For anyone who's ever lip-synced to their favorite song in the bathroom mirror or busted out the air guitar during a Jimmy Page solo when no one was looking, Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp might be your kind of jam. It's an annual four-day getaway that lets "campers" rub shoulders with actual rock stars, sitting in on master classes and Q&As, and forming bands with seasoned musicians and performing on real venue stages.
The fantasy camp is now the subject of a new documentary called Rock Camp, which explores the ins and outs of the experience and introduces us to a select group of campers from all walks of life and skill levels. It also features interviews with a roster of big names: the Who's Roger Daltrey, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, Slash, Nancy Wilson, Alice Cooper and members of Judas Priest, Jane's Addiction, Whitesnake and more.
At the center of it all is David Fishof, a longtime music booker, tour manager and sports agent who was instrumental in reuniting the Monkees and forming Ringo Starr's hugely popular All Starr Band. Fishof founded Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp in 1997 and has overseen it ever since, and he spoke to the Inlander about the release of Rock Camp, the state of live music during COVID-19 and whether rock stars are actually as wild as we think they are. Responses have been edited for clarity.
INLANDER: Because you've worked with so many famous musicians over the years, are you always fielding questions about what certain rock stars are like in person?
DAVID FISHOF: People always seem to ask me, "What's this one like? What's that one like?" When I was [managing] the All Starr Band with all those musicians, that was when the phone rang every day, because everybody in the industry wanted to know how they got along. Everyone said it could never happen — that you could put all these superstars in one band and tour.
We like to think of the rock star lifestyle as being pretty debaucherous, but am I wrong in thinking it's probably a lot more mundane behind the scenes?
You're wrong. [laughs] But when the Monkees were touring, they had their wives and their kids on the road. When Ringo was touring, most of them were in 12-step programs. The craziness happened years ago. Personally, I always ran to my room. I don't drink, I never got really involved in that, so it became mundane. But you hear stories about Mötley Crüe on the road. To alleviate all that boredom, they would do crazy things.
Rock Camp has been put on hold because of the pandemic, though I know you've been hosting Zoom master classes with artists. What's it like not having that regular get-together?
I've been trying to think for many years, how do I take my business online? In June, I came up with this idea of [reproducing] those master classes that we do at Rock Camp, where people get to sit around and talk to the rock stars. We've done 150 of these master classes since June. What I love about them is that the artists are doing these classes and they're not promoting their tours, they're not promoting their records. They're promoting just giving the best advice you could ever ask for. It's a way to connect with these artists during COVID. It's been hard, and live music has been hit the most. But I think it's gonna come back, and it's gonna come back in a very strong way. Many of these artists now are all spending time recording and creating great content, and I think there's going to be some great music coming out and a lot of touring happening.
Is there a specific moment from the early days of Fantasy Camp when you realized it had a future?
I think the moment was when Roger Daltrey came to the Rock Camp in New York. He came in on a Thursday, and he jammed with all the bands on Friday. He turned to me and said, "When do these bands perform?" And I said, "They're playing at the Bottom Line [rock club] on Sunday night." He said, "I want to jam with each one of them." And that was the turning moment when I realized that he had as much fun doing the camp as the campers. It reminded him what it was like when he first started.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film, beyond "I want to go to a fantasy camp"?
What I really want people to take away from it is that anybody can do what they want to do, but they shouldn't let fear get in the way. People who have gone to the camp, you see how much they've been able to grow. And these rock stars, they help you along the way and push you forward. I get emails every day from people thanking me — "I'm doing this, I'm doing that, and I'm running my office better because I learned to listen." So I'm hoping that Rock Camp is a place where you go and it changes your life in all different ways, and I hope the movie inspires people.
Is there any big star in particular who hasn't participated in the camp that you'd most love to get?
There's so many — from Bruce Springsteen on down. I'm hoping that when they see the film, they'll understand what we do and how we share music. So the list is endless. One of my favorite stories was when Joe Elliott from Def Leppard came, and we're preparing an old Def Leppard song. I turned to one of the bands and said, "I know you want to do a Def Leppard song with Joe Elliott, but why don't you prepare a Mott the Hoople song? I know he's the biggest fan." And so Joe walked in and said, "OK, what do you guys want to do?" and they said, "We want to do this song from Mott the Hoople." And his eyes lit up. I remember walking him to his car afterwards and he says, "That was my Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp." That's what it's about. ♦
Rock Camp is available now as a ticketed streaming event through various indie movie theaters and at rockcampthemovie.com. It will be available as a digital rental on Google Play and Amazon Prime beginning Feb. 16.