At Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp, frustrated musicians
leave their day jobs behind
Perhaps it's my name. Ever since I was a skinny high school kid, I felt
certain I was destined to be a guitar legend. Sure, I know that was a long time
ago, and these days, I look a lot more like the lawn-mowing, mortgage-paying
father of two from the suburbs I am than Eric Clapton or Keith Richards. But
somewhere deep inside, there's a star musician just itching to get out.
So when one of my fellow editors asked for a volunteer to attend Rock 'n Roll
Fantasy Camp, I jumped right up. Here was my big chance to cast off the dowdy,
middle-aged life I'd been living and rub elbows with the likes of Roger Daltrey,
the lead singer of The Who. This five-day blast of New York rock life was going
to get me off the straight and narrow and into the deranged, debauched world of
stardom that ought to be the birthright of any kid born with the last name of
Think of it as a high-decibel version of sports fantasy camp. Taking a page
from such camps, promoter David Fishof came up with the idea of giving forty-
and fiftysomething lawyers, brokers, and dentists a chance to crank it up with
legends (O.K., mostly minor legends) of their garage-band fantasies. The $5,950
consists of five days in New York City, jamming, rehearsing, and listening to
rockers and promoters opine on everything from heroin to hair dye. The week
culminates in a Battle of the Bands on Sunday night. "Everybody always
asked me what it's like to hang out with rock stars," says Fishof, who also
manages Ringo Starr's band. "I thought I could give them the experience in
So it was that I found myself on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon in New York's
ultra-hip Hudson Hotel, guitar in hand, staring out at a room of what seemed
like 100 people in black t-shirts, black jeans, and black sunglasses. Just like
in real rock 'n roll life, if you want to be in a band, you have to audition.
"A great player who comes here and pays $6,000 doesn't deserve to be put
together with someone who can't play," says Mark Rivera, the camp's music
director, whose day job is playing saxophone in Billy Joel's band.
Looking out at the crowd, I was terrified. But with "camp counselors"
Liberty DeVitto -- Billy Joel's drummer -- and bassist Jack Blades from the '80s
band Night Ranger backing me up, I figured I couldn't go wrong. I belted out the
Talking Heads classic Psycho Killer, hit most of the notes I needed to,
and finished to cheers and applause. A half-dozen camp staffers slapped me on
the back, saying things like, "You sounded great." I know they're paid
to say those things, but it felt good. After all, it's a fantasy. I was pumped.
Then Rivera sorted the 80 campers into nine bands, and it was off to a
rehearsal studio, one of many scattered around New York's Chelsea neighborhood.
My bandmates included guitarists Dan Lemaitre (a Merrill Lynch analyst from Boston) and Maria Adubato, a homemaker from New Jersey whose
husband had given her a trip to camp as a gift. Our lead singer, Gary Zoldos, is
vice-president of a $9.4 million trucking and transportation company in Buffalo.
An hour into rehearsal, we were creating a horrific cacophony. Then in walked
the Bad Boy Brass, also known as the horn section for The Monkees. The trio's
diminutive trumpet player, Eric Biondo, heard our noise and shuddered. "You
guys sound great," he said charitably. "But maybe if you turned down
the volume, you'd sound even better." We turned down our amps. Then we
turned them down again. And again. "Now, start listening to each
other," he said. "That's what music is all about." We started
listening -- and we began to sound better.
Over the next four days, other pros stopped by to help us work up our
repertoire. On one occasion, Daltrey visited our rehearsal room and listened in
on what we were doing, never once wincing at the bad notes I managed to inject
into the mix. Lunches featured chats with and short concerts by the likes of
Mountain frontman Leslie West. In the evenings, pros and campers came together
for onstage jam sessions.
On Sunday night, it was time for the big show. We all met at The Bottom Line,
a Greenwich Village club, where each band played three songs. Many had chosen
Who covers, and Daltrey gamely sang lead vocal on every one of them.
"Roger, you make me nervous," Craig Langweiler, a stock broker from
Philadelphia, said to Daltrey as they prepared to start playing the 1975 Who hit
Squeeze Box. "Not as nervous as you make me," Daltrey joked
back. Believe it or not, they both sounded great -- as any camp counselor would
be sure to tell you. In fact, despite being dubbed a battle, Sunday night ended
with every group getting an award for anything from Best Vocals to Coolest Band.
Unlike in real life, at Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp, there are no bad reviews.
Week 7 July 2003