By WILLIAM PAINE
“I am more than blessed,” said Brian Hampton. “I should be dead. I shouldn’t be in the land of the living.
Brian Hampton first met me at a board meeting of the New River Valley Fine Arts Center. Brian was there to introduce something called Junior Musicians of the Appalachians (JAM) to the CAF Board of Directors. He explained that the JAM organization teaches children to play traditional Appalachian music using traditional acoustic instruments. Children learn to play their instruments by ear and also learn dance and other forms of Appalachian expression.
Brian Hampton sold the idea to us and right away we decided to form our own chapter of the Junior Appalachian Musicians. We called him the Junior Musicians of the Grand Pulaski Appalachians (GRAPeJAM) and Brian has been deeply involved in the organization ever since. GRAPeJAM is expected to resume music lessons this fall for Pulaski County children aged 10 to 15.
But how did Brian get to the FAC gate in the first place?
Brian Hampton spent the first decade of his life in rural Illinois, where his father delivered milk from various farms to a processing plant.
“I was on farms a lot,” Hampton said of his childhood experiences.
At age 11, he moved to Rural Retreat Virginia with his mother.
“I played basketball, football and track for the first two years of high school until I fell prey to my ease of addiction,” he said.
At 19, Hampton had moved to Napa Valley, California to live with his father, who had since moved there himself.
“When you make your reputation to the point of wanting to present yourself, you make a geographic movement,” he recalls. “I worked in a public hospital. I went to college and worked in college and did a lot of other jobs here and there, trying to see where my life fits.
Brian paused momentarily, then added.
“I felt misunderstood. I wasn’t, I just felt like that. I was very low in emotional and spiritual places.
In California, Hampton found himself struggling with drug addiction, much like it had happened as a teenager in eastern Virginia.
“My drug of choice was… more,” said Hampton. “I would use anything to escape my thoughts and feelings. I ended up finding a 12 step program and it was life changing.
The Twelve-Step Program is used by several well-established “anonymous” programs to help people who have experienced their own destructive behavior.
“They offer universal spiritual principles, written so simply that even I could understand them,” Hampton said of the 12-step program. “Steps six and seven will separate the men from the boys.”
Step six orders a person to eliminate all “character flaws” and step seven orders the adherent to seek God’s help in this effort.
“Willpower and humility are the principles behind these two steps,” said Hampton.
In the early 90s, Brian Hampton was engaged and brought his fiance back to Virginia to visit his mother for Christmas. They enjoyed their visit to the Old Dominion so much that they decided to stay. The couple got married and bought a house. Brian was earning an income working in factories and working for temp agencies, but the marriage did not last.
“I wasn’t ready for a relationship,” Hampton said. “I don’t know about her but I wasn’t ready to figure out what it takes to make a relationship last.”
After working for several years, Hampton started his own business in 2006 called Brian Your Painter.
“It seemed like a change had to happen and I wasn’t fit to work for someone every day,” Hampton said. “So with painting I can work for someone for three or four days and then move on to the next job. Because my understanding of life grew through the 12 step program, I stopped working for money and started working to make the client happy. Therefore, when the customer is satisfied, he writes checks.
Today Brian Hampton owns guitars, a dulcimer, a banjo ukulele and a violin and, with the exception of the violin, can play these instruments with some mastery (mastery of the violin is part of his future endeavors).
“When I had enough recovery… spiritual and emotional recovery, I chose to get into music because I had a desire, all my life, to be musical,” Brian said. “My barber, Jim Lloyd, became my music teacher and he’s been with JAM for years.”
The JAM program is well established in many states as well as locally in Bland, Floyd and Montgomery counties. A JAM program was also recently implemented in Wythe County and Brian suggested Pulaski County have its own program.
Jim Lloyd explained to Brian that to start a JAM program, you need a program director to help organize a lesson plan, hire teachers, and make sure operations run smoothly.
“I had a hard time finding a program director and one day Jim looked at me and said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’ Hampton said. “This is where the 12 Steps and my lifestyle came together with my past and my present.”
“When Jim said why don’t you do it, I absolutely felt doubt come over me because of my past. I quickly left the barber shop because I knew I was going to cry. I had a decision to make and cried on the way home. I asked myself, “Why do you feel like you’re not good enough to do this for a community you live in? “
By this point, Hampton had already started calling Pulaski County his home. Her great aunt, having seen a positive change in her behavior following her participation in the 12-step program, left her property in the Little Wytheville neighborhood of Claytor Lake in 2003.
“The more I thought about it, the more the 12 traditions of the 12-step program came into my head and my heart and my doubts started to fade,” said Brian. “I can do it! Doubt left me and I asked for help to create a junior Appalachian musician in Pulaski County.
At this point, Brian set out to find people to help him start a JAM organization based in Pulaski. His friend Sally French takes him to the Palais des Beaux-Arts for the NRV.
“I know people who know people and Sally French has helped me find the best available in Pulaski County,” Hampton continued. “A press man came to give us some publicity and some love. A computer scientist from New River Valley Community College came with us to bring us the technology and the love. Along came a treasurer in Becky Cox. They are the best people to develop this project for our community, so that we can make our community stronger. “
So from 2019, GRAPeJAM started teaching middle school students how to play violin, banjo and guitar. In addition to music lessons, GRAPeJAM students discovered traditional Appalachian dance and attended musical performances. The program met on Wednesday afternoons at Dublin Middle School and taught classes there for several months until spring 2020, when all schools in Virginia were closed for COVID.
Classes will resume in the fall and this year GRAPeJAM has added mandolin lessons in addition to guitar, banjo and violin instruction. GRAPeJAM students are loaned these instruments for the duration of their stay in the program.
Whether classes will be held in the Pulaski County public school system is yet to be determined, but wherever GRAPeJAM takes place this fall, rest assured Brian will be involved.
Brian also remains deeply involved in the 12-step program, but at this point it’s not so much out of fear of regress as it is out of lifestyle choices. Although he doesn’t attend in-person meetings often these days, he has been attending 12-step 6-8 teleconferences every morning for over a year now.
“I have stayed clean and have been practicing these principles to the best of my ability since 1987,” said Brian. “I haven’t chosen to use drugs to escape since. “
When he wants to escape, Brian is likely to pull his pontoon boat out of Claytor Lake and drop a fishing line into the water. He might even pull out his banjo ukulele and strum a bit.
Through his difficulties, Brian has developed a sense of stability, a focus that he wants to convey with his appreciation of music.
“So you see the past has led me into a process that gives me spiritual principles that I can live by,” Hampton explained. “It allows me to stop being so selfish with the principles and share them with the community in which I live.”
“Maybe… maybe just one of these kids I can work with doesn’t have to go my way to get what I have now,” Brian continued. “Because I can offer them the spiritual guidance, as well as the love and understanding that comes with learning music in a community. “