Photo by Erik Sharar
Kristen Jones has had a weird and wonderful musical journey over the years. Her diverse experience has led her to become a sought-after and versatile performer on cello, steel drums and vocals, in a wide range of genres.

Kristen started off as a classically-trained cellist. Growing up in upstate New York, she was a member and principal cellist of the Empire State Youth Orchestra for several years. She attended Oberlin College with the intent to become a cello major, but got derailed when she discovered steel drums with Oberlin Steel (formerly known as the Oberlin Can Consortium). “Pan” became Kristen’s passion after her first visit to Trinidad in 1997, where she joined the 120-person Renegades Steel Orchestra for their historic “three-peat” Panorama win. The next year she studied at the University of the West Indies for a semester and continued to participate in Panorama almost annually through 2005. She also performed several times in Brooklyn NY’s annual Panorama with bands such as Despers USA, Pantonic and Metro. She graduated Oberlin in 1999 with a major in Ethnomusicology, focusing on steel pan music.

With Pan Masters Steel Orchestra
After graduation, Kristen moved to the Washington DC area and joined up with Pan Masters Steel Orchestra, eventually becoming their director and musical arranger. She also began working at the House of Musical Traditions, a renowned independent music store specializing in folk and ethnic instruments, and became the general manager there in 2005.

A cello-banjo at HMT
Through HMT, Kristen met a lot of other DC-area musicians, and eventually started coming back to the cello. Though she had learned steel drums mostly in the traditional way of playing by ear, the cello had always been a “music-reading” instrument for Kristen. Slowly, she worked on expanding her improvisation skills on cello.

ilyAIMY - photo by Erik Sharar
She joined ilyAIMY (i love you And I Miss You, Baltimore-based acoustic grunge band) in 2009 and tours nationally as the ilyAIMY trio with her husband rob Hinkal, and Heather Lloyd. Joining ilyAIMY also inspired her to start playing electric cello. She now performs almost exclusively with her NS Designs CR4 cello, and is an artist endorser for the company. Kristen also adds harmony vocals to ilyAIMY’s sound.

50 Man Machine at the 2012 Takoma Park Folk Festival
Kristen is also cellist and vocalist with Lulu’s Fate, a trio performing old-time Appalachian and other Americana music. Kristen performs frequently at area weddings and events with Music By Anthem’s string quartets and trios, including an all-electric string quartet. For several years she performed on steel pan and cello with the rock/reggae/world collective 50 Man Machine - this group has now re-formed in Louisiana with new members, but Kristen continues to lend her steel drum talents to other artists on a freelance basis.

with Mosno Al-Moseeki at Artscape
Kristen has performed and recorded on both cello and steel drums with dozens of other area artists, including We're About 9, Mosno Al-Moseeki, Lea, David Potts-Dupre, Christylez Bacon and more. Click on the “Listen” page for a complete discography and links to these artists. Some other notable highlights of Kristen’s career include:

- Performing at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival with ilyAIMY (in 2012 as an Emerging Artist, in 2013 as a Most Wanted Artist, and in 2015 as a Main Stage performer)
- Winning "Wammie" awards (Washington Area Music Association)  with ilyAIMY (Best Contemporary Folk Group, 2014 & 2015) and Lulu's Fate (Best Debut Recording 2014). Kristen was also nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Instrumentalist 2013-2015, and Best World Instrumentalist 2015.
- Performing with Lulu's Fate on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2019)
- Performing with "Jewish Rocker" Josh Nelson at the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial Conference, where President Obama was the keynote speaker
- Opening for Carbon Leaf with Mosno Al-Moseeki 
Pan United Youth Movement & Esperanza Spalding
- Performing with former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten (with Anthem String Quartet)
- Arranging and performing a steelband arrangement with Pan Masters Steel Orchestra on Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer’s Grammy-winning children's album “Bon Appetit!
- Performing in a steelband accompanying Grammy-winning bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding (video here)