When I describe my experience at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp with Yes to friends, even I find it hard to believe. I spent four days in Las Vegas, jamming with some of music’s greatest players, met and played with the members of Yes, then performed in front of a live audience at the MGM Grand. And by the way, I had never been on stage before, never performed in front of an audience or sang in front of one. The whole experience was surprisingly inspirational, personally fulfilling and one of the highlights of my life. As a disclaimer, although I had never performed on stage before, I had years of formal music education growing up and have been a bedroom guitar player for 20 years.
Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp
The creation of music industry veteran David Fishof, the camp offers a range of experiences, from immersive four-day camps like mine, to single-day experiences and even corporate programs. The camps are offered to a range of playing skills, from former garage band level to true beginners. The camp pulls in some serious names, past camps have featured Def Leppard, Jeff Beck, Brian Wilson, Roger Daltrey, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons and other rock icons, all working directly with the fantasy campers.
I’ve compared it to baseball fantasy camp, but founder David Fishof said something to us on the first day that really resonated. He brought up the same comparison but pointed out that yes, a 50-year old could do and enjoy baseball fantasy camp, but not really play at the level he did at age 20. At Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, a 50-year old can participate and play music at the same level, if not better than they could in their youth. It’s an apt comparison and I experienced how true it was.
Before coming to camp, campers are interviewed for their skill level and instrument of choice. Before arrival, the campers were divided into about eight bands, each made up of campers plus one professional counselor, with guitar, bass, drums, vocals and / or keyboards in each band. It was interesting as one band had their professional as the drummer, another had a pro vocalist, another as the guitar player, etc.
We were immediately tasked with choosing three songs to perform at the MGM Grand Rouge Lounge and several songs to play with each of the members of Yes. In addition to the performances, we would be recording a song in the temporary studio the camp had in the walkway of the MGM, across from the lounge where we would be playing live.
Morning pick-up from the MGM Grand was 11 AM, with vans whisking us to the camp’s studio complex a few miles away. We spent the day inside individual, professionally stocked rehearsal studios, where we could choose, learn and practice our songs (video of us rehearsing Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps”). This would go on all day, with a lunch break in the large performance area. During the day we also had master classes, lectures and the performances with the members of Yes (and camp counselor jams). Things ended around 7 PM, with some people sticking around to jam into the night.
The camp was four days long and on the second two days we had our performances at the MGM Grand, which had a 9 PM call time. We received a schedule each morning and everything was run very smoothly and professionally, which enhanced the experience.
The rockstar amenities
From a technical standpoint, the camp really provided a professional environment, with fully outfitted rehearsal studios and a professional stage and performance space. The quality of the equipment and sound was seriously professional. Pro sound provider Electro-Voice is a sponsor of the camp and provided some amazing live sound equipment; serious, professional gear for the live performance space and in the lounge. A full tech room was outfitted with Gibson and Fender guitars, amps, BOSS effects, dw drums, Roland keyboards, all professional quality and professionally maintained.
Several guitar techs aka roadies (one who really works with ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony) provided top service. They would tune the guitars and get everything ready, adding to the rockstar experience. Several professional sound engineers handled the live sound in the performance space at the studio at the MGM. A great example of the level of coolness they offer, when I wanted some way to practice my electric guitar in my hotel room, the camp loaned me a cool JamHub unit, allowing me to plug in and really rock out. Another example I saw was when one of my band members wanted us to play “Dust In The Wind” from Kansas. A violin player, he asked for an electric violin, so we could add the song to our playlist. As if by magic, one appeared for him the next morning, rented by the camp to ensure his fantasy was fulfilled.
Lunches were catered and were always delicious, with a range of beverages and snacks always available. The space had WiFi and the camp is also well staffed with a dedicated group of very cool people whose sole goal is to deliver an amazing experience from beginning to end. I was really impressed with all the Rock and Roll Fantasy team members.
My counselor was drummer and music legend Joe Vitale. Joe has spent 30 years performing with some “little-known” artists like The Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash. A friend of Joe Walsh since childhood, Joe Vitale co-wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” with Joe Walsh and has performed on all his solo albums. Other counselors included metal bass legend Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy & Quiet Riot), Kane Roberts who plays with Alice Cooper and guitar icon Gary Hoey. Mike Pinera, guitarist from Iron Butterfly was a counselor, also metal guitarist Kiko Loureira.
The interaction with the counselors was also very special and another one of the best parts of Rock Fantasy Camp. When you play music with people, you really bond with them, it’s a special experience. To be taught and to get help from these amazing professionals was very inspiring for me as an amateur musician. Aside from our amazing counselor Joe Vitale, we did some songs with the great Gary Hoey. He too was so kind, so generous of his time and talent, it really took the whole experience to a new level. Knowing it was my first time on stage (after we performed) he called me back out onstage at the MGM Grand and showed me some love. It was very cool and genuine.
Most of the campers were musicians who played seriously in their youth, most performing in bands. They then went on to regular jobs and are doing this as a fantasy experience. One member of my band was an attorney, another works in the aerospace industry but both had played in bar and garage bands throughout their lives. The camp delivers that real rock fantasy experience and exceeds it, and the cost is comparable to other fantasy experiences with professional sports teams. The four-day Yes Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp experience was $4,999 (with an early booking discount, excluding hotel). I think it’s worth the cost and I’m confident every other one of my fellow campers feels the same way. In addition to these four-day programs, Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp also offers two-day experiences and even single-day experiences starting at $299.
Meeting the other campers was another very fulfilling part of the experience. We started as a room full of strangers, each of us from different worlds and different parts of the country. We ended up as groups of friends, spending all day helping each other, supporting each other and playing music together. We then all came together at the performances to encourage each other and cheer the other bands on while we all lived out our rockstar fantasies.
My Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp experience featured the legendary rock band Yes. Like my fellow campers, I think we were all wondering how much interaction we would really have with them. Well, it was total and complete interaction, far exceeding anything I imagined. We played songs with Yes. I was onstage with all the guys from Yes, we played a song or two with each of them (Chris Squire, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe and new singer Jon Davison). I played with one of my personal heroes, Chris Squire, a guy I went to see rock the Philly Spectrum during a 1980s tour when I was in high school. It really was living out a rock fantasy.
The guys from Yes seemed a bit apprehensive at first, but all of them really opened up once they saw how professional and serious everyone was. We got to spend a lot of time talking with them, playing music with them and of course taking photos. In addition to this interaction, the whole band came to visit us at the temporary recording studio the camp set up in the MGM Grand, as we recorded a few songs. Then during our performance in the lounge, they all came out and sat front and center to cheer us on. We played Yes songs, in the MGM Grand, while the band Yes watched us. It was all a bit overwhelming and awesome at the same time.
Keyboard lesson from Geoff Downes
A great example of the wonderful, personal interaction we really had with the Yes guys was with Geoff Downes. One of the songs we picked to play was “Heat Of The Moment” the 80s classic from Asia, the supergroup Geoff was in with Steve Howe. We were having some trouble with the chord progression and our trumpet player was trying to recreate the guitar solo. We asked Geoff to come into the rehearsal studio and he spent about 30 minutes playing the song (which he co-wrote) with us, going over the chords and helping our trumpet player play the guitar solo. Even Steve Howe got involved after our live show, he watched us play at the MGM Grand and complimented our guy on his trumpet interpretation and suggested a different ending to really highlight the trumpet sound.
The culmination of all the hard work and fun was having the bands perform live, in front of a real audience, at the Rouge Lounge at the MGM Grand. This was my first experience performing on stage in my life, and I had to sing two songs myself. It was also my first experience singing in public. Fortunately, I had no stage fright and the whole thing went perfectly. Here’s a video of us playing “Wild Thing”, with me on lead vocals, at the MGM Grand Rouge Lounge, a fantasy that became a reality thanks to Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. In the past six months, he has visited Turkey, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Canada and Peru. You can follow him on Twitter – @luxuryfred and on Instagram – @luxuryfred. Videos in this article were all filmed by the author and can be viewed on his YouTube channel.
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