There is a place in Vinton every Monday afternoon where you can put aside the worries of the world for a couple of hours and immerse yourself in some great gospel and classic country music— either singing, strumming or drumming along, or just listening.
All are welcome at the Music Jam at the Charles R. Hill Senior Center on the Vinton War Memorial campus. The atmosphere and music vary from relaxing to a rollicking good time that “gets your blood flowing.”
The starting time is officially 3:30, but it’s good to get there earlier as they start playing as soon as enough musicians show up to form the basics of a group.
The Music Jam got its start at the Senior Center in 2014 with a handful of local musicians who just wanted to get together and play on an informal basis. They had been meeting in the café area at the Charity Thrift Cottage in downtown Vinton, but with the construction of the new library they lost their parking across the street and began scouting around for a new location. Mary Beth Layman, Special Programs Director in Vinton, listened to their music, and invited them to use the Senior Center each week.
The group has tripled or even quadrupled in size from those beginnings. There were about 40 musicians and their audience on a recent Monday afternoon. They bring their instruments and equipment, or just their voices, and form a circle that continues to expand as the afternoon progresses.
The group has several enthusiastic regulars including Betty Shepherd, Richard Stanley, Norris Bramlett, Johnny Webb, John Womble, Joe Parrish, Doug Callahan, Dean Shell, Charles and Dottie Dailey, John Harmon, Don Meadows, Bobby Dill, and Penny Hill with newcomers each week. Several of the players socialize at McDonald’s for breakfast and spread the word about the Music Jam there.
They come from Vinton and all around the area— from Moneta, Roanoke, Bedford, Franklin County, and Wirtz. Many are retired, but some are still employed and come after work as their schedules permit. The occasional teenage musician shows up.
They say for the most part they are not professionals, although a few like Bobby Dill are well-known local performers, and just enjoy getting together and playing music—especially in a comfortable environment which features plenty of parking. The motto painted on the wall says, “Celebrate Life, Laughter, Love,” and they do.
The players arrange their seats in the circle with music stands and notebooks/folders of music arranged in front. Their custom is to go around the circle with each musician choosing a favorite song, which the group joins in to perform. The mike gets passed to the next musician who makes another selection. The chosen chord or key is usually announced. The lead changes in different songs— usually whoever chooses the song sings lead.
It’s not necessary to be able to read music to participate. Many play by ear. There are lots of handwritten lyrics and pages with chords, more so than sheet music.
Shepherd plays guitar and sings, as does Stanley. Some in the circle do vocals; some sing and also play a variety of instruments including guitars, bass, banjos, dobro, and drums. Womble plays a wooden box drum that he built; Bramlett assembled a set of drums from various sizes of tin cans.
Shepherd said she played guitar when she was 15 years old, but her instrument had been in the closet for quite a while before she met up with the group. Stanley has been playing since he was a youngster and plays by ear.
On February 26 the songs included “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” “There’s a Horse in the Stable Where My Horse Used to Be,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Pretty Woman,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “When I Get to Glory I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “The Wabash Cannonball,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Stand by Me,” and “This Old House,” to name but a few. The selections change each week.
The music was continuous for over two hours as the mike was passed. Occasionally, there was a duet across the circle. They played Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and other country standards.
Once in a while dancing breaks out, including some flatfooting by Don Meadows in the center of the circle or Don dancing with his wife Becky to “I Could Waltz Across Texas With You.”
Shepherd says the Music Jam musicians are a dedicated group; she herself would “not miss a session for the world.”
During the recent cold snap, she was sure no one would show up to play, but “everyone came.” In fact, one time when the Senior Center (which is owned by the Town of Vinton) was closed for one reason or another, they set up in the parking lot and played anyway.
The Music Jam welcomes an audience and new musicians. All experience levels are invited. The more accomplished musicians are willing to help newcomers along. There is good fellowship, and an opportunity just to get out of the house and socialize with some jovial and good-hearted people who have never met a stranger.
Shepherd says they have developed a following. There are spouses, friends, and grandchildren in the audience. Those who attend chip in for coffee and snacks.
The group has been invited to be part of the entertainment at the always popular Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce Senior Expo on March 27 at the War Memorial.
More information is available by calling Richard Stanley at 344-5705 or Mary Beth Layman at 983-0613. The Music Jam schedule is posted on the Town of Vinton website calendar at www.vintonva.gov.