! June: Seedtime on the Cumberland in Whitesburg, Kentucky! July: A return to the Columbia Lakefront Festival in Columbia, Maryland. August: The Rooster’s Wife Concert Series in Aberdeen, NC and Music on the Square in Jonesborough, TN. September: Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Bristol, TN/VA and a performance for the Citizens for the Arts in Jeni’s hometown of Richlands, VA. We are adding new dates all of the time, so please check our website. We are heading to Folk Alliance in Memphis next week and to SXSW in March. We are Standby Showcase artists for both of these conferences, so any prayers and good wishes would be most appreciated. Lastly, we hope that you will take a moment to visit and consider joining Si Kahn in Grassroots Leadership’s Campaign to End Immigrant Family Detention and in their mission to challenge the existence of For-Profit Prisons in our country. These folks are doing extraordinary work to defend human rights and promote justice. This is a time of year when we are especially grateful to be touring around and making music together, so in that spirit, we recommend that you check out these other true love duos: (Rebecca Hall & Ken Anderson) (Dana & Susan Robinson) (Sally Spring & Ted Lyons) Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! Jeni & Billy By the way! Did you know that you can learn what we’re up to on a whole bunch of sites? They’re all right here:

Jeni & Billy are Standby Showcase Artists for SXSW and International Folk Alliance

We are so happy to announce that we have been chosen as Standby Showcase Artists for SXSW & Folk Alliance! So, if someone gets called to be on Letterman or decides to relax in the Bahamas instead of going to these conferences, we are their replacement! We will be at both conferences regardless, so if you're planning on being there too, be sure to say hello!

Whole Wheat Radio

Happy New Year All! We just posted this note on Whole Wheat Radio in Talkeetna, Alaska. They have a really great site with streaming audio and a wiki interface where listeners can talk to each other. This is just to give you an idea of what we've been up to during our touring hiatus! We (Jeni & Billy) spent most of December & January in a (generous!) friend's cabin in Western NC. Though we initially intended this to be a much needed break from a summer of heavy touring and a fall of industry conferences, we got the wild idea to make another record. We don't like to say it's our second record, probably because of all of the weight that comes with putting out a sophomore effort, so we think of it as 1 1/2. This has allowed us to enjoyed ourselves a lot more we imagine, though we did neglect the whole rest part of the equation. Luckily our touring begins in about a week in Naples, Florida, so we are starting off right! The new record is a combination of traditional and original songs. We spent a lot of time at fiddler's conventions in 2007 and learned some traditional songs so we could join in the competitions. Then they became part of our set as we set off to promote last year's release "Jewell Ridge Coal." The originals are a collections of songs we've had in our set for a while, but didn't really flow with the Jewell Ridge theme, and one song that we just wrote in the cabin. Today is our last day of work at the cabin. Tomorrow we put the cabin back in order and on Wednesday we head home to Nashville for three brief days to do laundry and pick up our live sound equipment. Then our touring begins. We are really looking forward to this year on the road and hoping that it might bring us to the home of Whole Wheat Radio in Talkeetna. If you're curious about us, please look us up on and drop us a note. Peace, love, and happiness in the new year, Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy opening for Claire Lynch in Charlotte, NC!

Hey all! We are super excited to be opening for Claire Lynch at the McGlohon Theater in Charlotte, NC, on Dec. 30. The show starts at 7:30 and there are still some tickets left! Wahhooo! What a great Christmas present! For more details on the show please see our tour page. Happy Holidays to all! Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy will perform at Seedtime on the Cumberland in June 2009!

We are so glad to report that we will be joining the festivities and celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Apppalshop at Seedtime on the Cumberland in Whitesburg, KY. The festival runs from June 10-13 and we will be performing on Friday, June 12, and Saturday, June 13. Appalshop is a very special organization that has supported traditional music and encouraged social activism over the last four decades! We encourage you to learn more about the good they do at

Follow Jeni & Billy on Twitter!

Jeni & Billy are now posting on Twitter! You can follow us at If you haven't heard of Twitter think of it as a little bulletin board where people post the things they've been doing or something they saw, heard, or ate. It's a little like Facebook paired down to it's basic essence. Anyhow, if you're curious to know what we're up to on a more day to day basis, then Twitter us!

Jeni & Billy’s Jewell Ridge Coal is #5 again!

We are excited to report that Jewell Ridge Coal held it's #5 position on the Folk DJ Chart for the month of November. Thanks to all of you who called in to your local folk radio station to request our music. "Chicken Ridge" climbed from #18 in October to #7 in November! And we moved from #9 as artists to #8!!! Thanks also to Kari Estrin, our radio promoter, who has supported our record so enthusiastically during these last two months!

Jeni & Billy at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2009!

We are very excited to announce that we will be performing at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, TN/VA. This is one of our favorite festivals to visit, so imagine our happiness to be among the performers! The festival organizers do a really fine job of turning the downtown into a traditional music lover's paradise. If you haven't been to Bristol yet, this is your year! Come on out and see us!

November 2008 Newsletter

You know that old adage about getting coal in your stocking? Well, how about coal mining songs instead? Jewell Ridge Coal is available for sale at and we hope you'll consider sharing our music with friends and family for the Holidays. Quite some time has passed since our last newsletter. Billy & I have been traveling all over the country playing concerts and attending music industry conferences. Our favorite trip took us out west to the FAR-West Folk Alliance in Phoenix, AZ. Neither of us had seen Grand Canyon. We were so wowed by the experience, we are already planning a return trip next spring. Our tour also brought us to Las Cruces, NM, on the Day of the Dead (Nov. 1). We walked around the old town of Mesilla looking at the shrines made by families celebrating the lives of their loved ones who had passed on. We are outside of Boston right now. We'll be playing a house concert in Boston on November 23 at the home of Judy & Doug Hall. If you are in the area, there are still some seats left. For more details please see our website: With all of our time on the road, we've had an opportunity to listen to a lot of music and there are a few commercial releases that we are really keen on and we hope you'll give these records a listen: Randy Newman, Harps & Angels She & Him Steve Earle, Washington Square For those of you up in the DC/Baltimore area looking for a great show, we heartily suggest you go see The Grandsons. These fellas have a really superb selection of songs and they present them in a style totally unique. Alan holds a trumpet on his arm while playing the guitar. Moe's eyebrows move up and down with the musical moment. Chris moves in with the saxophone while Matt provides just the right amount of rhythm. This past Monday we made a cameo appearance at a NYC benefit for Dos Pueblos. John McCutcheon ( who graciously invited us was the featured artist. Dos Pueblos is an amazing organization providing Nicaraguans in the city of Tipitapa with practical training and tools to initiate and sustain change for the better in their community. You can find out more about their work at We are now working on our tour schedule for next year and would like to make a general offer to try and work house concerts into our tour. If you have any inclination to have us play a concert in your home, please be in touch. This is a beautiful way for us to share our music with you, your friends and your community. If you want to learn more about giving a house concert, please visit Russ & Julie are veteran house concert people and you can learn a lot from reading their FAQ page. Lastly, we wanted to let you all know some good news about Jewell Ridge Coal. Last month JRC and our song "Tazewell Beauty Queen" were both #5 on the Folk DJ list. This is an airplay chart for folk stations around the world, but mostly for places like Bloomington, Indiana, and Nevada City, CA. So, if you happen to listen to community and public radio stations like WAMU or WGBH and you'd like to hear our record, we encourage you to give them a call or send an e-mail. But please only contact stations that you actually listen to. After our house concert in Boston, we are going to take a much needed break from touring and hunker down in a cabin for some writing and recording. We are looking forward to visiting with our families for the holidays and we wish you all a beautiful holiday season. Jeni & Billy

Jewell Ridge Coal #5 on Folk DJ Chart!!!

Good News! Jewell Ridge Coal charted at #5 on the folk DJ list for October 2008! "Tazewell Beauty Queen" is also #5 with "Chicken Ridge" and "Miner's Reward" on down the chart. Jeni & Billy charted #9 as artists. The Folk-DJ list is compiled from around 150 reporting DJs each month. If you would like to find a station or a folk show in your area, there are several resources:,, and We hope that you will support your local folk/bluegrass/community radio station and that you'll consider requesting one of our songs from Jewell Ridge Coal. This helps us in many ways. The folk DJs are a well respected group among promoters, artists, agents, and labels. If they play our record it's a sign to others in the industry that we might be worth a listen. Also, as more people across the country discover our record, they begin to ask venues and festivals in their area to bring us to their town or perhaps they even contact us for a house concert. This means so much to us as full time touring musicians. Thanks to all of the DJs who are playing our record! Jeni & Billy

Jeni and Billy News September 2008

Hello wonderful people out there in the world! We’ve had a beautiful summer of touring up and down the East Coast. From the deluges of Vermont to sweltering East Tennessee we have braved many climates in our tent and still managed to greet nearly every day with a how-de-do and a coal mining song. We met a number of tremendously nice people on our tour. We want to share a few links with you and encourage you to explore the music of these folks who are doing so much good work in music by taking on the hard subjects with grace: Hungrytown is Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson. This husband-wife team tours all over the country in their Blue Meanie campervan delivering deft humor and superbly-crafted songs. The Bee-Line Ramblers, another fine duo, write and perform earnest songs with a harmonic energy and sincerity that just gets inside your skin. Si Kahn is a powerful songwriter, performer, teacher, and activist. Billy and I were moved to speak with him at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival in Vermont because of his union songs and his witness through music about the privatization of prisons. Jeni & Billy have some exciting events coming up in the next couple of weeks. This week we are playing two CD release concerts and we look very much forward to seeing all of our friends from these small hamlets: Thursday, September 11, 7 pm @ Bookshop by the Lakes in Seven Lakes, NC & Saturday, September 13, 7 pm @ The Friendly Chapel Church, Smith Ridge, VA On Monday, September 22, we will be joining Jim Lauderdale and Tim Eriksen in Atlanta to celebrate the release of “Help Me to Sing” a tribute to Sacred Harp Singing. There will be an in-store performance at Criminal Records followed by a concert at The Earl. We’ll finish up this month of touring in Ohio and Kentucky where we’ll present a new song celebrating our right to read during banned books week. “This World Ain’t My Home” is based on the frequently banned book “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Our website calendar has all of the details. We will be attending a slew of folk conferences this fall and early next year. So, please have a look at our calendar and let us know if you are interested in hosting us for a house concert while we are in your area or if there are any venues in your neck of the woods just perfect for us! We appreciate your e-mails and letters and look forward to being in touch! Love and Happiness from Jeni & Billy

Winners of the Champlain Valley Folk Festival Open Stage Contest!

We are pleased to announce our win at the Open Stage Hootenanny at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. We won with two songs from the new record "Miner's Reward" and "Oxycodone" and our duet arrangement of the traditional song "Pretty Fair Miss." Also winning were the husband and wife duo Dana & Susan Robinson of Asheville, NC. They great folks with songs that you'll love, especially the beautiful ballad "Spokane." We appeared on the main stage with the Robinsons on Sunday and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We made our way up to the festival to see our friends Hungrytown perform. This husband and wife duo's songs will be in your head long after you hear them. So, get ready to sing along. We're three weeks into our five week tour and looking forward to all that's coming ahead. Thanks to everyone who has come out to our gigs! Love and rainbows to you, Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy News Summer 2008!

Hello from Jeni & Billy! We are proud to announce that we have mastered our new record "Jewell Ridge Coal" and we are planning to release it in July. We are now working on shining up our packaging and getting everything just right so we can bring you something really special this summer. We are very grateful for all of the help and advice we had during the recording process from truly great musicians and producers Bil VornDick, Buddy Miller, Dirk Powell, Gary Paczosa, Jim Reilley and Randy Kohrs. We hope that you will look them up on their websites and support their work too! We were also blessed when recording Jewell Ridge Coal to have visits from several wonderful artists. Jim Lauderdale and Randy Kohrs both sing harmony. Shad Cobb of the John Cowan Band plays some great old-timey and country fiddle. And Kim Peery Sherman (one of the wonderful proprietresses of Cotten Music here in Nashville) sings gorgeous alto harmony and plays sweet guitar. We have just returned from the first leg of our summer tour and have a whole summer of touring planned. We are also working on dates for the early fall and the winter of 2009. So we hope that you'll check our calendar and come out and see us. We want to give some advance notice to all of the folks in the DC/Baltimore area who have been asking us when we're going to play up there again: We will be playing at the Columbia Lakefront on Sunday, July 27, from 6:30-8:30. We'll be recording the show live and we'll have the new CD with us, so we hope to see you there! Lastly, we are happy to announce our collaboration with Jim Lauderdale on a track for an upcoming tribute album of Sacred Harp music. The two CD set is a companion to a fine documentary film called "Awake, My Soul." You can learn more about the film at The CD is slated for release in the fall/early winter and will also include performances by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, John Paul Jones & Rayna Gellert (of Uncle Earl), Tim Erickson, the Innocence Mission, and many others. We are truly looking forward to sharing our music with you out on the road and on "Jewell Ridge Coal" and we hope to hear from you soon! Our best to all of you, Jeni & Billy

New year, New doings!

We hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start and that you all found true love for Valentine’s day! We have a lot of exciting news for this year. We are working again on our record. As you may remember, last February we recorded some tracks with Bil VornDick at Oceanway here in Nashville. Some of those tracks will be on our upcoming record, “Jewell Ridge Coal,” while others are in the works. If you’ve been following our news, you know that we went on a big summer tour of fiddler’s conventions last year. Well, when we got home, we were full of ideas for songs for the record and we wrote several new ones. So, we’re looking forward to sharing those with you all! We’ll be heading to a few fiddler’s conventions this summer as well as playing a concert at UNC-Asheville for the Bread Loaf School of English on July 1. We hope to see all of our Asheville friends there. We’re also playing our first Nashville concert at Norm’s River Road House on April 8. We are very excited because the venue is cozy and the sound is great. We’ll be adding dates as time goes on, so please check the website for all of the details and please come out! We’ve also been working with composer Stuart Saunders Smith on two New Music pieces which he wrote especially for us. These pieces are an attempt to bring Appalachian and New Music together and we are enjoying our work on them tremendously. There are plans in the works for us to perform them and our material too at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall or spring, so we’ll be looking forward to seeing our Baltimore community then. We’ve just had a visit from some really special folks, Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, the talented husband and wife duo Hungrytown. They have a new album out called Hungrytown and it’s full of great songwriting and musicianship. Their guests include The Virginia Ramblers and Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar of the Mammals. So please check them out at and read more about them on our links page. Also our good friend Jim Lauderdale just won a Grammy for his “Bluegrass Diaries” CD and is releasing a country CD this week called “Honey Songs.” His band is none other than The Dream Players, some of whom were Elvis band members, and there are guest vocals from the likes of Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless. Finally, we are really glad to offer you a listen to some early mixes of the tracks for our upcoming CD. If you listen to “Sweetness Keen as Pain” you’ll hear Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocals. We look forward to seeing you out and about this year and we appreciate all of the encouragement that everyone has sent our way regarding the record. As always your suggestions on venues are welcome and we would be pleased to do a house concert if anyone has some ideas. Our best to you, Jeni & Billy

Home Again! Jeni & Billy Music News, September 2007

Hello from Jeni & Billy! Well, we’re finally home in Nashville and staying put for a while after an eight week tour of fiddler’s conventions and festivals. Our journey began on the 30th of June as we left for Jewell Ridge to play at the Jewell Ridge 4th of July Festival and ended this past weekend as we did some song catching and banjo trading with banjoist and ballad singer George Gibson ( at the Kentucky Folklife Festival. You’ll find links to the fiddler’s conventions in the tour section of our website under “past dates.” We were proud to bring home three ribbons from the Johnson County Tennessee Old-time Music Festival in Guitar, Folk Song, and Duet Singing! ( We want to say a special thank you to all of the folks who welcomed us so warmly into the fiddler’s convention and festival fold this summer. We met some very fine musicians, some of whom have myspaces and websites and we hope that if you haven’t heard of these artists that you look them up and support their work: Matt Kinman ( ) is a former original member of the Old Crow Medicine Show. His repertoire consists largely of songs written before the 1930s. Though he is a brilliant old-time instrumentalist, he will part your hair with his otherworldly ballad singing numbers. The Old 78s ( were our favorite act at Merlefest and we had the happy chance to spend some time with them at Clifftop. They play classic parlor tunes on banjo -- imagine an Egyptian influenced piano number from the late 1800s adapted for three banjos -- very strange and mesmerizing. The Orpheus Supertones ( were one of our favorite contemporary old-time string bands -- not afraid to throw in a vocal number or swing tune. Now that we’re back in Nashville, we are getting into the record again, writing some new songs to fill out the album and looking forward to some more recording. We will be working with some special guests over the next few months and we look forward to releasing the record over the winter. We have a very special concert coming up next summer at the Bread Loaf School of English’s UNC-Ashville campus. We were invited by Professor John Elder ( of Middlebury College Vermont to add some live music to his course on Ballads. We will also be playing for the whole campus. We really love the idea of bringing old-time music and ballad singing into the classroom and we’d be glad to hear from any of you who might have a need for that. Finally, we have received several letters over the last year from fans who had hoped that we would be playing at one festival or another only to discover that we were there to enjoy the music or play informally. We wondered if any of you would consider writing a snail mail letter suggesting that the festival organizers book us and speaking briefly about what you like about our music. One of the festivals that we would most like to play is Bristol Rhythm & Roots ( which takes place in Bristol, TN/VA, during the third weekend of September every year. Now is the time when they begin pre-booking for next year and we would love to have your support! You can send letters to Leah Ross, Festival Director, P.O. Box 1927, Bristol, VA 24203. If you do decide to send in a letter, we would love to know what you said. We hope that you will go to our website and read more about our experiences this summer as we post them on the journal page or you can read about them on our MySpace blog. If you have MySpace, we’d love to have you as our friend. Happy Fall! Jeni & Billy


From everything we’d heard Clifftop is the Old-time experience not to be missed, so we decided to continue our travels by heading to West Virginia to experience the jamming, workshops, and contests. One of our favorite bands, Polecat Creek, won the Neo-Traditional band contest last year, so we thought we would give that a try. Also, the marvelous Lonesome Sisters were awarded the best original song ribbon. We enjoy entering the contests even if total newcomers rarely place, just because the preparation gets us very serious about our songs and we feel more a part of things. We were fortunate to have Matt Kinman join us on fiddle and we played “Land of the Pharaohs,” a song from our upcoming Jewell Ridge Coal CD. But this year’s awards went to big string bands with the top honor going to a group of very talented and politically outspoken youths. Though, we were made very happy by all of the folks who came out to hear us play and by the strangers who came up to us to say how much our song moved them. We were very happy to meet The Lonsesome Sisters at Clifftop as well as Rayna Gellert from Uncle Earl, all of whom were very down to earth and friendly. They performed together in the Neo-traditional band competition as well. There were a couple of celebrity sightings, with Mike Seeger, Carol Elizabeth Jones, and Tim O’Brien making appearances here and there. We also met banjo expert Bob Carlin, who gave an incredibly funny and informative showcase. We would highly recommend attending any Bob Carlin event, you will not be disappointed. One of the highlights of the festival was meeting Curly Miller and Carol Anne Rose from the Old 78s. We could hear their version of Swamp Cat Rag clear across Hobo holler in our Airstream. We were also very happy to see some folks who we seemed to have followed to all of the previous fiddlers conventions, Julie Shepherd, dancer and clawhammer banjoist, and her sweetheart, Adrian Powell, fiddler. These people are two very fine musicians and Julie is glad to pass on flatfooting steps. They will both be teaching at Appalshop’s Old-time String Band Day ( Of all the many splendored merchants at Clifftop our favorite was the guys from Old Groove, a graphic design company, who offered all sorts of wear to suit the old time fan. They are based out of Bel Air, Maryland, and are some of the nicest people you will meet. Our favorite activity was learning to flatfoot dance. Our teacher was Charlie Burton, a gentleman in his early eighties whose energy put us to shame. We were ready to fall over by the end of the hour workshop everyday and he looked like he was just getting started. But the lessons seem to have stuck to us, though it may be some years before we catch the hang of the Tennessee walking step. All in all we had a great time and the airstream held up very well in Hobo Holler down in the trees. We are really grateful to all of the folks who helped us to feel so welcome during our first year.

Morehead Old-Time Fiddler's Convention Morehead was the first stop in our non-stop tour of fiddler’s conventions that will keep us on the road in our Airstream for about four weeks. We were told about it by some folks we met at the Tazewell County Fiddler’s Convention, the Clack Mountain String Band ( Clack Mountain’s Brett & Jesse had a lot to do with organizing this very young festival. The music of George Gibson, a Kentucky native in his seventies who sustains the tradition of singing while playing banjo, moved us especially ( George has had a tremendous influence on the playing of Matt Kinman, the little hobo, a former member of the Old Crow Medicine Show and a well loved artist on the fiddler’s convention circuit ( We also met up with artist John Haywood, his wife Kelly and their daughter ( John’s depicts Appalachian scenes with a realism that will remind you of Thomas Hart Benton, but darkly. He is also one of the finest banjo players we’ve heard on our tour this far. The festival was very small, less than a hundred people, but that added to its beauty. The rain poured relentlessly on Friday night adding a music of its own and in lieu of stage lights the musicians strung Christmas lights around the inside of the tent. Add the music of Clack Mountain and the magic was complete.

Allegheny Fiddler's Convention, Sparta, NC We’ve just returned from the Allegheny Fiddler’s Convention in Sparta, NC, where we competed in the Folk Song and Guitar competitions. Many of these Fiddler’s Conventions include both Bluegrass and Old-time music. To Billy & I, Sparta had more of a Bluegrass leaning, though we heard some great Old-time played by Jim Lloyd of Rural Retreat, VA, and his band which also included one of the best harmonica players anywhere, Eddie Ogle. Both of these fine fellas can be found on recordings by Mountain Fling, John & Kathie Hollandsworth’s Old-time band. (John happens to be the maker of my Autoharp.) We also exchanged CDs with Elizabeth Laprelle ( ). Elizabeth is a young ballad singer who has a vast knowledge of the Ballad tradition and can be seen songcatching with her digital recorder at many local fiddler’s conventions. She has a new record out called “Lizard in the Spring.” This was our first experience with dry camping in our 16 foot Airstream Travel Trailer, Bambi, and it went super smoothly. We had a lot of curiosity over the trailer and gave quite a few tours. The organizers and festival workers who largely consisted of the local Firefighters were incredibly friendly and helpful. Everyone was so appreciative that we had come all the way from Nashville to compete, but where else could we meet a family from Norway in the competition line and join their old-time band on stage? On Sunday morning after the festival, Billy and I weren’t quite ready to go and decided to play a few tunes. Some Old-time musicians were taking a break from packing up and throwing a frisbee around. Every time we visited the porta-loo we had heard them playing with a fascinating meditative energy and we’d try to guess the tune. We never knew their names, just their sound. As we played our song “While I Stay at Home and Weep” and moved into the harmony singing of the second chorus they began to move away from their game, their hands slack at their sides. They moved in a little closer as we continued to play and as we finished, we heard their applause -- a sound which lifted us all the way home to Nashville.

Jeni & Billy Music News, July 2007

Hello out there! Well, we had a great time up on Jewell Ridge for the 4th of July. One thing that made it better than last year was that it didn’t rain. That was a lovely start. We’re writing to let you know that this August we will be entering the Folk Song Competition at the Galax Fiddler’s Convention performing that perennial Carter family favorite about a pretty girl who will not marry the boy who is mooning over her, “Lulu Wall.” We will also be attending our first Clifftop Festival, We are hoping to find a couple of other musicians there and enter the Neo-traditional Band contest. Last year’s winner was Polecat Creek, a favorite band of Jeni’s. You can learn more about them on our Links page at and at We have been inspired to pursue this sort of touring by our recent success at the Tazewell Old-time and Bluegrass Fiddler’s Convention this past weekend. We won fifth place for Old-Time Band and Billy won second place in the guitar competition! We were very excited about Billy’s win because we played one of our original compositions and Jeni backed him up on Autoharp. So, as entrants we were a bit atypical, but the judges seemed to like it! We’re heading to the Allegheny County Fiddler’s Convention in Sparta, NC, this weekend to compete in the Guitar and Folk Song contests. We hope to see lots of you there! We are also planning to compete in contests at the Fries Fiddler’s convention in Grayson County in mid-August. Please check our website for more details. We would really encourage you to come and see what these Conventions are all about. We met so many nice people and felt tremendously encouraged by our experience in Tazewell. If you visit the website, and we hope you do, you might notice a different look to it. We’ve been doing a little updating as part of getting ready to release our new record, “Jewell Ridge Coal.” We’ve started calling our music “New-Old Music” because truly our music is about writing new songs that make a sincere connection with old sounds, words, and rhythms. Once again, we want to invite you to respond with any thoughts you might have on venues in your area that might be interested in our act. We were very happy to hear from those of you who responded to the last newsletter. We also hope that those of you with some size to your houses and an inclination to be hosts would consider having us for a house concert over the winter months or next spring. We continue to work on the record little by little. We will be getting back into mixing mode full time in September and October. We just couldn’t resist a little travel and the thrill of sharing our music at these festivals this summer. So keep your fingers crossed for us. Love and Happiness to you all, Jeni & Billy

Out of the Woodwork!

Hello wonderful folks out there in the world! It's been a while since we've sent news out into the world and we'd like to catch you up on what we've been up to. Last year we moved on down to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue our Grand Ole Opry Dreams. Longtime Billy Kemp fans will remember his stint on the Opry with Jeanne Pruett, but we are determined to be up on that stage as a duo one day. We love Nashville and spend a lot of time at The Country Music Hall of Fame. We are also very thankful for our new friends here. We are especially glad to have found a friend in Jim Lauderdale. If you don't know Jim's music, we would highly recommend that you make a beeline to your favorite physical or virtual record emporium to pick up one of his CDs. He has written with Greatful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and also recorded two albums with Dr. Ralph Stanley. He recently released two new CDs and one of them, "Bluegrass", was nominated for a Grammy. You can find Jim at After much rehearsing and arranging we recorded fifteen tracks at Ocean Way Nashville. At the helm was Bil VornDick, a well respected engineer and producer, who has worked with so many amazing artists, including Dr. Ralph, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, and Allison Krauss. We recorded live in the studio in order to bring you all a sound that would be very much like us sitting down and playing in your living room. We have been working on the packaging with our favorite designer, Jeni's Dad, Greg Hankins, who helped us so much with "Sweet & Toxic." Right now we are in the beginning of our mixing process and we'll be recording some additional tracks and overdubs during the next month or so. If all goes as planned we're hoping to bring you the new recording in the fall. As you might have noticed, we haven't been playing out much since our move and since we started work on the record last fall. We do have a concert this July 4th in Jewell Ridge, VA. And we hope that any of you that live near enough will make it down there. They have one of the best fireworks displays in Virginia. Also, we wanted to let you know that we are now on MySpace and would be glad to add you as friends. So please friend us at On a final note, we are hoping to start touring this coming fall and all of next year, so we would appreciate any tips that any of you might have on venues in your area that would suit our music. And if you're feeling like playing host, we would be glad to consider any house concert ideas you might have. As always we are so glad to have you as fans and we are wishing you our best. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we finish this record. Love and happiness to you all, Jeni & Billy

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion!

This past weekend Billy & I had the great pleasure of attending the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, TN/VA. Bristol is considered by many to be the birthplace of Country Music because of the historic recordings made there in 1927 by Ralph Peer. Especially notable among the musical acts were the Carter Family & Jimmy Rodgers. So, Bristol seems like the ideal place to bring together so many of the musical traditions brought under the loose category of Country. We were particularly thrilled by The Little Country Giants, an old-time band that combines poetic lyrics with relaxed melodic playing and male/female vocals. Joseph Evans, the spokesman for the group, is a wonderful guitar player with a polite and easygoing Calhoun, Georgia southern manner. One of their best songs is "Breaking Hearts and Living Free," also quite spooky and surprising is the murder ballad "Come Go With Me." We also enjoyed the Foghorn String Band from Portland, Oregon, a five man group that played and sang many of the old traditional fiddle tunes, including some Carter Family numbers, with great energy and sincerity. The Seldom Scene, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, and The Del McCoury Band were all in stellar form. We were particularly honored at Bristol this year to share the stage with Jim Lauderdale on Saturday night. He asked us to join him for "I Shouldn’t Want You So Bad," a great new song from one of his two new albums on Yep-Roc records. Jim is our Americana hero and we feel so fortunate to have been in his company at the festival. You can see the photos from our guest appearance on our photos page!

Rainy 4th

Hello from Jeni & Billy! We've just returned from a rainy, but happy, 4th of July in Jewell Ridge, VA, and over the next couple of months we'll be writing and rehearsing as we prepare to record our new CD. In the meantime we wanted to let you all know that our EP, "Sweet and Toxic," is for sale now at! Here's the direct link: So, please stop by and check it out. There are also some new photos on the website of our various performances in DC, VA and NC. Jeni saw a performance of the all female string band Uncle Earl in late June at the Station Inn in Nashville and talks about her experience of old-timeyness in our latest journal entry. If you have a chance to see Uncle Earl, don't miss them, they are good, good, good. and We also wanted to let folks know that we're available and enthusiastic to do house concerts in the fall and we are happy to have the chance to travel and see new parts of the country. So, consider visiting and dropping us a line. If you're not sure what a house concert is, but you're intrigued please go to to learn more. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, it's just a chance to have us to yourself and to share our music with your friends and acquaintances. If you know of someone who does house concerts in your area and you think they would be interested in having us then let us know and we'll send them a CD. If your local coffee house also does music then let us know and we'll get in touch with them too. We always love to hear from friends and fans. Thanks to all of you who have written us since the last newsletter. Love and Happiness to you all, Jeni & Billy

Uncle Earl

Last week while Billy was taking care of some business up in Baltimore I had the good fortune to see the all female old-time string band Uncle Earl at the Station Inn in Nashville. None of these women come from Appalachia (though Rayna Gellart on fiddle comes close being from Asheville and K.C. Groves on mandolin has family in West Virginia), but they have mined the past to create a music that Abigail Washburn called American Traditional Music from the stage and you pay no mind to where they're from because you know that they’re just from someplace old. They’re like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or Old Crow Medicine Show, it’s not where they’re from, it’s when they’re from. I’m thinking on this for two reasons: One is that I read in an article sometime back that in their early days in the public eye some folks gave Gill and Dave a hard time for singing “Appalachian” music since she’s a Californian and he’s from Rhode Island (I think!). Folks challenged their authenticity and wondered if they’re old-timeyness was just an act. They can write songs like “By the Mark,” but were they Christians? Gill’s answer, if I can remember, was something like you can’t write and sing a song like that and not mean it. I’m also thinking about this idea of old-timeyness in a person’s soul and where it comes from because I do come from Appalachia and folks often respond quite enthusiastically to that and, beyond that, they occasionally bestow on me a certain authenticity which I am grateful for and hope I own, but which is truly available to and alive in many brilliant musicians who are not from Appalachia. Our own Billy Kemp, though from the great city of Baltimore, mines this old-timeyness when singing harmony on “The Dominecker Hen” or picking up the banjo for “Hard-bitten.” He brings to those moments every Carter Family song he’s heard and every bit of them that’s in Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson. He brings Bob Dylan and all the Woody Guthrie in Bob Dylan and all the old melodies Woody mined from times and people before him. I am so thankful for groups like the Virginia Tourism Board who have put together a beautiful brochure called “The Crooked Road” which maps out the musical heritage of the Southwest Virginia region from where I hail. And I am especially thankful for artists like Ralph Stanley and Wayne Henderson who represent our home with such grace and authenticity. And Billy and I aim to get the Tourism Board to rewrite their brochure and get Tazwell County and Jewell Ridge out of the gray area and into the blue “must-see” area. But I am also aware of and thankful for spiritus mundi and the fertile valleys and the dark caves of our shared American past that allows the moving, authentic, honest, and achingly old music of non-Appalachian folks like Uncle Earl to happen. These women moved together on stage with such kindness toward the audience and each other. They were generous in their laughter and storytelling. They were friendly and welcoming to meet in person. And I didn’t for a minute question their conviction or their authenticity, I just felt at home.

CD Release Parties!

Howdy Everyone from Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp! We are so happy to announce that our first EP, "Sweet & Toxic," has arrived from the wonderful folks at Oasis and we're having a whole bunch of CD release parties to celebrate! All of the details can be found on our website at! Our first party is on Sunday, March 12, at the WestSide Cafe in Frederick, MD, from 3-7 pm. The WestSide has incredible food and is a lovely room. We'll be setting up our parlor complete with rug and pump organ again, so come and enjoy some traditional country and old-timey music with us. A special Sweet & Toxic dessert will be available. We'll have plenty copies of the new record on hand for $10 each. Our second party is on Saturday, March 18, at the Friendly Chapel Church in Jewell Ridge, VA, starting at 7 pm. We'll be singing all of the Jewell Ridge songs as well as our new material and a few gospel numbers. The ladies of the church will provide refreshments. Our third party takes us down to North Carolina to our favorite little venue, Medleyanna's Antique Store in West End. We'll be singing and smiling from 4-6 pm. So come along and smile with us. "Sweet & Toxic" will be available from CD baby,, and Itunes in the coming month and we'll keep you posted on that development. Right now you can buy our record at shows and at the Bookshop by the Lakes in Seven Lakes, NC. You can hear clips from "Sweet & Toxic" on the web at! We're looking forward to seeing everyone starting on March 12 at the WestSide Cafe. Our best to you all, Jeni & Billy

Happy Holidays!

Hello all, Billy Kemp and I have two performances coming up in the next little bit. First, we’ll be playing an hour long set at Red Rocks Cafe and Tequila Bar during Ron Goad’s SAW Showcase this Saturday, Dec. 17, from 8:30 - 9:30. Then, next week we’ll be ushering in the Christmas holiday on Friday, Dec. 23, from 9-11 pm at The WestSide Cafe in Frederick, MD. Thanks to all of the folks down in North Carolina who came out to Medleyanna’s to hear Billy and I play with Greg Hankins. Dad sure does make that harmonica sound sweet. We hope to be back at Medleyanna’s in February or early March. Billy and I were especially glad to talk with you all and hear how much you like our new duo. You might have noticed some changes to the website if you visited since this past Sunday. A few weeks ago when I was in my old neighborhood and told a neighbor who had been out of town that I’d moved he said the one thing that you can depend on is that things change. After a lot of reflection on our musical futures Billy & I have decided that we’re meant to be a duo. So we’re working on an EP to come out in February of 2006 and we’ll be working on a full length CD over the next year. I expect this will have some Jewell Ridge Girl fans and some Willbilly fans scratching their heads, but we hope that the new music we create together will make our old listeners just as happy as it makes us. Something is beckoning to us from the voices of the Carter family and from the spirits of June Carter and Johnny Cash and we know better than to ignore it. So we hope you will wish us well! All our best to you this holiday! Jeni & Billy

Aunt Nannie and Uncle Charlie, Fierce Love up on Jewell Ridge

In my biography on this website I talk about the stronger and sometimes meaner love that I experienced growing up in the summers on Jewell Ridge. Now my MawMaws loved me more than breath itself and if I got the littlest cut or a bee sting they would always coo over me and fix me right up with some ice cream or cornbread and milk. But there have been some rough times between the men and women of our family and our blood seems to run hot when it comes to love. There’s a streak of possessiveness and of violent attachments that comes straight from our Scottish borders ancestry. Lately I’ve been writing a lot of songs about love, unabashed hopes, broken hearts, escape fantasies and complications that ensue when sparks fly. I wrote this poem a year or so ago about my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Nannie and I think it truly captures what I’m getting at when I say the love up on Jewell Ridge can sometimes be meaner. (Just a note for those interested, the form of this poem is a Sestina which is an ancient poetic form that involves repeating five words in a different order at the end of each line in each stanza. In this poem the repeated words are time, house, gun, still, rough and devil.) The Devil and Aunt Nannie Old Mister Kyle said they was a pretty rough bunch. Too much getting liquored up and packing guns when calling on kin. Could be, keeping that still under the thicket in the woods out back of the house proved too much a temptation in fallow times between slaving for the coal company, Devil take ‘um, and churchgoing. Now the Devil’s what got into Uncle Charley, who was rough on PawPaw’s sister, Aunt Nannie, even when times was good. But times was not good. And Charley had begun to measure his days by pacing round their house with a jar of shine and then getting real still and spooked. Aunt Nannie just kept on -- still hanging the wash and praying to the Lord to keep that devil’s hands off her. Amen. But from inside the house, he hollered for her, “I swear Nan, I won’t be rough with you. I just wanna kiss you. I ain’t gunna hurt you.” But Aunt Nannie had given in to his talk times before and had the scars to prove it. And this time she dropped the washing and took off running, still looking behind her for any sign of Charley and his gun. She hid out at Aunt Sarah’s for three days before that devil Charley got wind of it. Then, he cooled his rough throat with the shine, grabbed his gun, gave his house a mean look, and took off over to Sarah’s house. Nannie was inside cooking and about that time Sarah came up outta the garden, her hands rough from digging potatoes, which hung in her apron. Real still- like, Charley aimed his gun through the fence and that devil shot her in the stomach and the potatoes had begun to roll from her apron before she fell. Charley took his gun and ran off and hid in back of the old outhouse behind PawPaw’s. And he knew that the Devil was in him. And he prayed over all the times that he had strayed from the path of righteousness. Still he could not make his sin come clean. He felt his rough finger on the trigger and turned the gun on himself. It weren’t much time before they found him in back of the outhouse and, as he lay there still, Nannie shook that devil and pressed her face to his hand, bloody and rough. © Jeni Hankins, 2003

The Friendly Chapel Church

A couple of weeks ago I was down in North Carolina playing a few gigs with my dad and we had a couple of free days and decided to go visit my Mawmaw on Smith Ridge. I wanted to look through my Great grandmother’s photograph box for cover art for the CD and my cousin was playing bass with a local bluegrass band called Pack ‘n the Grass up at festival at Southwest Virginia Community College. So we headed on up to the vicinity of Jewell Ridge and took the familiar brown sugar road that wound like world’s longest snake up Smith Ridge to Mawmaw’s house. Mawmaw’s church, and mine too for a good part of my life, is about sixty feet from her front door. In fact, growing up I never really thought of her house and the church as two separate places. The same people, food, and taste in decor down to the wood paneling and carpets could be found at Mawmaw’s and the Friendly Chapel. No one spoke in tongues at Mawmaw’s house and there wasn’t as much crying, but that marked about the only difference. As it happened, Dad and I ended up there on quilting night where a group of men and women from the congregation make quilts to raise money for Friendly projects. But the quilts and the projects aren’t quite what you would expect. The words “quilting bee” often conjure images of little old ladies bending over floral fabrics. But right now their most popular quilts are emblazoned with the Harley Davidson eagle or a big #8 for Dale Earnhardt Jr and one of the ladies quilting them is a semipro bowler. The money they makes goes to things like paving the Church parking lot and redoing the Ladies bathroom, but some of it went to buy the minister of music new teeth. It was a hot night and Dad and I thought we’d take our guitars, banjos and harmonicas out and play some old songs for them. We did “Sunshine in the Shadows” and “Are You Washed in the Blood?” That kind of thing. But then my Aunt Princess said, “Sing that song you wrote about the penitent woman.” Now, it turns out that she meant “10th Street Rose,” a song I wrote about a prostitute who is reflecting on her life and vocation and considering a life in Christ. Apparently, this is Mawmaw and Aunt Princess’s favorite song off the website. This just goes to show how it’s no good to go making assumptions about the hearts and minds of other folks because they’re always going to give you a shock. I thought I was going to have to sort of hide this song from them like a scandal. Turns out that for them this song meant that all the Vacation Bible school and Sunday school they sent me to sank in, that I knew my Bible, and that even though I grew up in big cities all over the U.S. and lived in Paris and sent postcards from Tokyo, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree and I was still their Jewell Ridge Girl.

Baptism at Merlefest

_______________________ I always look forward to this time of year because of Merlefest. Merlefest is an Americana music festival which takes place in North Wilkesboro, NC, the last weekend of April every year. Two years ago my Dad and I went to Merlefest and I came home with new ears. When my Mawmaw talks of being born again, I think of the way I felt after my first Merlefest. Though I grew up around primitive hymn singing and country music, the old-time sounds that came to me at Merlefest swept through me like a new religion. Sometimes you have to be ready to receive certain gifts and two Aprils ago I was ready. I had a new guitar and I was writing songs and listening to a lot of Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris. I was also writing a lot of narrative poetry from old family stories that my Mawmaw passed down to me. Just before Merlefest I had written what I considered to be my first really old sounding tune, Up On Middle Creek. This song felt more like home to me than any other I had written before because it told the story of my Great Granddad Babe in a plaintive but raw way. Still I couldn’t quite imagine a place where my new song would fit in. At Merlefest I found the answer. In the Traditional tent Dad and I heard the singing of Kari Sickenberger and Laurelyn Dossett, two women who make up the North Carolina based duo Polecat Creek. These women sang with conviction and honesty. Their voices were beyond pretty, their voices were innervating. Hearing them made me feel like life just started over and I should jump up and shout about it, but instead I was glued to my seat. Their voices just seemed to climb up and down all over each other and then they would meet for an eerie moment. All this was happening, but it didn’t seem like a fancy trick or choral acrobatics. They just gave the song what it wanted. And then I came to find out that those old songs they were singing were new songs they wrote. Without knowing it these women became my mentors and their songs, like those of Gillian Welch and, later, Martha Scanlan, became the bar which I set my songs against. Merlefest is a hotbed for a lot of different talent. There are bluegrass all-stars who will pick a mandolin so fast and clean it’s like a drill in your head. And there are tribe bands that will skillfully and subtly send you into a Sufi-like trance. But I go to Merlefest for the songwriting – for an immersion education in story and melody. Two years ago I was baptized in Polecat Creek. It’s time to get my feet wet again.

Resources for John Elder's Ballad Class Summer 2008!

"Blood on the Stone" Imagery & Themes: Inspired by the Robert frost poem "Out, Out –" and the song "The Blood of the Old Red Rooster" sung by Irmadene Finch (see "The Dominecker Hen" for full details) Melody/Rhythm: "Little Margaret" Child Ballad #74 (also know as "Fair Margaret and Sweet William") as learned from Sheila Kay Adams "The Hoot Owl" Imagery & Themes: Backstory: "The Butcher's Boy" by The Ludlows on Irish Folk Legends released by Ceol Music (Dublin, Ireland) "The Snow Dove" by Jake & Sarah Owen on their self titled album released by Yodel-ay-hee "I Wish My Baby Was Born" by Tim Erikson, Riley Baugus & Tim O'Brien on Cold Mountain released by Sony Omens: Lucky and Unlucky Birds "The Dominecker Hen" Imagery & Themes: Wisconsin Death Trip (book by Michael Lesy & film) Omens: Lucky and Unlucky Birds: "The Blood of the Old Red Rooster" sung by Irmadene Finch, twelve years old, of Miller, Arkansas, recorded 6/25/1953: from the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection Melody: "I Saw A Man at the Close of Day" performed by The Dry Branch Fire Squad on Hand Hewn also performed by Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley This song is also know as "Drunkard's Doom" and is very old and is included in: "Traditional Texts and Tunes" Albert H. Tolman and Mary O. Eddy The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 35, No. 138 (Oct. - Dec., 1922), pp. 335-432 (article consists of 98 pages) Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of American Folklore Society and can be accessed on JSTOR at "Miner's Reward" Imagery & Themes: Harlan County USA a documentary film about the Unionization of Harlan County, KY, by Barbara Kopple Melody: "Forty-two Years" by Nimrod Workman in Harlan County USA "Oxycodone" Imagery & Themes: "A Dark Addiction" by Nick Miroff of the Washington Post, January 13, 2008 Speech introducing John Edwards by a member of the United Steelworkers Union at the United Steelworkers Hall, Nashville, TN, January, 28, 2008 "If you go along to get along . . . " Concept: Woody Guthrie's "Philadelphia Lawyer" or "1913 Massacre" or any of his songs written directly from the news of the day. Going Further in the Tradition Additional Song: "Pretty Fair Miss" (learned from Sheila Kay Adams with additional lyrics by Jeni & Billy) Listening Suggestions: Mountain Music of Kentucky High Atmosphere Anthology of American Folk Music (the Grandaddy of all "folk" collections) Artists in the Tradition: Sheila Kay Adams Ginny Hawker (in particular, Letters From my Father) Elizabeth Laprelle Sasha Colette ( Ralph Stanley Dry Branch Fire Squad Dirk Powell Riley Baugus Songwriters with Respect for the Tradition: Gillian Welch The Lonesome Sisters Jim Lauderdale Polecat Creek (especially their first record) Martha Scanlan Hungrytown

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