Diligent country duo HanaLena performs at Ridgeland’s Smokin’ on the Rez Barbecue and Music Festival Saturday, Oct. 25.
Sisters Hannah and Caroline Melby of the country-bluegrass duo HanaLena (formerly known as Nash Street) are two of the busiest young performers from Mississippi. Originally from Starkville, these authors, songwriters and cross-country travelers have lived in Nashville since 2010, but they regularly perform in the Jackson area for events such as the Smokin' on the Rez Barbecue and Music Festival, Oct. 25.
While performing keeps HanaLena on the road, Hannah sounds perky and enthusiastic even after waking up at 4 a.m. and traveling to Jackson for a morning TV show. The sisters were heading to a book-signing event at Lemuria Books that afternoon.
"Yeah, it's just part of it. We're always going somewhere. You get used to it," she says.
The Lemuria stop included a performance to promote their first book, "Recipes and Road Stories" (Sartoris Literary Group, 2014, $19.95), during the publisher's second annual book and music festival. The book includes recipes from HanaLena's musical comrades, including Grammy winner Rhonda Vincent and celebrated bluegrass vocalist Claire Lynch.
"When you're on the road, you have to get a little creative with what you're eating because you're always on the go, but you still want to eat good," Hannah says.
"My favorite recipe is the muscadine cobbler. It's just so unusual."
In perfectly southern fashion, the Melby sisters inherited their musical inclination from a long tradition of family bands. Hannah was in second grade when she saw a fiddle for the first time at her grandmother's house.
"It was just sitting there on the mantel," she says. "Turns out my great-grandfather played in an old-time fiddle group with his family in Ethel, Mississippi." The family's eight siblings performed together for square dances and hoedowns throughout Attala County in central Mississippi.
It wasn't until Norman Mellin entered the scene that Hannah began to hone her craft. Mellin, a string instructor from Pennsylvania, came to Mississippi to research old-time fiddlers and began teaching in the Starkville Public School District. When he formed a band with his students, young Hannah joined on the fiddle. Mellin named the band The Goat Ropers, after a group of famous fiddlers who went by the same name. Caroline began taking piano lessons in second grade. When she was in the fifth grade, she also picked up the mandolin, and joined The Goat Ropers about a year later. The sisters have been playing together ever since.
Hannah, 29, says that although she and Caroline, 24, don't live in the state anymore, playing for a Mississippi crowd is always special to them. Hannah says there's a sort of magic when performing in such a creative area.
"It's so cool knowing that you're in the birth place of the blues—so much great stuff," she says.
HanaLena performs with LoCash Cowboys at the Smokin' on the Rez Barbecue and Music Festival at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, at Old Trace Park (Post Road, Ridgeland). Mr. Sipp the Mississippi Blues Child performs at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24. For more information, visit barnettreservoirfoundation.org and nashstreet.com.