Reachin’ for the sky and tearin’ up the ground
Some might expect a camp like this to be more laid back. People do show up expecting to rock all night and party every day, and they’re met with swift reminders that music is a labor of love (with a strong emphasis on labor). Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp is a lot of fun, but a lot of work, too. Almost every hour that wasn’t spent eating a meal, attending a Q&A session, a master class, or sleeping was used for crafting the songs that would represent us on the final night. Bruce told us that people have attended with their minds set more on partying than on the business at hand. That’s not what this camp is about at all. According to him, it was Jack Blades from Night Ranger who got him involved in the camp: “That must’ve been four or five years ago… I had no idea what I was walking into, but as exhausting and as crazy as it was, I loved it… I believe in the whole vibe of it. It’s about the work that goes into being in a band. I think it’s wonderful.”

Sergeant Anthony Hixon and Ally Pacella.
I asked him about his approach to being a Rock Counselor. “I think there needs to be a leader,” he explained to me. “I expect the campers to learn, and they need to have a leader, someone who knows what to do, and who can tell them. And if they don’t learn it, I’m going to remind them to learn it. It’s very concentrated and directed. I’ll even push the executive who kind of just dreamt of being a rock star but is really basic on guitar and can barely play. I won’t disrespect him, but I’m going to try and make him be as good as he can be… he’s going to want that.”

I quickly realized that if it’s anything, R&RFC is a five-day crash course in learning how to be in a band. This hit us almost immediately during our first practice, when we started to learn Aerosmith’s version of “Helter Skelter,” our assignment. Our bass player, Tony, was having some trouble keeping up with us. Like everyone else, Tony was came to the camp for the experience of hanging out with rock stars and getting to play at The Whisky, but he was also there to pick up on things that would help his bass playing. What I saw happen with this man over the next few days was pretty incredible. Tony was stationed in Iraq for several years, and had only tooled around with the bass a bit before he was sent to serve our country. He never really got the opportunity to keep it up, but what he did bring to the band was something that a hell of a lot of musicians out there could use: the ability to understand criticism.

In four and a half days, I saw Sergeant Anthony Hixon go from not being able to hold a pick or fret a note to keeping up with “Helter Skelter” and “Highway to Hell.” On the third day of camp, he played “Helter Skelter” for Steven Tyler. I’ve been playing guitar for over a decade, and even I was close to losing it when Tyler was standing next to me singing. I even flubbed the solo because of it. I can’t imagine what Sergeant Hixon was feeling at that moment, but he didn’t choke, even when he made a mistake or two.

This is a perfect example of why this camp is such an amazing concept. It doesn’t matter what skill level you’re on or what your background is; every artist worth their salt will tell you that you can always be better at what you do. What Tony got out of the camp was something that it takes some people years to develop, if at all: the ability to listen to the band and play when you’re supposed to. It’s a rudimentary lesson, but one of the most important any musician can master. Tony may not have mastered it, but he was certainly on his way, and doing extremely well for someone on only his third day of the job.

Listen to "Livin' Our Dream," the original song recorded by Jordan's RRFC group, WTF?: