Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp: Behind the Brochure

1217875629We sent Boston Daily intern David Mashburn to Rock Camp last week. The rock stars in attendance included, among others, the songwriter for Aerosmith, the other Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist, a former drummer for AC/DC, and Kip Winger from, yes, Winger. Dave came to (kind of) master the tambourine, but more important he gave us this hour-by-hour report of the day he was almost famous.

8 A.M. Arrival: We’re set to rehearse at a Holiday Inn in Somerville. Despite what you’ve heard, continental breakfast bars don’t scream, “I’m a rock star.” But the camp staffers could be groupies: They’re all young, primarily female and very, very peppy. They tell me I’m about to have “the experience of a lifetime.” Indeed.

After signing away my rights, I mingle with the other people standing around. I might be the dorkiest person here. Everyone else looks like rock stars. The first guy I talk to, Marc Rubinstein of Maine, is an old lighting technician who worked for some of the biggest acts of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

“I fell asleep at Woodstock ‘69,” he tells me, “and awoke to hear The Who’s ‘See Me, Feel Me’ as the sun cracked the horizon. It was one of those mystical moments in my life.” A software technician at EMC remembers seeing the Beatles at Suffolk Downs, and a 14-year-old kid already performs regular gigs with his classic rock cover band, Bloody Knuckles. Jamie Nichols, a pleasant, soft-spoken welder from Ontario, Canada, wears a black T-shirt that reads: “Rock ‘n’ Roll, F- – k You.”

We’re off to a good start.

9:30 AM Rehearsal Time: My camp counselor, Mark Hudson, a songwriter for Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, and Bon Jovi, looks like someone scrubbed him with a Grateful Dead T-shirt. There’s green, orange, and purple—and that’s just in his beard. Hudson sits down with five of us in the chandeliered rehearsal room. We swap names and he immediately launches into an account of Ringo Starr that involves Hudson’s landlord, Betty-the-rent-taker, (“she just took my rent and yelled at me”) and getting her to play cello on the cover track of one of Ringo’s albums.

Hudson’s Ringo is pitch-perfect, and it’s apparent he’s told this story before. From there, and without missing a beat, he does Ozzy Osbourne; apparently even Ozzy was rattled by all the drugs he did. It’s probably worth mentioning that Hudson is wearing a navy beret and purple-striped pants. He is, in short, fascinating. “I’m a coach, not a babysitter. I’m passionate, I yell, and, at the end of the day, we kick ass.”

The rehearsal begins and within 30 seconds I realize I’m the only non-musician in the room. “Come on and play,” Hudson says. “Once we get comfortable we can start to F- – k with the world.” These were the first of many one-liners. Including:

You have to know Little Richie and Chuck Berry. You don’t know those guys, you don’t have hair on your ass.

You play like this, we’re going to sound like Republicans.

Your penis will shrink three inches if you don’t play that solo.

Don’t stop playing. If you guys were in trouble, I’d be riding you like a cheap hooker.

If you can’t hit that note, I’ll hit you in the jelly sack so you can make it.

The Fantasy Camp brochure claims that you never need to have picked up an instrument to attend. The camp’s publicist assured me that, “You’d be surprised how much you could learn in one day.” But after a session with Hudson, I was moved to another band. I was told it was because they were down a member.

Chris Slade, former drummer for AC/DC, agrees to take me into his band. I explain that I haven’t played an instrument since the trombone in sixth grade. He hands me a tambourine. Awesome.

The lead singer of this group, Pam Perry, is a mother with a son my age. Our guitarist won his ticket by selling the most guitars at Guitar Center and our bassist, Josh White, won his after taking the grand prize in a Guitar Hero tournament. Our drummer scored his ticket off the radio as well. None of us, if this isn’t already obvious, have ever been in a band.

1217875635Slade is patient, though, incredibly patient. He could be a kindergarten teacher, an old, bald, Welsh, former-drummer-of-AC/DC-kindergarten teacher. At one point, after I bungle the maracas section (note: Slade invented this section for my sake) in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the ninth time, he taps me in the stomach with his own maraca. This is supposed to help me “feel the rhythm in my gut.” Like Ozzy, I only feel a pain in my liver.

1 P.M. Afternoon Rehearsal: After a lunch of turkey wraps, assorted fruits, and oatmeal cookies, we mingle with the rock stars as they oblige our stammering requests for autographs and pictures. We might as well be tweens meeting Miley Cyrus for the first time. An important note: It’s well into the afternoon and I still see no signs of drugs or alcohol. Will our fortunes change?

Our motley band reassembles and we name ourselves King Valve. We take the name ValveKing from a label on the back of our guitar amps and reverse it. We’re pretty smug about all this. I later learn that King Valve is the name of an oil and gas pipe manufacturer in Oklahoma City. I feel less smug.

Slade remains patient as we bumble through two songs; the other four groups have three songs for their sets. With the help of Gilby Clark, former guitarist for Guns ‘N’ Roses, we finally make it through “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “My Generation.”

4 P.M.: We board the actual bus the rock stars use (plush magenta carpeting, wood paneling, and green faux marble inside) and head to the Bank of America Pavilion. We’re scheduled to open for Extreme. Their first album in 13 years is due out on August 12. [Note to Eds: Did I just bury the lead?] [Ed’s note: No.]

On the bus, Bob Dreher tells me that this is his third time at band camp. “Band camp is like heroin: very addictive and very expensive.” He says he encourages people to attend band camp, but he’s also had some negative experiences. “Sometimes your rockers are your heroes until you work with them… Some are bitter. They’re past their heyday and they don’t want to accept that they can’t sell out stadiums anymore.” He once saw a camper throw water on a rock star counselor after he disparaged her guitar playing.

Our lead singer’s daughter calls to make sure her mom is wearing rock star-appropriate clothing. Everyone agrees to needing a few stiff drinks as we approach the venue. Our bassist, Josh White, tells me, “If we had a couple of beers in us, we’d sound a hell of a lot better. At least to us and the people standing at the bar.”

We meet with Extreme before the show. They appear very chill and, like everyone else today, put up with our relentless fawning. I tell them I like “More than Words.” They tell me that the rest of their music doesn’t sound anything like that song. I accept this and move on.

The Pavilion’s seating is far more expansive than I’m prepared for. Other campers claim there’s supposed to be 3,000 people present. The actual number for our performance will be closer to 30. As we prepare to take the stage, I decide this is a good thing. “Don’t worry,” I tell our singer. “This is just for pretend. We’re only rock stars for the day.” I tell her this for my own benefit more than hers, but she lets me know what’s what. “Not for me. I’m not pretending today.” This is why I was given the maracas.

12178756476:30 PM – Showtime: We’re the third Fantasy Camp band to take the stage. The other two bands shred hard. Slade introduces us and we tentatively break into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I immediately begin shaking my maracas in random, panic-inspired fits as I try to recall my back-up vocals. “It’s all night now,” I stammer into the microphone during the chorus. Chris comes over to help. “It’s all ri-iiiiight now.” Thanks, Chris.

I drop the maracas and grab the tambourine for “My Generation.” Gilby Clarke, the Guns ‘N’ Roses guy, is next to me on the guitar and Chris Slade is by my side, his own tambourine in hand. Our singer forgets the second line of the song so I screech “Talkin’ about my generation” into the microphone to get things moving. This does not help.

We fall into rhythm, though, as the song progresses and now I’m belting out “Talkin’ about my generation” after every line. In the excitement my tambourine goes limp by my side. Luckily, Chris covers the tambourine section. Then it’s all over and I remember to shake my tambourine at the crowd as the heat and the lights and the meager, scattered applause overwhelms me.

Later, Mark Slaughter, the frontman for the band Slaughter, comes by and asks me for my autograph. I’m already wearing his on the all-access “ARTIST” pass around my neck. It seems to be a genuine request. Today, I am a Golden God.