The Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp

Hollywood, February 15-19, 2007


Fantasy Camp: T-Plus 7 Days

Well, as I type this one week ago I was finishing packing and about ready to check out of the Renaissance Hollywood to commence my return to real life in southwest Florida.  So I suppose it's now time to write a closing Fantasy Camp blog – since I finally feel as though I've now fully decompressed. I'm thankful that David Fishof et al warns everyone about the depression that grabs hold the day after Camp concludes.  It's palpable... I understood intellectually why it was happening (having likened it to getting an Indy car up-to-speed and then slamming it into reverse) – but when you're living it, the feeling is altogether different.  One of the Campers described the experience as a drug... I agree.  The running joke, especially on that last night, was that David's next great venture should be Post-Fantasy Camp Rehab?!  ;-)  (although, perhaps my band's drummer Ed Johnson figured-out the solution in advance... instead of returning home, he headed to Cabo for a few days of post-Camp R&R)  

Reflecting back on my fleeting time as a rockstar, what can I write that hasn't already been written?  Not much... everything I'd read about the fun, the excitement, the tension, the joy... it's all there.  In spades.  For me, since I'm not a CEO or other very highly compensated professional, the biggest obstacle to committing to the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp was the cost.  But, having now done it, I can attest that it's worth every penny... although, for me, the investment might not be as obvious as it was for others.

Sure, the chance to play alongside of rock legends was unparalleled; but the value I personally gained was a reaffirmation from many of the professionals that I can indeed play (and I'm very confident that those weren't meaningless platitudes... several pulled me aside and had serious discussions about my ability and what I am – and am not – doing with it)… and that I really should consider making another go at music – even if just as a serious part-time endeavor.  To that end, while I returned home initially feeling depressed, I now find myself re-energized to write and record original music (in addition to continuing with the covers I already do)... perhaps even producing a mini-CD and floating it to see whether there's any marketability.

On that last night, in the wee morning hours back at the hotel, David Fishof asked again to please give him any ideas as to how he could improve future Camps. Over the past week, I've come-up-with a few ideas (a couple which are probably workable, while one is likely dead on arrival):

First, when each Camper is called-up on that first night to meet their new band mates, I would suggest at that time having the Counselor draw that band's playing order for the last night's Battle of the Bands.  Why?  The most common complaint I heard from all of my guests(as well as others in the audience) was that the 26-30 songs played by the thirteen bands were all too similar... that by the time the eighth or ninth band took stage everyone had reached the aural equivalent of glassy-eyed.  By picking spots before even the first band meeting it would afford more flexibility in selecting/choosing one or two songs that aren't all-out rocking tunes (e.g. I'm thinking something along the lines of Clapton's "Bell Bottom Blues" or perhaps something by Tom Petty... that style).

Suppose, as in our case, a band draws the sixth position – that deep into the show a band would probably be safe picking something a little different… versus if you drew the opening spot you'd want to come-out with guns blazin'!  But you can't make that judgment once you're three days-in and the set list is cemented.  Admittedly, this is perhaps one of those rare events where the music isn't designed specifically for audience consumption – but encouraging a bit more rock diversity might go a long way towards alleviating the "monotony" that a lot of folks experienced (including, so I'm told, a couple of the judges).

Second, as I think everyone would agree who was there, thirteen bands is overkill.  I was warned that our time on stage would go-by all too quickly, and it's no joke (what an odd phenomenon – Mark ran us through our set list at least fifteen times – yet, onstage, playing at the proper tempo, the time seemed to pass at double-to-triple speed).  I'm not privy to David's financial spreadsheets as to breakeven points – but if it's at all possible to cap at no more than ten bands (and preferably even eight)... thereby enabling each band to be on stage for perhaps 15min (instead of our 10min)... that would be great (and appreciated by all of the Campers).

Third (and this is the one suggestion that I'm sure is DOA), while I realize that the guitar guys are the lifeblood… the bread and butter of Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp... four guitars to a band is simply too much.  As many in the audience said to me, in most cases all you hear is a wall of sound – not one where you can hear any guitar virtuosity – just a loud cacophony.  IMO (and take it for what it's worth, since I'm not a guitarist)three guitars should probably be the maximum per band (with two being the preferred number).  I do realize trying to limit both the number of bands as well as guitarists may just not be cost-effective (unless it's possible to increase the frequency of the Fantasy Camps - perhaps from 2-3 per year to 4-6?).

Suggestion-wise, that's about all I can come-up-with.  Reflecting back, I wasn't as blown-away with the food as were others, but it was imminently satisfactory.  Unlike some cruises I've been on (the only thing in my experience I can liken this to) I was never wanting for something to do... alumni have described the experience as "Musical Boot Camp", and having now been through it I would concur (if I do this again I'll undertake a serious workout regimen the month-or-two before attending... now I understand why so many rock 'n rollers hit the gym each day they're on the road – it's the only way you can stave-off premature exhaustion!).

But, my highest kudos go to David Fishof's greatest asset: namely, the Counselors.  Damn.  Just damn.  On the one hand their availability and desire to help with whatever you need was nothing short of remarkable – immediately breaking-down any walls Campers might arrive with... that fear of dealing with "big name rock stars".  Then, in the next breath, in rehearsal somebody like Mark Slaughter goes to each instrument showing how a part should be played – and you can't help but be humbled with what incredible musicians each of these guys are.  That trite phrase "a gentleman and a scholar" also springs quickly to mind (hopefully Jane Wiedlin won't take offense to that remark, as none is intended :).

In the Camp-ending questionnaire, David asked about what each of us remembers most from our Camp experience.  I'm sure many will mention obvious, big events like "playing with Paul Stanley at the House of Blues" or "playing 'Sister Christian' at the audition with the guy who wrote it."  But for me, it was much smaller things that I'll most cherish.  Piggybacking on that "Sister Christian" reference, after playing it for audition and hearing Kelly Keagy say "I think we've found our newest member of Night Ranger" (and meaning it); afterTeddy Andreadis' keyboard clinic on the second night, playing a few tunes that he and Spike requested – only to look up and see both of their mouths hanging-open (really, REALLY good for one's self-esteem); and a lengthy, serious discussion with Mark Slaughter about my talent and what I might consider doing with it.  Then there's the expression of unmitigated joy on my daughter's face, after our House of Blues performance, when I photographed her with Spike Edney (she ADORES all things Queen). All of these moments were, to plagiarize the MasterCard ad phrase, "priceless". 

I'm betting that the Counselors have to realize how much their suggestions and compliments mean to the Campers... but when combined with their accessibility throughout the entire experience it's just something that I can't imagine ever being found anywhere else... certainly not for those of us who live in the more conventional business world.

Now that it's over, the most asked question – from the many of you reading these daily blogs – is whether I'll be back for the Aug'07 camp in NYC. On this question, I'm vacillating.  Since returning-home to find out that my daughter's Mom is planning on relo'ing BACK to California in the very near future, I no longer have to budget a week's vacation towards helping Jordan move closer to the college she's transferring-to (written intentionally vaguely – she's applied to five, but as of this writing I don't know which offer she'll accept).  With time no longer an object it then becomes a question of money... over time, yeah, I could afford it... I'm just mentally wrestling whether I'm willing to handle credit card debt for upwards of a year for the opportunity to play with Carl Palmer.

To that end, David Fishof can sweeten the pot by reconfirming that Carl indeed has committed... and that, no matter what, I would be assigned to his band (now that David has heard me play – and grasps my love of the music of Emerson Lake & Palmer – I doubt this would be an obstacle... he's got to understand!).  Given that scenario, I'm probably 60%-70% in.  The only other obstacle is the next camp's price... the cost is the same as for my Camp, 'cept they're offering one day less.  I mean, c'mon, that's getting awfully(unreasonably?) steep!!  As I say, I'm vacillating... If the "daily rate" had stayed the same – and this one was on the order of about $7,000 – it'd be a lot more palatable... eh, I'm experiencing the classic case of the intellect saying "no" while the heart says "yes".

Otherwise, should I miss it about all I can hope for is that Carl will love the experience and the Campers will love him… so that he'll return in '08 or '09. In any event, I would be stunned if this was my one and only visit to the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp; perhaps I can achieve full alumni status with a return in the next year-or-two. To paraphrase a famous Asia song (yes, with the obvious Carl Palmer reference), "Only time will tell."

Meanwhile, I have a host of new – and I'm sure lifelong – friends (with each of the members of Rogue Scholars  Dan Donnelly, Ed Johnson, Jim & Becky King, Bob Kozicki, Adria McClain, Jared Stamey  and Counselor Mark Slaughter).  I am particularly elated to have met Jared... he's just beginning his musical journey, one that I'm quite sure will lead to fame and fortune.  I'll at least be able to say "I played with him back in '07, and when he needed a keyboardist to help with his showcase performance (the one that was scuttled due to the HOB show running long) he came to me."  My new friends alone makes it all worth it... yet, as I hope I've conveyed, there was so much more to this experience.

Thanks to each and every one of you who've messaged me to say how much you enjoyed these blogs. Inability to sleep has occasional advantages – at least I was up early-enough to write extensively each day.  I hope I was able to convey some of the flavor of Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp. For anyone with the financial wherewithal, if you have a devout interest in the genre – even if you're not an accomplished musician – you'll still have the time of your life if you go. You will not be disappointed.

And now to close, I'll use the words of my friend Tommy Farese: "Thanks for listening."


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