By Noel Daniel
Music is the veritable heartbeat of Modesto. In almost every local restaurant, at least once, you can catch strains of songs you’ll never hear anywhere else—or maybe that you’ll hear before everyone else.
Our thriving community of musicians wouldn’t be possible without the movers and shakers of Modesto who dedicate their time to the disciples of time signatures. And Darin Morris is one of them.
Morris is a graduate of the renowned Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, as well as California State University, Stanislaus. After coaching students in how to play guitar for thirty years, Morris had a revelation in 2009.
“Typically in the summertime there was a lull in students,” said Morris. “So people would go on vacation in the summer, and the roster would go down a bit. We tried to think of something to do during the summer to take up time.”
That something ended up being VMIRocks, a program where musicians of all skill levels are entered into bands to play together. In the summer of 2009, there were four bands. The idea was so intriguing that everyone stayed onboard, and bands started playing year round.
“It took up so much of my time,” Morris said. “There are about 150 bands a year, kind of School of Rock-type thing. That’s how it started. We got students from our own rosters to join the bands, but then it sort of grew substantially beyond that.”
Morris’ aim with VMIRocks? He wants to encourage people to learn music.
“We will take people who have just started and teach them the skills they need to make the band perform,” said Morris. “There’s a range. There are straight-up beginners, and then there are kids that are good as pros. Out of thirty bands, probably five are little kids and five are 60-year-olds. The other 20 are Elementary, Junior High, and High School.”
“My passion is not just serving the musical community, but really getting kids that might not’ve been interested in music and getting them passionate about it to the point where we have a lot more of a music scene
VMIRocks has been on Good Day Sacramento about half a dozen times. You might also have seen them in the Fourth of July parade each year, or the Christmas Parade. They’ll put a band on the float and rehearse specifically for the theme of the given parade. This year, they won best overall float in the parade. And their song of choice might surprise you.
“It was an original song called Modesto USA, a rock-n-roll song with Modesto lyrics,” said Morris. “Good Day Sacramento is actually interested in having us play that. So we’re going on with the float band called Float On, playing Modesto USA to promote ModStock Music Festival Aug. 6.”
Morris wrote the song to showcase all the amazing things Modesto has to offer—with everything from Cruising to Star Wars.
And it’s not the only music he’s brought to Modesto. The lead singer of The Flowers got guitar lessons with Morris when he was young. The lead for The Bedheads, a band that won a MAMA, got his start with Morris as well. There’s also a band called To Kill a Mockingbird and they all were with Morris for five years. They’re currently playing at Whiskey-a-Go-Go.
Modstock is another perfect example of how VMIRocks integrates into the community. In fact, there were thirty of their bands present this year. They also invited local bands Patty Castillo Davis, To Kill a Mockingbird, Callbox, and Triple D to play. Modstock started seven years ago with Roberts Auto Sales to give the VMIRocks kids a big event to play in with other bands.
“It’s kind of like earth day, but with rock-n-roll,” said Morris. “My passion is not just serving the musical community, but really getting kids that might not’ve been interested in music and getting them passionate about it to the point where we have a lot more of a music scene in Modesto.”
To find out more about this amazing program, or to sign up for yourself, visit www.vmirocks.com.