The Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp

Hollywood, February 15-19, 2007


T-Minus 8 Days!

And so it begins.  Those of you who subscribe know that my blogging is usually infrequent... but I figure with the interest many of you have expressed in the upcoming Fantasy Camp that I will make every effort to post daily blogs (once there, and time permitting) to describe all of the goings-on, my reactions, etc.  Today sets the stage (pun somewhat intended)... as I'm typing this, one week from now I'll be connecting in DFW for my American Airlines flight heading to Los Angeles.  So, to get things started, let's cover what I've been doing up to now – and how I'm feeling now that the day is almost at hand!

First off, let's begin at the beginning: what exactly IS the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp (RRFC)? Per their website, RRFC: "…is a one-of-a-kind event that brings music lovers of all levels together with professional rock 'n roll stars – and that brings those music lovers the unforgettable opportunity to move from the spectator stands to the stage, sharing the limelight with living legends. As a participant in the RRFC, you'll be treated like a rockstar for five days and nights. You'll live the rock 'n roll lifestyle day-in and day-out, learning or perfecting your knowledge of an instrument, practicing and jamming with your band mates, and learning the ins-and-outs of the music business – all in the company of some of music's brightest stars." And just who are some of these "brightest stars"? For my camp, they include:

Paul Stanley (lead singer for KISS)
Brian Wilson (co-founder of The Beach Boys)
Dickey Betts (guitarist for The Allman Bros Band)
Mickey Hart (drummer for Grateful Dead)
Bret Michaels (vocalist for Poison)
Scott Ian (guitarist for Anthrax)
Steve Vai (solo guitarist)
Kelly Keagy (drummer for Night Ranger)
Mark Slaughter (founder of Slaughter)
Simon Kirke (drummer for Bad Company)
Bruce Kulick (guitarist for KISS)
Spencer Davis (founder of The Spencer Davis Group)
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (guitarist for The Doobie Bros & Steely Dan)
Jane Wiedlin (guitarist for Go-Go's)
Artimus Pyle (drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Gary Burr (writer for Ringo Starr & Carole King)
Spike Edney (keyboardist for Queen)
Teddy Andreadis (keyboardist for Guns 'N Roses & Alice Cooper)
Jeff Foskett (guitarist for The Beach Boys)

The concept is pretty simple: roughly eighty "campers" (e.g. yours truly) arrive and audition for the rockstar "counselors". They then divide us into ten-to-twelve (hopefully balanced) bands, each led by one of the counselors. Over the next four days we spend ten hours a day rehearsing two cover songs and writing an original (if it sounds like musical "boot camp", you're right – that's a term many alumni have used to describe the experience). At the conclusion of camp, each band performs those numbers in a " Battle of the Bands" at Hollywood's House of Blues on Sunset. In between, we attend a variety of specialty clinics / master classes, rub shoulders with drop-in celebs and musicians, and jam into the wee hours in musical free-for-alls. All while living the posh rockstar lifestyle (e.g. we stay at the Renaissance Hollywood – adjacent to the Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards will take place five days later – enjoy continuous "craft table" food and drink, etc.).

So, where did I get the idea of doing the RRFC?  I believe it stemmed from seeing a two-hour special broadcast on TLC - taped at the Hollywood Camp done two Februarys ago.  It appeared to be an amazing concept, and seemed such a transforming experience for so many of the campers.  Over the next few months I traded emails with several alumni – but especially four-time alum Fred Dawson(who proved invaluable for his insights and gentle prods).  My only hesitation was the very high cost… unlike a lot of attendees, I'm not a CEO or high-power salesperson… it's definitely a big bite out of my earnings/savings. But, in true "Risky Business" fashion, I eventually said "WTF!" and plunked-down my deposit… and have been counting the days ever since!

Those of you who know me know that my musical taste runs more towards Prog Rock than true "Classic" Rock. That being the case, I was sorely tempted to do the NYC Camp held last August – because the marquis performer (with each band) was Jon Anderson of Yes. So, why this one and not that one? Simple: back in the day I did work for a couple of years as a professional musician. My college-age daughter has heard all kinds of war stories, but has never actually seen her old man performing on stage. By picking the Hollywood Camp we'll now remedy that situation (since she lives and goes to school in SoCal) – whereas it would've been difficult (as well as expensive) to bring her to NYC. Also, I have many more friends and family in SoCal – also on my guest list Monday night will be my only brother (who is currently shooting on a new Bob Zemeckis movie in Santa Barbara), my best friend (who resides in Little Rock), and four other real-life and online friends from the L.A. area.

So, how does this work?  While you don't actually have to be a musician to come to RRFC, if you want to play in a band it does help! When I paid my deposit I advised what instrument I'd play (keyboards, durr!) – then, upon arrival, after registering and receiving my credentials and program book, I'll make-way to SIR Studios for the start of camper auditions (2pm Thu 2/15).  A couple of months ago, RRFC made available an audition songlist, which includes:

Alright Now (Free)
California Girls (The Beach Boys)
Can't Get Enough Of Your Love (Bad Company)
China Grove (Doobie Brothers)
Crossroads (Cream)
Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)
Fly To The Angels (Slaughter)
Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)
Gimme Three Steps (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Help (The Beatles)
I Get Around (The Beach Boys)
Jumpin' Jack Flash (The Rolling Stones)
Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Ramblin' Man (Allman Bros Band)
Rock 'N Roll (Led Zeppelin)
Rock 'N Roll All Night (KISS)
Sister Christian (Night Ranger)
Sweet Child of Mine (Guns 'N Roses)
Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
We Are The Champions (Queen)
We Got The Beat (The Go-Go's)
We Will Rock You (Queen)
You Really Got Me (The Kinks)

Each camper picks the song they want to perform – and, when called, you join-up with two-or-three other campers who picked the same song (on complementing instruments or vocals) and two-or-three of the professionals. The remaining counselors "judge" each camper – and when all is said and done they retire in private to wheel-and-deal as each pro tries to pick a band that will win them Monday night's "Battle Of The Bands."

If you look at the songlist, one thing is immediately apparent: this is definitely a guitar-driven camp (again, durr – it's rock 'n roll!). That being the case, my universe of possibilities was pretty small… I eventually settled on "Sister Christian" (which has a very nice solo piano intro with accompaniment throughout the song) – but in a pinch can also play "We Are The Champions", "China Grove", "Gimme Some Lovin'", "California Girls", and "Ramblin' Man." And the observant among you will note the correlation between the songs and the counselors… makes sense that they know their own stuff best!

As my online bandmates will attest, since the first of the year I've really been obsessed with practicing these and other songs. Because the genre is a little different than what I usually play – combined with playing in a band situation versus solo – I've been learning a lot of songs I didn't previously know (although I AM also polishing-up some other stuff I've played over the years in hopes they might come in handy for some of those late-night jams!). My daughter has been ribbing me about "Sister Christian" – she heard it, and wondered aloud, "so, did it take you at least a half an hour to learn to play THAT!"  Remember, she's accustomed to her old man covering Keith Emerson, so she's not used to hearing me play slower ballad accompaniments (I suppose she must tune-me-out when I'm doing Billy Joel lol). Of course, the nice thing is that none of these songs are overly challenging, so it meant I could learn all of them by ear – versus buying (likely substandard) sheet music – and there's less likelihood of botching them when stepping-up to play them cold with other musicians you've never before met.

Having said that, let me to tip my hat about something I've been told: earlier, I wrote that the counselors try to create "balanced" bands – otherwise, one band could dominate the final night… which would be no fun for anybody. It's been said that if one or two of the band members are really good that the balance means the rest of the band may well be pure beginners. Consequently, the "secret" that has been shared is that I should play competently but to NOT show-off (i.e. there will be no Emersonian adlibs in any solo I'm asked to do on that first day)! Doing so could well saddle me with folks who find three-chord "Louie Louie" challenging (which, honestly, is my personal nightmare scenario about this camp… I'll still have fun, but three-chord comping at the House of Blues will bore me almost to tears).

With time drawing near, roughly a week ago each of us received our PDF'd "Camper Handbook" – giving a host of logistical info(including guidelines for checking-in at the Hotel, registering for camp, clarifying the audition process, shuttle vans, meals, schedule overview, etc.). Yesterday, in something that gave me quite a chuckle, each of us was emailed by a NYC Ad Agent – who introduced herself as our personal RRFC Publicist – requesting local media contacts to publicize our one week ascendancy to rockstar status(yes, I complied). But they do note that dealing with the media is part of the overall experience… a few weeks ago each of us also completed a short series of questions that may be used by The Ellen Degeneres Show (as she covers the goings-on at RRFC).

The most-asked question at this point is "why are you doing this?" Um, there are a variety of reasons, really. First, it looks like so damned much fun! Other than my daughter, music is (arguably) the single most important part of my life – so what could be better than hob-nobbing for five days with people who've successfully "made it." Second, I'm hoping it'll help jumpstart the songwriting doldrum that I've been-in for many years now (I'm VERY eager to attend the songwriting master classes as well as helping write our band's original song). Third, I miss playing in a band situation – yeah, my internet band is very fulfilling in terms of the music we're able to do, but there's still no rush quite like performing live. Fourth, this experience affords my daughter a glimpse at another side of her father. And there are a couple of other, more personal reasons.

A few of my friends have wondered what I would do if I was "discovered" – would I forego my career to take a fast-track back into music? Never say never, but I doubt it. The reason I changed course in my 20's to something more traditional was that I found no success meeting fellow musicians who wanted to treat it seriously… as a business. In essence, being a musician (for me) was a great way to starve! Skip ahead nearly three decades, and the settled insurance executive now has a daughter who is a college sophomore and who has intentions of going to Grad School. Despite my slow decline into middle-age crazies (evidenced by recent plastic surgeries, dying my hair and growing it longer, and buying a convertible… the only remaining stereotypical to-do is to find the doting 20-year-old hottie! lol), I also have to keep a level head financially. So I say "never say never" (I'll always entertain any offer – not just from music but also other traditional industries as well) but I would seriously doubt it.

That said, had my daughter never been born, I'd probably now be playing piano bars in the Caribbean. One thing about me – for being a moderately OCD Virgo, I'm surprisingly nimble!

The second most-asked question is "are you nervous?" In a word, no, I'm not. You gotta remember, I've played professionally – everything from piano bars to weddings, to small club bands, to a solo television piano performance, to once accompanying a full marching band in a stadium filled with 30,000 people. Yes, once I step onstage, no matter how well prepared I get very shaky/jittery… and my palms sweat like there's no tomorrow! But, right until that minute-or-two before taking the stage I'm usually cool as the proverbial cucumber.

What I AM finding is a difficulty focusing on my daily work routines (FYI: I'm the Tech Manager for a specialized insurance agency – a job that finds me either really busy… or really bored – in those latter times, it's been rather difficult for me to keep focus on the low-priority regular tasks my job entails… instead frequently day-dreaming about a host of playing scenarios). I also had very good intentions of sticking to my workout regimen – not only to help with stamina but to also hopefully drop a few pounds. Alas, as with most times I make that resolution, it didn't happen. But, hey, my hair is substantially longer than it's been in the last thirty years… so at least I'm looking somewhat the part!

And the third most-asked question is "are you wanting any counselor in particular?" Again, no, I'm not. While I'm aware of each of them, I know the work of some better than others (I'm not going to publicly declare in this forum who they are… but suffice to say that there are a few of the audition songs that I've honestly never heard – and if you asked me to name the top hits of several of our counselors I could not do so). Will that somehow detract from the overall experience? Of course not… each is successful in their own regard. In a perfect world (for me) this would have been the Progressive Rock Fantasy Camp – but, practically, there's just no way that could be done(because of the intricacies of the music involved). Having said that, I still have frequent fantasies about my band opening with ELP's "Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 2"… unlikely, but with a competent drummer, bassist, and guitarist it could at least be considered.

Honestly, if I do have any preference, I might like to have one of the professional drummers as our fearless leader. Because each counselor cannot vote for their own band they're allowed to play with them. Percussion is the backbone of any band – and if we have an amateur who can't keep a beat, the group is going to be hard-pressed to perform anything credibly. Give me a good drummer and I'm willing to wager we can do some pretty spectacular stuff with four rehearsal days. But, really, I'll be happy with anybody we're assigned.

Like all things I write, this initial blog has become far too lengthy… so let me close with my plans for the next couple of weeks. As I wrote at the outset, I fly from Fort Myers to DFW next Wednesday morning, connecting for a 3pm arrival in Burbank. I'll check-in at the hotel 4-ish (checking-in with the RRFC crew about that same time). After (hopefully) catching a power nap, I'm then meeting my friend Alexandra for a nice evening of drinks and dinner at The Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega… all I've asked is that she keeps me up late to help adjust me as fast as possible to west coast time!

Thursday morning, 2/15, is pretty much open – may do a little wandering-about, and will post my second blog to tell about my travels, registration, the hotel, etc. We then get this thing going later that afternoon – and, thereafter, our days run from roughly 9am-1am. Therefore, future daily blogs (energy and sleep permitting) are going to come from me in the early morning hours… and if I miss a day-or-two I beg your obvious indulgence!

Oh, and for those of you with iTunes – there will be daily PodCasts done from RRFC – just search for "Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp" and subscribe… then don't be surprised if you hear me interviewed at some point during the week!

With that, my lunch break has almost concluded, so I'd better return to my afternoon's work. We'll "talk" to you again in about eight days… so stay tuned!


T-Minus 1 Day!

Since my last blog I didn't do as much practicing as you might think (or as I expected). Suffice to say that a sort of calm set-in, where I realized I wasn't going to learn too much more – and that my chops are as sharp as they're gonna get. As Tueday the 13th (my last day of work before departing – it also would've been my Dad's 81st birthday) came-n-went, I ran through my audition piece – "Sister Christian" – a couple more times, then spent the rest of my day packing (I have neurotic dogs who go ballistic when they see my luggage… so I make a point of packing early and stealthily loading my bags in the car whilst they're outside taking care of business).

I've previously said that I'm calmer than I expected… eh, based on my last night's "sleep" prior to travel, I'm going to amend that remark. Normally, my bedtime is anywhere from 11pm-1am, and I can almost never sleep past about 6am. But on this Tuesday night I put myself to bed just after 11, only to toss-n-turn until giving up 1-ish and turning-on Conan O'Brien's show (which wasn't all bad, since his guest was my main celebrity crush - Eva Longoria). After a couple of hours of TV I thought I could then fall asleep – hoping to get at least three hours before my 6am wakeup… but, alas, these few hours were also of the toss-n-turn variety.

So I began my travel day tired. I arrived at my friend Bill's condo about 7:15 (he lives about 10-15min from the airport, and is nice enough to let me park my car there free of charge while he provides livery). Security at RSW was a bit slower than normal, but I was still at my gate about 20min before boarding commenced. My first leg (to DFW, on AA) was a full flight, and I did manage to fitfully doze through most of it. During my 2+ hour layover I lunched at Fuddrucker's (used to be my favorite burger place, but since they'll only now serve meat cooked to hockey puck consistency I believe I'll take a pass again in the future) then listened to some tunes on my iPod until time to board shortly after 1pm. On this leg, to Burbank, I watched my "ELP Live at Montreaux" DVD (which helped fire-me-up about again performing live in front of a crowd!) and listened to some more music… making the time pass faster than it otherwise would've.

My brother had told me that Burbank Airport was great (compared to LAX) as long as pricing was comparable. It is and I was – I was off the plane in just a couple of minutes and in a cab two minutes later (gotta love these small airports!). This got me to the Renaissance Hollywood faster than I anticipated (thank you, Leon, for some creative navigation in your cab), where check-in was a breeze. My room, #808, has an okay view of the Kodak Theatre and downtown LA.

Room 808, at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
Room 808, at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
Room 808, at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
The Renaissance Hollywood, photographed poolside

After dropping my bags in the room I wandered-down to the mezzanine level to meet Christina and Katie from Fantasy Camp – where check-in was also a breeze (although, due to the winter weather in the northeast they didn't have our camp books available – we're hoping the airports will reopen so they can arrive sometime Thursday). I quickly signed the usual releases so they can make/publish photos, and now have my "Artist" credentials for the week (I was also able to get "Press" credentials for my brother – who is concerned that his camera gear won't be permitted into Monday night's show at the House of Blues because it is "too professional"… no worries now!). And I was a little surprised to be #29 in the audition lineup – apparently there are a LOT of people who've already arrived!

Going back to the room I had every intention of taking a power nap… but, as with my attempts the night before, I quickly realized it just wasn't going to happen. Instead, I fired-up the iron (I'm such a domestic god lol!) to get all of my clothing ship-shape for the week, then wandered the hotel and surrounding retail properties to get a lay of the land and snap a few touristy pics. Noting the cigar store just off the mezzanine level exit I may treat myself to a celebratory smoke late Thursday morning.

The Hollywood and Highland Center Court
The home of "Jimmy Kimmel Live", as seen from the entrance to the Kodak Theatre
The famous El Capitan Theatre, across the street from the Kodak Theatre

I returned a bit before 6pm for a quick shower, change of clothes, then a brief 10min walk to my friend Alexandra's apartment. We had a Valentine's Day reservation at The Spanish Kitchen on North La Cienega… although I'm at a loss as to why they insisted that they were "so slammed" by reservations – since the place was ¾ empty when we arrived promptly at 7:30 (gotta love a date who, like yours truly, insists on promptness!). Dinner was great – mainly because of the companionship… the food, while good, wasn't remarkable… and, typical for trendy SoCal dining, three drinks, two appetizers (a single crabcake-ball each), a soup/salad course, entrée (we both got the red snapper), dessert, and tip, set me back almost $150. Oh well… nickel & dime stuff compared to the cost of this Camp! We came back to her place so I could see her new digs (she's now in a lovely one-bedroom loft just one block south of Hollywood Blvd)and so I could also meet Peter Parker puppy (the smallest Chihuahua I've ever seen!). … After a couple of timer-triggered photos we said goodbye and I walked back to the hotel (yes, you filthy-minded types, that's ALL we did… anything more would've required both of us plus her Mom - whom I dated for a little over a year - for the next episode of "Jerry Springer" rofl!).

Peter Parker puppy, Alexandra, and David - after Valentine's Day dinner

BTW, Alex joins the already substantial group of people who do NOT like my current (mid-life crisis?) hair style (describing it as too Donald Trump-y). Who knows… if I keep getting so much negative reaction (spearheaded by my daughter, but also including my regular golf buddies) and I might just stop coloring then cut it all off (the only way I can figure-out how to return to mostly grey). We'll see…

Anyway, upon returning to my "home" for the next six nights I was actually amazed to be as awake as I was – so I turned-on "Lost" and began watching… only to realize by about 11pm that I didn't remember much of the plot (I was dozing). So I called it a night and managed to sleep until 4:11 (which is actually better than I had expected!). I tried popping a couple of Melatonin and going back to sleep, but no joy – I gave up around 5, whereupon I made a pot of coffee and began banging-out this blog whilst listening to the morning TV news. It's now a bit past 6am and I can see the first glimmer of daylight in the east with a lovely crescent moon over the downtown skyline. Really Chamber of Commerce-type stuff (I love SoCal… and would live here if it just wasn't so damned expensive!).

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So I just wandered-out to Center Court at the adjacent Hollywood & Highland Center to see if I could glom-onto free wireless internet. Nope… despite suggestions to the contrary, no joy – everything either required a password or simply refused to connect… which, I suppose, means I get to either wander to a local internet café or just suck-it-up and give the hotel $9.95 a day. C'est la vie for those of us addicted to all things internet!

Oh, before I forget – in the overnight hours crews assembled the grandstands just outside the Kodak Theatre (the Academy Awards are to be held here in ten more days). Really odd to know that I was right here when I'll be watching it on TV Sunday week! (and it's equally odd for me to see the billboard ads proclaiming that it is broadcast live at 5pm… nah, as a lifelong east-coaster, everybody knows it starts at 8pm lol!)

The grand entrance to the Kodak Theatre
Outside the Kodak Theatre (note the bleachers erected overnight, in preparation for the Academy Awards some ten-days off)
The front (and less scenic) side of the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
Note the view of the "Hollywood" sign through the arch...
The view of the "Hollywood" sign from under the arch
The Hotel and Shopping Complex...

It's now approaching 9am and I'm back in my room – having "dined" at BK for a crack of dawn breakfast, then wandered the streets of Hollywood and Sunset Blvds taking early morning pics (my favorite kind of light). I also note that the hotel's internet runs noon-to-noon for your $9.95 charge… so I'm holding-off logging-in today until after 12pm so that I'll be able to double-up both today and tomorrow's blog (I figure those of you reading probably don't mind a few hour delay in posting – esp since today's entry is still preparatory stuff).

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And now it's just shy of noon – and I'm briefly back in my room so I can publish this blog and check email. I've listened to my audition song a few more times this morning… although, hopefully by now, I know it cold. Guess I'll find out if that's the case in a couple more hours. I also just finished an early lunch at a nearby In-N-Out (a treat – it's my most fave fast food joint… and the last meal I'll have that isn't included in the Fantasy Camp). In a few minutes I'll head down to the lobby to catch the shuttle van to SIR Studios… not sure what the rest of the day holds, but whatever I do I'll write about it and post here early tomorrow morning… by then, I will have met many of the rockstar counselors, performed for them, been assigned a counselor and band, and met many of my camper cohorts. In other words, I've got a VERY busy day ahead of me!

SIR Studios, at the corner of Sunset and Wilcox

Until tomorrow, I bid you a warm-weather adieu from Southern California.

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