Robert Goldfarb is a middle-aged Montreal venture capitalist, but for one night last February he got to live out his teenage fantasy. He walked on stage at the House of Blues on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, sat down behind a keyboard and, with the rest of his band, belted out the Who classic I Can See for Miles with none other than Roger Daltrey, the Who's legendary front man. Months later, he's still buzzing from the high. “I had an out-of-body experience,” he says. “I couldn't believe here was Roger Daltrey singing a Who song in my band.”
Goldfarb's moment of glory came at the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp, an annual five-day boot camp where fans can jam with their heroes and fulfill their dreams of being a rockstar. David Fishof, promoter of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band tours, launched the camp in its current incarnation in 2002, and it has since played host to hundreds of campers. Most are men in their 40s and 50s eager to relive a slice of their youth, but anyone, regardless of age, sex or level of musical ability, is welcome.
If you're thinking of attending, be prepared to shell out $8,499 (U.S.), plus airfare and hotel. And count on spending exhausting 14-hour days in rehearsal. Despite what you may think, a rock and roll camp isn't an orgy of drunken egomaniacs — it's more a convention of workaholics. Rehearsals and workshops run from dawn to dusk, while counselors like Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick drive campers to perfection so they can compete at the informal Battle of the Bands competition that concludes the week. “Ironically, counselors who do these kind of events have to be the really hard-working ones,” says Kulick.”They're not exactly the ones who are in rehab every other year.”
The professionalism of the camp counselors impressed Goldfarb, the Montreal businessman. He isn't a stranger to the music biz — back in the 1970s, he toured and played keyboards with René Simard, the Québécois teen idol — but he had long since given up serious playing to pursue a career in business. Now the CEO of a private holding company, he relaxes by playing Steely Dan tunes with his buddies in their basements every week. He thought that was going to be the extent of his musical ambition — until his friends surprised him and gave him a trip to the camp as a 50th birthday gift.
When he arrived for the first day in Los Angeles, Goldfarb and an ad hoc quartet nervously performed BTO's Taking Care of Business, which they chose from a list of suggested tunes the camp had supplied weeks before to campers. Camp counselors, including Elliott Easton of The Cars and Simon Kirke of Bad Company, then assigned each of the 79 campers to bands according to their level of musicianship.
Goldfarb joined a doctor, a CEO, a business consultant, a graphics designer, a Honda dealership owner and a sales manager to form a group they dubbed Fredx.
For three 14-hour days, Fredx rehearsed I Can See for Miles under the stern hand of Jeff Pilson, Foreigner's bass player. “There was no clowning around during rehearsals,” recalls Goldfarb. “He made us realize we had to be cohesive and listen to each other if this was going to succeed.”
The constant practicing was interrupted only by buffet breaks and visits by counselors such as Colin Hay of Men at Work, Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin. Each star offered musical pointers on playing and songwriting, related anecdotes, signed guitars and drum heads and played a few numbers.
Goldfarb was ecstatic at the chance to meet his idol, guitarist Dickey Betts, who told tales of his life on the road with the Allman Brothers — including the revelation that Duane Allman was laughing on the Live at Fillmore East album cover because he was hiding a joint in his hand. Just as thrilling was the chance to hear Betts play up close. “Once he started playing I had goose bumps,” says Goldfarb.
Monty Slater was just as delighted by the camp, which he attended with his family by his side. The Cochrane, Ga., obstetrician loves to relax by playing his Taylor guitar. So when his wife, Gail, gave him a backpack full of guitar strings and an invite to the camp as a 50th birthday present, he was thrilled.
“Gail and I had as much fun there after 23 years of marriage as we had on our honeymoon,” he says. His fondest memory is an impromptu jam session with members of Night Ranger and Great White at his hotel. “I went upstairs, got my guitar and brought it down, and we just started jamming at the bar. That was really a fun night.”
Goldfarb's own No. 1 moment was meeting Roger Daltrey during rehearsals. The Who frontman dropped in on the last day of rehearsals to sign autographs, chat and inspect Fredx's progress. “The actual song has no keyboards in it,” recalls Goldfarb, “so I improvised with a growly organ sound. He loved it.”
Goldfarb played that arrangement at the Battle of the Bands, filmed by The Learning Channel, before an audience of friends and families. As drums and electric guitars thundered, Daltrey hit the climax of I Can See for Miles — then suddenly stopped singing and shouted, “Where are we? What's this bit?” A band member shouted out the words and Daltrey picked up on the lyric.
Alas, Fredx didn't win the battle, but Goldfarb and his mates did receive a gold record plaque. And they never missed a beat with Daltrey.