Share the stage, live the dream
One-day fantasy camp lets would-be rockers feel like stars
By DAVE PAULSON • Staff Writer • August 8, 2008
It's been said countless times in countless ways: You can't swing a stick in Nashville without hitting a songwriter, guitar picker or industry insider. Still, there are plenty of folks in Music City who have never strummed a guitar, banged a drum or seen a concert from the view of the performer.
They'll get their chance Monday, when the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp — on "tour" this summer — stops in Nashville.
Campers will get to spend the day rehearsing in groups led by rock star counselors, including current and former members of AC/DC, Guns 'N' Roses, The Cars and Middle Tennessee's own Mark Slaughter, before performing that evening in a full-blown rock concert at Wildhorse Saloon.
Previous camps have taken place as multiple-day sessions in Las Vegas, Hollywood and New York, but Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp on Tour marks the first time one-day camps have been offered, with stops in 14 cities this summer. Admission for the one-day experience is $1,999. The premium VIP package is $2,499, and for $9,999 you get a five-day travel package.
Founder David Fishof says the camp provides "life-changing experiences."
"Everyone wants to be a rock star. We give you a chance to really sample it and see what it's like."
Counselors share fun
Before founding the camp 10 years ago, Fishof produced concert tours for artists including Ringo Starr and the Monkees. As a man who's spent decades entrenched in the industry but who wasn't schooled in how to play an instrument, he found a way to share the experience with others.
"I wanted to be able to give fans the opportunity to see what it's like to hang out and play with rock stars on the big stage," he says
It's not only an exciting experience for campers, but their rock star counselors, too. Dave Ellefson, former bassist for Megadeth, joined the camp last year in Las Vegas and is touring with the camp this summer. Ellefson says that most campers who sign up for the metal musician's group are "decent musicians," and that the rehearsals for the concert can become very serious.
"No one wants to pay to sign up, go on stage and then (stink)," Ellefson says. "Everybody wants to have their act together, especially with these one-day camps, because they're usually doing this in their hometown in front of their friends. The last thing you want to do is go into the office the next day and have everyone laugh at you. Part of our jobs as counselors is to help bring the best out of everybody."
But considering the range of experience campers possess ("We get people who have played for 30 years to someone who's a 'Guitar Hero'freak and doesn't know how to play an instrument," Fishof says), much of the responsibility for the performance can fall on the counselors.
"(Song choice) is based on what the drummer can play and what the singer can sing," Ellefson says. "I've had some groups where the guitar player didn't play all that much, so I ended up playing their guitar parts on my bass. We're playing a Rolling Stones song, and here I am playing the melody on my bass. It's fun for me as a counselor because it forces me to really be on my toes and shift gears pretty quickly. It's almost more like being a producer."
While the camp lets many live out a dream they'd never attain otherwise, Fishof and Ellefson say it's also helped some truly talented campers — many of those being teenagers with little performance experience — come out of their shells. A member of Ellefson's first camp group in Las Vegas made a powerful impression on him and several other counselors.
"This girl, Natalie, she was from Canada and she could just sing her tail off," he says. "Every time we played or worked up a new song, or some other counselors came by the room, they watched her and their jaws dropped. She sounded like Janis Joplin reincarnated."
It takes all kinds
Discovering campers such as Natalie might be a nice bonus for counselors, but above all, the camp is fueled and kept alive not by the campers' talent, but by the fun they have living out their dream. The vicarious thrill is a two-way street between campers and counselors, Fishof says.
"What's made it very exciting is that not only have the campers enjoyed the camp and kept it going for 10 years, but the rock stars really enjoy it. Roger Daltrey has come back five times. . . . If they didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have a camp."
"Some campers come dressed like they're on vacation," Ellefson says. "Some come dressed in their latest T-shirt from Hot Topic and all their rock garb. Everyone's trajectory into the thing is different, and that's what makes it pretty cool.
"People are at different points in their lives. We get a lot of VPs and CEOs to the wife who wants to step it up from karaoke to the teenage shredder — everybody's welcome. If all you can do is stand and shake a tambourine, what the heck? Come on and do it, and we can make it work."