Have you ever dreamed of playing “Sweet Emotion” next to Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, performing on stage with Pete Best, a founding member of The Beatles, or Daryl Jones from the Rolling Stones? Well, dreams can come true, and it did this past week for musicians who attended the New York City Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.
How it works is simple: musicians from all walks of life and all levels of experience sign up for the camp; when on site, they are formed into bands and then schooled by their Rock Star counselors/musical directors to work as a team. Together they learn songs they will perform on stage with Tom, Pete, and Daryl. There are also master classes, recording sessions, and Q&A sessions with the artists and authors. It’s all designed to make you a better musician and performer than when you walked in! This New York City camp had some very impressive and heavy hitting Rock Star counselors, including Tom Hamilton [Aerosmith], Pete Best [The Beatles], Darryl Jones [The Rolling Stones], Joel Hoekstra [Whitesnake], Gary Hoey, Bumblefoot [Guns N’ Roses], Tony Franklin [The Firm] and Vinny Appice [Black Sabbath & Dio] to name just a few. It is like being on vacation with your favorite Rock Stars.
Their hard work and dedication was to be showcased at the Cutting Room in mid-town Manhattan on Friday evening, July 14th, with Tom Hamilton joining each band on stage. Campers spent the day at Smash Studios perfecting the songs, learning timing, exploring different tunings and techniques from their heroes. Tom came to each camper’s rehearsal room to jam to the band’s favorite Aerosmith song. During the rehearsal, Tom gave some encouraging words and pointers while taking photos and signing autographs. Watching the campers during these rehearsal sessions, you couldn’t help but feel their excitement about going to be on stage with Tom. They hung on every word and advice Tom offered to hone and perfect the songs.
The reason why musicians come to this camp is as vast and varied; camper John Dupont told me his reason for attending: “I love learning new things and how to make a band sound better collectively.” Scott Lucia, a six-time camper and Beatles fanatic, told me, “Having Pete Best attending this week pushed me over the edge as it would be my only chance to ever play with a Beatle.” Angie Mariasiane shared, “I got sick and almost died, and I put off singing, but after the recovery, I decided to treat myself to the camp. Six camps later, I now consider myself a mascot. This place brings us all together for the love of music!”
The Rock Star counselors were incredibly talented and patient with every musician looking to improve the band’s collective skills. They were not only dedicated to helping the campers learn songs but also passionate about pushing them out of their comfort zone to try new things like scales, how to move on stage, and interacting with the other band members while on stage; an essential and often overlooked aspect of being in a band.
In speaking with Tony Franklin, his main advice for the campers at show time was to “Breathe, relax, have fun and do your best! Also, it’s important not to stop in the middle of the song for a mistake. Mistakes happen in the professional world, and we never stop; when things fall apart, just keep going!” He went on to say, “A band is also about the vibe and chemistry as much as it is about the playing.” He shared his experience as bassist for The Firm, which featured Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers, and Chris Slade. “I was never asked to audition for The Firm; I was asked if I would like to sit in on the rehearsals with a new band that was forming. I was 22, and not only did they want to see how I played but see how I could hang with them. That went on for five to six weeks before I got the job!”
Gary Hoey added, “If you play with better musicians, your skills will improve! When you get to a higher level, it’s important to play with musicians not as good as you to lift them up! Give a handout and hand-up to other musicians.”
In speaking with Joel Hoekstra, he shared his experiences when he was learning to play while looking for the right mentor: “I was learning guitar out of a book with a teacher and almost quit. It wasn’t what I wanted; I wanted to be Angus Young of AC/DC. I went over to a friend’s house who was playing all these great rock songs, and he gave me his teacher’s name. Thank God, I went to him, and he taught me rock songs, which hooked me. I was playing music that I loved; it was a new concept to me that learning to play guitar can be enjoyable! It made me want to practice and get better!”
All the rehearsing and advice paid dividends when the bands performed their songs at the Cutting Room. All the musicians shined and became Rock Stars themselves. They all navigated the stage and songs with style and grace while delivering the music to the packed house next to Tom Hamilton and their counselors.
Watching the show, I realized that no one who attended the camp would ever be the same again. They all walked away with a better musical knowledge and confidence they didn’t have coming in while creating lifelong friendships. Maybe one of the campers this week will be a counselor to future generations of musicians…well, that’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy for another day. If you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable experience, I highly recommend attending Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp as they take place all over the US, with the next camp being a heavy metal camp, Metalmania III, in Los Angles, CA, featuring Zakk Wylde [Ozzy, BLS & Pantera], Marty Freidman [Megadeth] and Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater & The Winery Dogs] this November. It’s not too late to reserve your spot on the fun; check out HERE for all the details.