What's it like to give up the rocking chair for an opportunity to rock on stage?
From the first time I performed in a band in front of thousands in junior high school, I was hooked.
It was a shot of adrenalin that can only be felt, not expressed, because one person’s adrenaline rush is another’s biggest fear. Put me in front of 20 people at a speaking engagement and I am a mess, but in front of 40,000 in a stadium with me on harmonica, microphone and a band? Now we’re talking!
In 1973 I was asked to perform as the opening act for a female blues singer featured at the Alternative School in Wyncote and it changed my life forever. I ended up performing and sharing the stage with her my last summer at Cheltenham High School. Her name? Bonnie Raitt.
She invited me to go out on the road that summer, but my first tour was short-lived. This Jewish kid straight out of high school was not accustomed to staying in Holiday Inns with no air conditioning, touring up and down the East Coast and schlepping heavy equipment. There were no roadies like you see in the movies — at least not then.
I got it all out of my system and was ready to get off the road and go home! I then went off to obtain my finance degree at what is now Philadelphia University, and went on to live my life as a stockbroker, husband and father of two. I continued for years to steadily perform for fun, but then a backstage offer from a mutual friend to sit in with Kenny Loggins — Loggins and Messina was one of my favorite bands growing up — at the late Valley Forge Music Fair surfaced, and, needless to say, this got my juices flowing again.
After 15 years of marriage, I experienced a long, exaggerated divorce, and music became my healthy addiction. Combined with a volatile stock market and uncertain investment climate —it got me through some turbulent times.
My friend Brad, a fellow Shir Ami member, and a client, told me about something he thought would be therapeutic, help me during these times and had my name written all over it.
Welcome to Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.
RRFC (www.rockcamp.com) was the brain child of concert promoter and band manager David Fishof — whose resume consisted of managing bands like The Who and Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band.
One could compare RRFC to baseball fantasy camp, where rich/avid sports fans and athletes pay big bucks to go to Florida and play ball with a team of paunchy ex-athletes. Fishof applied the same idea to music — creating a place where people could eat sleep and drink rock ’n’ roll. But instead of hitting pitches delivered by Steve Carlton, one is singing lead vocals to a Who song with Roger Daltrey or singing lead to Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” with Joel’s drummer Liberty Devito and sax player Marc Rivera.
There was one difference, however, between baseball camp and RRFC; at RRFC, you get to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at a major music venue like House of Blues in L.A., or B.B. King’s in NYC, and share the stage and mic with greats like Daltrey, Gene Simmons (from Kiss) and Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead).
Fishof has been fulfilling fantasies of music lovers since the late ’90s: From pro musicians to die-hard fans, from groupies to trust-fund babies — RRFC is for anyone who loves rock.
I attended RRFC in 2003 and 2005. I was a counselor for a year and built connections and relationships with many of the musicians professionally, as friends, and as a stock broker — managing their money, and giving them investment advice. More importantly, though, was the perpetual communication we had that would allow me to build a network to share the stage with them in the future.
Post-camp, I went to see Roger Daltrey perform solo, met him prior to the show, and simply asked, “Roger — can I perform ‘Squeezebox’ with you?” He looked at me, smiled and said, “If you have your bloody C-harp (harmonica in the key of C) with you, why not?” That’s what can happen when Roger Daltrey is your camp counselor.
Any misconceptions of Rock Camp being a cocktail of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll are anything but accurate. To attend, campers must currently pay $5,000 — food and lodging not included.
That being said, campers consisted of a diversified group, including 55-year-old balding executives, trust-fund babies and bored housewives who all shared the same passion for great music, good people and old fashioned rock ’n’ roll.
My first camp consisted of 30 guitarists, 18 drummers, 10 bass players, seven keyboardists, seven vocalists, one saxophonist and one harmonica-playing front man — me, which made me a very happy camper. There also were a lot of non-musicians, who paid the hefty price just to be a part of the experience — to speculate, mingle and party with rock stars, some of their biggest idols.
For starters, camp breakfast was anything but normal. Mornings began with more than just oatmeal; my table one morning consisted of a scrambled group of talented musicians. One morning I shared a table with Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead), Lisa Loeb, Leslie West, Liberty Devito (Billy Joel), Bobby Mayo (Peter Frampton) and Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad). Just the conversations were worth the price of camp. (Use your imagination!) My short professional touring career never came close to experiencing the memories that were shared at breakfast.
Dinner conversations were even better — and hanging out in the hotel lobby until 2 in the morning made you feel like a teenager again, or, even for a moment, a Rock Star.
Other than my occasional invite to be “sittin’ in” with Kenny Loggins when in town, or to perform live on stage with members of Billy Joel’s band, camp was as close as it gets to performing with the Piano Man himself.
RRFC is still going strong — today it’s presented all over the United States, London and even the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. Sessions typically range from two to six days, but for those with lack of time, leave it to Las Vegas to offer the 90- minute “Rock Star” experience (starting at $299). The Las Vegas venue opened up permanently in October 2012; RRFC in Vegas consists of 10 recording studios.
Some of Fishof’s fantasies can be quite costly — as much as $10,000. If you can afford it, then it’s a bargain at twice the cost.
The ’70s and ’80s were the two decades of my music. Three- and four-piece bands like Grand Funk Railroad, The Who and Mountain are rare in today’s digital music world.
At the end of the day, I would not quit my day job. But clearly my passion for performing complements my life and provides a healthy balance to the long work hours and pressure of my occupation. To be sharing the stage and jamming with musicians from the bands that I grew up with and still enjoy today was surreal.
RRFC for me was like that Master Card commercial: Dinner before the show, $100. Two tickets to a Who concert, $199.
Performing live on stage with Roger Daltrey — priceless.
Craig Langweiler is president of Langweiler Financial Group in Newtown, specializing in tax-free municipal bonds and dividend investment strategies. He still performs with friends and many local bands on weekends. This article originally appeared in "The Good Life" special features section.