A night of African rhythms and melodies at In Your Ear

Read about Crocodile River Music visiting Richmond area schools »

The first thing Crocodile River Music wanted to do when they arrived in RVA was go to bed. Understandable since they had driven overnight from New England and arrived here around 7:30 AM. Our partners at The Graduate Hotel graciously welcomed them and a good rest was had by all. A good thing considering how the rest of their Wednesday was shaping up.

Mid-afternoon the band put on an inspiring set at St. Andrew’s School before heading to Studio A at In Your Ear. Greeting the band was the best message a band can see, taped to the front door, “Sold Out”, which the band loved so much they took a photo of it.

After a vegan and vegetarian heavy potluck buffet, truly as diverse as the music that was to follow, the 80 or so in attendance were musically transported to what many consider the root country of all modern music – Africa. Lead by Balafon master Balla Kouyate and Djembe master drummer Issa Coulibaly, they wove the sounds of steel drum and electric guitar with their own instruments to create a sound that was at once unique yet familiar. Guitarist Luke Okerlund often invoked a sound familiar to many in the audience – Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

The group’s percussionist and spokesman Zach Combs helped interpret the sounds and mission of the band. Dovetailing perfectly with JAMinc’s mission to bring world class music to our schools, Issa and Noah talked about the more than 260,000 students they have played before and their belief in the continued importance to keep both music and the arts in schools.

The evening ended with a first-ever (for JAMinc shows) dance party with many simply not being able to contain their need to get up and dance to the band’s rhythmic beats. To say it was a boundary expanding experience is truly an understatement.

About Crocodile River Music

In support of Black History Month, JAMinc is proud to present an evening with Crocodile River Music on Wednesday, February 26 at In Your Ear Studios. Zach Combs, its Director, fell in love with the rich and diverse culture of West Africa while in Mali on a Watson Fellowship. Deeply inspired by his journey, Zach founded Crocodile River Music in 2011 to provide opportunities for both emerging and established artists from Africa and evoke new ways of cultural thinking.

As word about the mission of Crocodile River Music spread, requests poured in to expand into schools and community groups. In response to this demand, Crocodile River Music launched African Arts in Education, a fiscally sponsored project created to bring African music, art, and dance education directly to schools.  Featuring Mali’s balafon legend Balla Kouate, a former Richmond Folk Festival performer and currently touring with Yo-Yo Ma, Crocodile River Music promises to fill Studio A with an irresistible taste of this rich tradition.

Meet the team at crocodilerivermusic.com »

JAMinc is excited to announce the first In Your Ear Concert of the new decade!

After a long, straight-through 12 hour drive from Nashville, The Golden Age was greeted by a sold out and enthusiastic audience at In Your Ear’s Studio A. The night was one of the few times the relatively new band had played before a live studio audience as they have been concentrating on producing their first album and shooting a handful of videos. The band slowly warmed up to the live studio gig and by the second set had truly hit their collective stride.

JAMinc president Tim Timberlake probably said it best: “It’s thrilling to have high expectations exceeded and that happened emphatically tonight as The Golden Age took us on a wild and riveting ride through the wonderland of Bryan Simpson’s imagination. His story-song ‘Born Lonesome’ hooked me on his band Cadillac Sky more than a decade ago, and tonight proved that he’s still one of the most compelling lyricists in any genre. Matt Menefee’s breathtaking banjo aerobatics and Geoff Saunders’ imaginative bass lines sealed the deal, with significant support from our front of house sound wizard Matthew Walsh. The decade is off to a good start at In Your Ear.”

Those sentiments were echoed by several comments from the audience who noted the band’s pure and exceptional musicianship. During the first set, Bryan talked about “being trotted out at family gatherings, when only 12, to play and entertain in the living room.” To that point, one attendee remarked, at the end of the show, that it really was like sitting in a living room watching “talented relatives” play music, have fun and just be totally entertaining.

If there was any downside to the evening it was that the band barely got to partake of the pre-show potluck buffet although Bryan did comment, “Whoever brought the garlic bread…Thank you! I only got one slice but it was really tasty.” Not to worry as the band, IYE’s owner Carlos Chaffin, Matthew and local blues player Elizabeth Wise took the band out for a late dinner in Churchill. The perfect end to an epic start for the new decade.

Photos by Charlie Reilly

Check out The Golden Age’s school visit to St. Andrews and Mary Munford »

About The Golden Age

Former key players in the super group Cadillac Sky, who played our IYE series in 2009, are back in the game!

The Golden Age is Matt Menefee and Bryan Simpson’s prodigious return to the music that first inspired them: bluegrass. According to it’s spirited collaborators, The Golden Age’s M.O. is to “die trying to possess the passion and inspiration towards preservation and rebellion reflected in the truly original voices that have gone before us like Monroe, Stanley, Flatt and Scruggs, Rowan, Hartford, Osborne, Grisman, Skaggs, Bush, Rice, etc “

After having spent nearly ten years making music together with Cadillac Sky which brought them opportunities to record with rockstar/bluegrass enthusiast Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and tour with folk rock superstars Mumford and Sons on their initial sold out North American Tour; not to mention make 3 critically acclaimed records and a legion of die hard fans, the two tried and true friends decided the time had come to reunite.

The duo had been re-inspired to return to their roots by the rediscovery of records like “Aereo-Plain” and “Morning Bugle” by John Hartford, “Emotionalism” by The Avett Bothers and Bela Fleck’s ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet vol.2’ ; which all possess a certain off-center authenticity and a song-centered approach lyrically and instrumentally that first fueled the genre back in its initial heyday.

Matt Menefee’s ear catching, virtuosic banjo sounds once again find a way to honor and upend the time soaked tradition with a sonic thought process all his own but this time it’s his emotional arrangements that draw every listener inside the truth-laced tales being spun by plaintive lead singer Bryan Simpson; whose colorful wordplay and whimsical lens daringly looks back and moves forward with poignancy and sincerity.

Pairing this with the joy of a musical friendship that certainly is tangible thru out the minimalistic but beautifully recorded sounds as caught by Grammy winning engineer Eddie Spear (Brandi Carlisle/Chris Stapleton), all signs point to the Golden Age being as important of a band to come along in bluegrass in a very long while.

The two artists have one goal in mind as they link arms: make music that sticks. Not just music that spikes the blood sugar. Timeless transcendence is the target. Certainly lofty heights to try and scale. But what a pleasure it will be listening to them climb.

Read more about The Golden Age »

Peppino D’Agostino enchanted students with his guitar in two Richmond area schools

When Principal Greg Muzik began to introduce the morning’s visiting musical guest, Peppino D’Agostino, to the 250 assembled students, they must have wondered where he was, as the stage was empty. They may have become more confused when they heard the sound of a guitar yet the artist still was nowhere to be seen. Peppino, who had been sitting in a back corner of the auditorium while the students filed in, began to play while slowly walking among the kids as he made his way towards the stage. He had definitely captured their attention.

Once on stage he told the students he was from Italy, “the land of spaghetti,” and soon had the kids singing along in Italian while he sang and played. He then showed the students how a guitar could be played with one hand and that the guitar can do several parts of a song. During a rhythm exercise he had the students rub their hands together, snap their fingers and then clap hands with a neighbor while he played along. Peppino was impressed with how musical the students were.

At one point during a Q&A session, one student asked if he knew the theme from Star Wars which Peppino figured out while continuing to talk and take questions. Peppino ended his performance by asking all to close their eyes and create a video in their minds based on his song, which was an enchanting way for both students and educators to go forth for the rest of their day.

In the afternoon Peppino played for about 100 students at the east end’s Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. Once again he began by walking around the assembled students and playing up close and personal with them. He mentioned that his influences included his mother’s piano playing as well as Stevie Wonder, Wes Montgomery and the Beatles. The students, grades 4 through 8, were captivated by the possibilities the guitar presented and several seemed motivated to take up learning the guitar themselves. He gifted the school several of his CDs which the principal said they would play over the school’s announcements system to start each day. It was a fine time for all with many smiling faces as he ended his set.

Photos by Bill Rice and Tim Timberlake


It’s been a great year thanks to you!

Eric Stanley visited two Richmond schools as part of his JAMinc performance.

To our JAMinc family …

On behalf of our board of directors, a sincere thank you for supporting our efforts in 2019, including our seven live In Your Ear studio concerts, our partnership with VCU’s ICA Theater presenting Rex Richardson, our free screening of the documentary “Fiddlin'” at the Byrd Theater, another epic Scott Street Five String Finals youth banjo competition and our 15th year of partnering on school outreach with the Richmond Folk Festival.

JAMinc is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. We provide in-school concerts to public and private schools, many of which do not have the resources to bring music of this quality to their students. Our In Your Ear concert series that enables these appearances to happen, normally loses money after paying the performers, sound production staff, announcements and taxes. We have no paid staff or offices. All the assistants and board members volunteer their time and funds to make this work. Unfortunately, ticket fees, grants and sponsorships do not adequately cover our costs.

We understand that you’re likely getting numerous requests for contributions at this time of year, but we could really use your help. Donations have the potential of tax savings. If you are over 70½ or are already taking MRDs (minimally required distributions) we can provide information about decreasing your tax burden while benefiting JAMinc. In addition, we promise that we will not clog up your mailboxes with solicitations or ever sell email addresses or contact information. All of us at JAMinc truly appreciate your participation and wish you a meaningful and musical holiday season.

With gratitude,

Tim Timberlake, President

Make a Donation Button

Violet Bell and Mary Munford students connect over music and songwriting

As the first of 300 or so students entered the auditorium at Mary Munford Elementary School in the first week of November 2019, they spontaneously began to clap in time as Violet Bell was ending its sound check with Principal Greg Muzik. Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez were immediately impressed with the students’ musicality and told them so during their 45-minute concert.

The duo was also impressed when they told the students they have played 400 shows in four years and the students immediately “did the math” to figure out that’s 100 shows each year.

During the performance, Lizzy explained that they do “original” songs meaning they write their own words and music. She told the assembled students they too could be songwriters. “Just listen to what’s in your head while you’re doing your chores, or anything really, and work on some words and a tune.” The students seemed to think that was an exciting idea.

Both Omar and Lizzy expressed their thanks to the students for being a great audience and asked if they were enjoying school. The shouted out answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” After the show a handful of students came to the stage to thank the duo for performing at their school and to give out a few well received hugs.

Photos by Bill Rice and Tim Timberlake


JAMinc’s last concert of 2019 – dazzling guitarist Peppino D’Agostino

As JAMinc President Tim Timberlake finished introducing Peppino D’Agostino, the nearly sold out crowd could hear his guitar but could not see him. Peppino began by entering Studio A from the back and played while he slowly made his way to the front, stopping several times to play up close and personal to members of the audience – even sitting in an empty chair while playing. Peppino brought amazing guitar technique and humor to his show.

For most of his two sets he just played his guitar but did sing a few songs in his native Italian tongue. At one point he asked the crowd to join in by singing or humming as he played songs by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles. There truly was a magical vibe in the studio.

Pepinno put on a lesson of sorts by explaining and using several different tunings which the guitar players present appreciated. He also demonstrated the versatility of the guitar by playing the opening riff of Smoke on the Water just using his left hand plucking and hammering strings on the fretboard.

He talked about the power and universality of music and towards the end of his second set asked all to close their eyes and feel his music while creating a movie of corresponding imagery in their mind. It was a most serene way to end an enchanting evening that had begun with a rich potluck buffet in the studio’s lobby.

As the evening wrapped up it was obvious, based on the animated discussions with Peppino and brisk CD sales, he had made a strong connection with the folks in attendance. All-in-all a perfect way to end JAMinc’s 2019 concert season.

Photos by Charlie Reilly and Tim Timberlake

Before performing at Studio A, Peppino D’Agostino performed at Mary Munford Elementary School and Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. Read about his visits »

About Peppino D’Agostino

A young Sicilian artist left Italy over 30 years ago, with the dream of “playing with the greatest guitarists.” Peppino has achieved his dream and he’s now firmly planted in the “who’s who” of the guitar world.

Peppino D’Agostino emerged on the acoustic guitar scene in the early 80s as a leading member of the second wave of the great fingerstylists that helped redefine the instrument in the 90s. His remarkable technique, penchant for open tunings, and percussive effects are the basis of his unique compositional style which has been inspiring musicians and audiences alike for decades. Add to that his natural warmth, playfulness, and broad musical tastes and you have the recipe for what he calls “minestrone music.” His virtuosity and his emotional charge have also had a significant influence on the younger generation of fingerstyle guitarists.

D’Agostino continues to evolve and grow in ways that would have been hard to predict when he first showcased his melodic yet emotionally intense style on the recordings Acoustic Spirit, Close to the Heart, and Every Step of the Way which was named one of the top three acoustic guitar albums of all time by Acoustic Guitar magazine readers.

D’Agostino has performed in more than 30 countries, at prestigious international festivals and has played in some of the world’s most important theaters. He has shared the stage with Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Kottke, Laurindo Almeida, Sergio Assad, Larry Carlton, and Eric Johnson, to name a few. His solo recordings include high quality labels such as Favored Nations, Mesa / Bluemoon, and Acoustic Music Records. Recognized as “the guitarist’s guitarist” by Acoustic Guitar magazine and described as “a giant of the acoustic guitar” by the San Diego Reader, D’Agostino was voted Best Acoustic Guitarist by readers of Guitar Player magazine.

Recently Peppino had his very first sold out tour in China and a soundtrack composed for the world renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.In addition to performing, D’Agostino also makes time to teach. He enjoys meeting with individual students as well as providing group instruction and vacation learning packages like the Acoustic Guitar Cruises, Creative Vacances in La Moreau, France, or teaching with legendary guitarist Martin Taylor. The leading online instruction company Truefire has released a series of videos in which D’Agostino explains his influential guitar techniques and approach to composition. Peppino, when not performing or teaching, also has fun writing musical licks for new versions of games such as Sims – a product of Electronic Arts, or Dragons of Atlantis for Kabam.

Peppino likes to compare his musical approach to the culinary art of his native Italy: “If you want to prepare a good, succulent dish you have to know how to mix the various ingredients and, most important, have knowledge of the right amounts. Similarly, in musical composition you must be able to properly combine melody, harmony, rhythm and percussive effects with discretion and elegance.”

People never know what to expect at his concerts. Peppino’s repertoire is always changing, adapting to the rapport he establishes with his audience. His live performances, a combination of beautiful, complex, up tempo original instrumentals, memorable arrangements and engaging songs are beautifully addictive.

Read more about Peppino D’Agostino »

2019 Folk Festival Performers visit Richmond City Schools

The 2019 Richmond Folk Festival was another great success, both onsite and in Richmond city schools! JAMinc again partnered with the Folk Festival to transport eight 2019 performers to 11 Richmond Public schools, including the Virgie Binford Education Center.

The students were treated to Native American dancing, Delta Blues, Afro-Cuban, Balafon Masters and Irish step dance & music. The artists participating in this year’s RFF School Outreach were:

  • Jeghetto
  • Balla Kouyaté
  • Native Pride Dancers
  • Iberi Choir
  • Kevin Doyle & Friends
  • Conjunto Guantánamo
  • Riley Baugus
  • Super Chikan

A word of thanks

JAMinc would like to sincerely thank the following folks for driving artists to their appointed stops: Todd Ranson, Mike Murphy, Bill Rice, George Turman, Alex and Julie Fuentes, Sandy Basham, Diane Mugford, Sarah Barr and Andy Jones.

We’re also grateful to ace soundman David Waltenbaugh for setting up and running JAMinc’s Bose L-1 sound system for Thomas Jefferson HS and Fairfield Court Elementary.

And we couldn’t do it without the loyal support of Nieves Guzman with TNT Auto Rental for providing high capacity vans for the larger groups.

We strongly feel that music holds the key to bringing communities together and exposing young people to it can change lives and possibly trigger a life-long passion to play. JAMinc is proud to have joined with the Richmond Folk Festival since the beginning in this important endeavor.

Conjunto Guantanamo at Southampton Elementary School

photos by Charlie Reilly


Super Chikan at Westover Hills Elementary School

photos by Charlie Reilly & Bill Rice


Native American Dance at Virgie Binford Education Center

photos by Charlie Reilly


Kevin Doyle & Friends at Fox Elementary School

photos by Charlie Reilly


Balla Kouyaté at Fairfield Court Elementary School

photos by Bill Rice


5th Annual Scott Street Five String Finals – Oct. 12 at the Richmond Folk Festival

The Scott Street Five String Finals

The finalists in the 5th annual Scott Street Five String Finals competed live on the Virginia Folklife Stage at the Richmond Folk Festival on Saturday, October 12, 2019.

Our distinguished judges – Sammy Shelor, Riley Baugus, Brett Martin, and Malcolm Pulley – were impressed with the level of talent shown by this year’s contestants.

Contestants and judges of the Scott Strings Banjo Competition at the Richmond Folk Festival, held Saturday, October 12, 2019. (photo by Skip Rowland)

2019 Winners

Winners of the Scott Strings Banjo Competition at the Richmond Folk Festival, held Saturday, October 12, 2019. (Photo by Skip Rowland)

Bluegrass division:

  • Winner: Stewart Werner, 16. Rocky Mount, VA
  • 1st runner up: Taylor Parks, 15. Bloxom, VA
  • 2nd runner up: Jacob Moretz, 14 Boone, NC

Clawhammer division:

  • Winner: Claire Childress, 16 Big Stone Gap, VA
  • 1st runner up: Hannah Cantrell, 15. Floyd, VA
  • 2nd runner up: Nicholas Wingo, 16. Rural Retreat, VA

Winners in each division received a handsome crystal trophy, a demo recording session at In Your Ear Studios, and a $1,000 cash prize. Runners up received $600 with $400 for third place.

About the Finals

To honor the memory of beloved JAMinc board member, distinguished attorney and dedicated banjo player Scott Street who we lost in February of 2015 to cancer, in cooperation with the Richmond Folk Festival, JAMinc sponsors the banjo competition for young players 18 and under.

Held each year at the Richmond Folk Festival, there are two divisions and two sets of finalists … for bluegrass/Scruggs-style players and for clawhammer/old time players.

After a preliminary round of YouTube video entries, finalists are selected in each division by a distinguished panel of judges.

Get the full details at the Richmond Folk Festival website.

Violet Bell brings thoughtful melody to Studio A

For the North Carolina duo of Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez, Studio A was the perfect setting to show off their song-writing and performance skills on Nov. 7, 2019. A nearly sold out crowd was treated to all original songs that were often humorous and spoke about everyday life. Lizzy’s strong vocals and guitar were backed up perfectly by Omar’s harmony – both vocally and instrumentally.

Self-described perfectionists, the duo used the time between songs to both tune and tell interesting stories about where their songs come from and share a bit about themselves. Their song about wearing “Daisy Dukes” in the summer and sitting in tall grass drew knowledgeable laughter from the audience when Lizzy mentioned ticks, poison ivy and the necessity of sunscreen while living in the south.

The evening’s music was as varied as the pot-luck buffet that preceded the concert, invoking many genres including Irish, Americana, country and the blues, all made unique by the duo’s interpretation. The audience was especially taken by Lizzy’s vocals – both her strength and range – that often brought Joni Mitchel to mind. During their encore, sound engineer Garrett Milich used some old school mixing techniques to full advantage creating the illusion that Lizzy was singing in a huge cathedral. It captivated the audience and was the perfect ending for an evening of many sonic highlights.



Photos by Charlie Reilly and Bill Rice

Before the concert, Violet Bell visited Mary Munford Elementary School. Check out their visit. »

About Violet Bell

Omar Ruiz-Lopez is quieter than Lizzy Ross. He considers his words, then speaks in terms of ideals, of acoustic instruments, of teaching children to play music and of bringing things of beauty into the world. Indeed, each half of Violet Bell has dedicated his or her life to the pursuit of music … Ross as a songwriter who briefly tried her hand in Nashville before returning to more receptive soil in North Carolina, and Ruiz-Lopez as a music educator and sideman who plays a staggering array of instruments (violin, viola, cello, guitar, mandolin, banjo). From his work with Kidznotes, a nonprofit that offers instrument lessons to underserved Durham schoolchildren, to his collaborations with Triangle-area musicians and membership in bands like Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys (past JAMinc/In Your Ear favorites), Ruiz-Lopez was a busy musician for years before Violet Bell. Yet he was tired of being a sideman. He had much more to contribute.

“For a long time I had wanted to work with something I felt really aligned with,” he says. “Lizzy came, and all of the sudden there’s this depth while there is light.”

Ross thinks melodically and lyrically, while Ruiz-Lopez thinks in tones, textures and colors. To him, an arrangement is a Rubik’s Cube – a satisfying challenge that is solved by different changes, sections and timbres. As a multi-instrumentalist, Ruiz-Lopez has a broad sonic palette at his disposal. A consistent soundscape throughout a record is uninteresting to Ruiz-Lopez, as is undue obedience to genre. As simple as it sounds, his tools are rhythm, harmony and melody.

“We need things of beauty and not just products,” he says. “If people open to the arts and creativity in general, we can make the world a better place and more colorful. The tribute is to beauty when you make song and raise a joyous noise.”


We hope you’ll join for a thoughtful and moving evening in the acoustic intimacy of In Your Ear’s Studio A on Thursday, November 7th for the collaborative joy of Violet Bell.

Read more about Violet Bell »

Fireside Collective at Sabot at Stony Point

Fireside Collective at Sabot School

Following a sold out show at In Your Ear Studio Wednesday night, The Fireside Collective rolled into Sabot at Stony Point Thursday morning to entertain and educate about 200 pre-K to middle schoolers.

Harkening back to the early days of acoustic bluegrass, the five member band performed for about 45 minutes huddled around a single microphone. In addition to performing mostly original tunes, the band took questions and song requests from the students. It wasn’t long before many of the pre-K’s were up and dancing while the older students clapped and sang along. The band was impressed with how knowledgeable the students were about their instruments and music in general.

As the performance was wrapping up one student requested a Beatles song. The quintet responded with an excellent cover of “Eleanor Rigby”. Dobro player Tommy Maher added that they are the only bluegrass band they know of doing that song. Needless to say the kids and teachers loved it.

After the school performance the band jumped back in their van to head back to Raleigh, NC to continue performing as part of the IBMA celebrations where they had performed Tuesday evening at the Governor’s Mansion. The band seemed energized by the students and the feeling was mutual at the school.