I Was a Rock N Roll Fantasy

Back in my punk days—when I was fighting with obstinate band mates, begging club owners for crap gigs, and hanging out with strippers, junkies, and various live-action versions of the characters parading through Bukowski novels—if you told me that people of means would spend thousands of dollars to experience the travails of being in a rock group, I probably would have laughed until I puked. Here in 2006, this pipe dream isn’t a joke, it’s a business. I know. I was there.

The very industrious David Fishof—an impresario who has produced entertainment such as American Gladiators Live, British Rock Symphony, and Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band—based his Rock ’N Roll Fantasy Camp on baseball fantasy camps, and debuted the concept in 1997 at Miami Beach’s Eden Roc Resort. The 2006 camp—held in Hollywood, California, at S.I.R. and Swing House rehearsal studios, February 16-20—proved that dreams don’t come cheap. The sold-out camp logged in 105 rockers who paid $8,500 (not including airfare and hotel fees) to be placed into bands mentored by rock-star counselors, meet-and-greet famous musicians, and work up two cover songs for a battle of the bands at the House of Blues, where Roger Daltrey often jumps in to sing a bit of a Who song with you. Wow.

Now, while there is certainly something dorky about a group of mostly middle-aged men and women laying down good money to be faux rock stars for a week, the Fantasy Camp is far from a vacation. The rehearsals are long and often torturous, the campers are absolutely committed (they all want to win the House of Blues crown), and the counselors aren’t exactly nurturing (blow a chord change, and you’re gonna hear about it). But there was precious little whining as the participants gleefully devoured every rock and roll episode—from the surprise visits (Lisa Loeb, Elliot Easton, Tommy Shaw) to the lunch concerts (Mickey Hart, Neal Schon, Mickey Thomas, Cheap Trick) to the sweaty and nervous work of honing a group of strangers into a kick-ass band within just five days.

I was assigned to guitarist Bruce Kulick’s band, Kiss the Sky. Our mission was to perform the Black Crowes’ version of “Hard to Handle” and the Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” I was one lucky camper, too, as the band included a magnificent Keith Moon-style drummer (Will Sealey, a 19-year-old carpet layer from England who saved for two years to attend the camp and meet Daltrey), a badass slide player (Keith Hyde), and a striking singer with a huge voice (Fior). Even so, the first day of rehearsal was a mess, and I got ratted out by Bruce for sneaking in too many bends on the Who song. (“Do you really think that’s something Townshend would play?”) By the third day, however, the group was really kicking, and I forgot about the whole camp concept, and simply enjoyed playing two great songs with some marvelous people. Ultimately, Kulick’s coaching and the band’s hard work paid off, as Kiss the Sky took third-place honors at the House of Blues (with, gulp, Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix in the audience).

And here’s my own self-confessed celebration of dork-itude: Although I meet lots of legends as editor of Guitar Player, I was as giddy as a kid on his first trip to Disneyland as I stood onstage with Daltrey, belting out the background vocals to “I Can See For Miles” as he stood inches away singing lead. A fantasy? Duh. But it was still one of the most thrilling “my life doesn’t suck” moments I’ve ever experienced.

For more information, visit rockandrollfantasycamp.com, or check out my blog at guitarplayer.com