School of Rock: Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp

A woman over 40 attends rock and roll fantasy camp

By Katherine Lanpher

Learning to Rock ‘n Roll
The first thing you need to know about my stint at Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp is this: I can’t sing. I’m the alto who didn’t make the choir, who tripped up on the harmony parts at church, and who tried out for the big high school musical and was cast . . . as a dancer. In the back.
Here is another thing you need to know: You can count the number of rock concerts I have attended on one hand. Truth: I have never even played air guitar. So spending five days in Los Angeles with 105 men and women who want nothing more than to play alongside Roger Daltrey from the Who and the members of Cheap Trick is not exactly my fantasy. At my fantasy camp, we would learn how to wear gardenias in our hair and sing jazz standards in smoky nightclubs.
So you might ask, what am I doing one night in tall black boots, singing backup for Daltrey in front of a screaming crowd at the House of Blues in Los Angeles? Having the time of my life, that’s what.
On the first day, I meet Karen Yadvish Beeson while waiting for the bus that will take us from our hotel to camp headquarters: SIR studios on Sunset Boulevard. Beeson is a 42-year-old molecular biologist from Virginia. The team at her lab has contributed to the sequencing of the human genome, but still, she’s scared stiff by the first camp hurdle: tryouts.
We have to perform in front of the 12 rock professionals — Doug Fieger, who wrote "My Sharona," and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, to name a couple — who will be coaching us and choosing who they want in their bands. Everyone, no matter how little talent they have, will end up in a group. Over the next few days, we will train for a battle-of-the-bands.
Beeson pulls a tiny flask of Jack Daniel’s from her jacket and says, "This is my breakfast."
She hates to perform in front of people — she doesn’t even like to talk in front of them — but she’s here because her favorite band, Cheap Trick, was billed as part of the camp. To boost her confidence, she’s got her Rick Nielsen signature guitar and a black-and-white checkerboard case, patterned after the one played by the band’s lead guitarist, and she’s brought her husband, Mark, a graphic designer who plays in his own band. "I’m her roadie," he jokes.
The first to audition is Mark Province, 47, a stockbroker from Oklahoma who tells us that he hasn’t been onstage since he was nine and lost a talent contest to a dwarf who sang "He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands." Province launches into a heated rendition of "Born to Be Wild." Everyone goes crazy.
I look over at the table of counselors. Mark Slaughter, of the eponymous metal band, is pumping his fist in the air. Jack Blades, camp director, is swinging a microphone stand over the cheering crowd. It’s barely past 10:30 AM.
The camp’s founder, David Fishof, told me it would be like this. A former sports agent turned entertainment producer, he has been pulling these programs together since 1997. When I spoke to him prior to signing up, he told me that the experience changes people’s lives. I rolled my eyes at the time. Now I’m beginning to wonder.

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