Marijke Rowland

VMI Rocks set to rock ’n’ roll in downtown Modesto

The youth band Artificial Moonlight performs during the 6th Annual Modstock Music Festival, showcasing local music and dozens of student bands from the Valley Music Institute, at Graceada Park on August 7, 2016.
The youth band Artificial Moonlight performs during the 6th Annual Modstock Music Festival, showcasing local music and dozens of student bands from the Valley Music Institute, at Graceada Park on August 7, 2016.

For those about to rock, downtown Modesto salutes you.

VMI Rocks has moved to a new location in the heart of downtown Modesto. The rock ’n’ roll school, which was founded in 2009 by local musician and teacher Darin Morris, has moved to a site on J Street previously home to the Mod Spot. The location is a partnership with the Peer Recovery Art Project, which shares the building.

The school pairs budding musicians and music students with one another to form bands and learn the basics of rock ’n’ roll performance. VMI, which stands for Valley Music Institute, has about 200 students, including 150 in bands and an additional 50 taking private lessons.

Morris had been operating VMI Rocks out of a warehouse in north Modesto since its inception. But a recent change in ownership had it searching for a new location. Morris said he was pleased to be able to find a more centralized spot and hopes to school will become part of downtown’s thriving entertainment scene.

VMI holds quarterly concerts, as well as the annual ModStock Music Festival at the Gallo Center for the Arts and appearances at the city’s Fourth of July and Christmas parades. Morris said most of its concerts will now relocate to the downtown space, which will have a full stage and rehearsal space.

“I’m hoping we can be part of the downtown scene and be more plugged in with the community,” Morris said.

Classes started in the new space this week. The location will host its inaugural concert starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21. The concert will feature 25 VMI Rocks bands playing on the new stage for the first time. Tickets are $6 in advance, $9 at the door.

VMI Rocks has grown from two bands to 28 bands in the past nine years. Morris, who runs the school as a one-man band, with one other teacher who gives private drum lessons, said that while most of his students are junior and high school age, the players range from age 6 to in their 70s. Most bands have between four and seven members each and VMI Rocks has the instruments and rehearsal space.

The school offers four eight-week sessions each year, plus a special four-week holiday session. Tuition runs $175 per session, but scholarships are available. Hank Harmon Scholarships, named in memory of Morris’ friend and a PMZ Realtor who died last year, have raised $9,000 to help students who want to attend but do not have the means.

Morris, who has been a longtime performer and guitar teacher in the region, said he hopes his business helps build up the area’s entertainment scene. He hopes to start holding more informal jam shows at the new J Street space in the future, as well as play during downtown Modesto events like the Third Thursday Art Walk.

“I don’t want to just serve the musical community, I want to help grow the musical community,” Morris said. “I want to give this large community of learning musicians more opportunities to do things.”

For more information visit or call 209-543-2066.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

A scholarship has been set up in the memory of longtime area arts advocate and performer Penny White.

White lost her battle with cancer on April 28. The singer was a member of the Valley’s Got Talent 2012 winning act, the vocal group The Sensations. The group was formed in 2005 and featured White, her sister-in-law Debbie Farrell, and sisters Shelly and Claudia Streeter.

White was a member of and performed with several other bands over the years, including the Kyle Barker Band, JB Blues Band and Jazzoni. She also was a member of the Modesto Symphony Chorus.

Farrell and White’s family and friends have started the Wendell and Penny White Memorial Fund, named after White and her late musician husband, who died in 2014. The scholarships will go toward the Gallo Center for the Arts’ Creation Station. The arts and music summer camp is open to area first- through sixth-graders. For more information or to donate, call 209-338-5012 or email