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Rock star wannabes go to Camp Jam

Campers meet, play music with, and party with rockers
/ Source: The Associated Press

For one moment, plucking out a bluesy version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Whiskey Rock A Roller” beside the man who wrote the song, Kelly Thomas felt like a rock star.

The 43-year-old office manager chose a bass guitar over a car as her high school graduation gift. Now she’s one of several dozen graduates of Camp Jam — a three-day chance to meet, party and play music with professional rockers.

“It was just magic,” gushed Thomas.

Several rock “fantasy camps” have popped up in the past few years, as baby boomers who traded their electric guitars for golf clubs years ago look to rekindle their rock ’n’ roll dreams.

“A lot of them are the people who went down the other road,” said Liberty Devitto, Billy Joel’s drummer and a staff member at Camp Jam. “They were afraid to take that ‘dark road’ and now they’re coming face to face with the people who did and getting to see for a couple of days what it might have been like.”

Camps for teens, kids, adultsJeff Carlisi, former guitarist with .38 Special and co-founder of the camp, said he came up with the idea in 2003. Last summer, he hosted a camp for teens in Atlanta. This year he’ll host weeklong teen camps in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, as well the adult camp — dubbed Camp Jam EXP — and Camp Jam Kids for younger children.

At the first adult camp in February, the youngest participant was 29; the oldest was 63. Among them were lawyers, CEOs and other executives.

Carlisi said he originally included sessions on recording techniques and other music industry tips, but soon realized his campers “couldn’t have cared less. They wanted to crank it up and play.”

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At the October session in Atlanta, campers from Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey and Connecticut were handed laminated badges with the word “artist” printed under their names.

About five minutes after Thomas got hers on the first day, she was in one of the studio’s soundproofed practice spaces, banging out Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” with three other people.

Campers spent most of the second day the same way, jamming with fellow participants and rockers such as Carlisi, Devitto, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King and Mark Rivera, who has played saxophone with Foreigner, Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel, and Hall and Oates.

“You’re playing with genius,” said Glenn Zimmerman, a 52-year-old Atlanta salesman and bass player attending the camp for the second time. “It’s a rare treat.”

The weekend camp costs $1,195 per person. At Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, with sessions in Los Angeles and New York City, participants pay $6,000 to $8,500 to spend a week playing with and learning from the likes of Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and Roger Daltrey of The Who.

“I’m still buzzing; I’m still smiling,” Thomas said days after her experience ended. “It was far more than what I expected, it really was.”