January 24, 2013 9:53:05 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah and Caroline Melby cut their musical teeth on stages throughout the Golden Triangle, honing their old-time, folk and bluegrass chops on fiddle and mandolin in front of neighbors -- the same neighbors who wished them well when the siblings moved to Nashville, Tenn., after their band, Nash Street, won the 2008 Colgate Country Showdown in the famed Ryman Auditorium.
Five years and countless tour miles later, the Melbys are turning a page in their musical career. On Sunday, they return to their hometown of Starkville to debut a new name -- HanaLena -- new band, new EP and a redefined sound. The 5 p.m. benefit event at the First United Methodist Church Christian Life Center has been dubbed a HanaLena Homecoming.
"Starkville is where we got our start, and it will always be our home," said Hannah Melby Tuesday, by phone from Nashville. "This will be our first show as HanaLena back home. It's a way to say thank you."
In keeping with Nash Street's tradition of performing a benefit in their hometown each time they recorded a CD, proceeds from HanaLena's one-hour show Sunday will support the FUMC youth choir, The Messengers, as well as the Methodist Children's Home in Jackson. The youth choir, which Caroline once sang in, is raising funds to donate equipment for the Children's Home gymnasium.
What's in a name?
For the Melbys, roots run deep. When Nash Street formed in 1996, the group took its name from the Starkville street the sisters grew up on, and where their parents, Pete and Cindy Melby, still live. As the band evolved and the sister duo moved to center stage, it was time for a new name. The girls once again tapped into childhood memories for inspiration.
As very young entrepreneurs, the siblings had combined a name and a nickname to come up with The HanaLena Flower Co. as the name of their first business, a cut flower and delivery service to local restaurants and customers. They resurrected HanaLena for their new music industry moniker before recently recording a self-titled, five-song EP with Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer Bill Vorndick in Nashville. The disc is available at The Book Mart and Café in Starkville and on iTunes. The single "Kiss Me in Mississippi" is available via free download at hanalena.com.
On the horizon
As 2013 begins, the siblings' main focus is on songwriting, touring and recording.
"Our sound has progressed a little bit more, maybe a little more pop-acoustic," explained Caroline Melby, 23. "It's not drastic, just a little more edgy and updated."
Work has begun on new original songs the sisters composed, but their appetites are whetted, too, by music written for them.
"Our producer is showing us music that people have pitched to him for us," said Hannah Melby, 27. "That's exciting, hearing songs other people have written for us."
In the summer of 2012, the pair toured 11 states in two months; they are eager to get back on the road.
"We got used to that, and we're ready to get out there and beat the pavement," said Hannah, noting that the band's spring tour begins this weekend.
Sunday's show with full band will feature a "hometown special" -- a combined number from the new EP with the FUMC youth choir.
"I can't wait for them to sing 'Picket Fences' with us," Hannah Melby stressed. "We didn't have a youth choir at the church when I was growing up, although Caroline got to sing with them one year after it was formed. To see people I baby-sat and Caroline went to school with will give it a real community feel, with friends, family and familiar faces."
How to go
Advance tickets for the HanaLena Homecoming benefit performance are $7 at First United Methodist Church at 200 W. Lampkin St. in Starkville, 662-323-7382 or 662-323-5722. Tickets at the door are $10.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.