While most 21-year-olds would jump at the chance to spend a weekend in Las Vegas, how many would do so if it meant spending that time in Sin City with their mother?
When I told my son, who was doing an internship in Los Angeles, that I had an opportunity to do a story in Vegas and asked if he would like to meet me there and jam in a recording studio with professional musicians, his enthusiastic affirmative came right away.
Tyler, who plays the drums, would participate in the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp's Rock Star for a Day program at the organization's state-of-the-art complex just off the Strip.
While the camp has been around for a while, it only recently put down roots in Las Vegas, hoping to give tourists yet another unique experience in the city that offers just about everything a person might want. Have you ever thought about jamming with Roger Daltrey? How about Jeff Beck? Steven Tyler? They've all been guest artists at the camp. To play with such talent comes with a hefty price tag, but it's worth it for those who want to tap into their inner rock star.
"A lot of our customers played in bands in high school and college and then had a decision to make," said owner David Fishof. "The ones who went for the regular jobs did not lose their passion for playing music and rocking out. It's always been with them — just put aside for a while."
Fishof, a Brockton native, said he was looking for a permanent home for Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp and thought Las Vegas would be "the perfect fit."
"And I was right," he said. "It's been amazing. I mean, visitors who come to Vegas can shoot guns at a shooting range, drive race cars at a race track . . . and now they can rehearse, record, and perform with musicians who, in some cases, are their idols."
Participants, whether they take part in the one-day experience or the multi-day camp, are treated like rock stars. From the moment they enter the building and are greeted with a friendly reception — crew members who give them a lanyard with a backstage pass and usher them to their dressing room, complete with their name on the door — it's all rock 'n' roll, baby.
Tyler was matched with bassist Zach Throne and guitarist Brent Muscat from the Sin City Sinners, a popular Vegas-based group. In a rehearsal room equipped with a drum set and an impressive sound system, as well as a handful of sound techs and "roadies" in the wings, they spent hours jamming and then recording a Blink-182 song that Tyler had picked. And although he stayed in the studio, the multiday campers often put on a show at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.
Throne and Muscat may not be household names, but their talent and, more importantly, their temperaments made the experience a memorable one for Tyler. They seemed to enjoy every minute — whether they were experimenting with riffs and rhythms or shooting the breeze about other bands and musical genres they like.
Throne, who has an extensive career as a musician and actor, said although people who come to the camp have varying skill levels, even novices can walk away having had an amazing experience.
"If you love music and you come here with a positive attitude and wanting to have fun, you will," he said. "It's all about the music."
For Angela Zarella, 52, a phone company technician from Everett, reading about the camp online gave her a great idea for her partner, Cindy Walsh's, 60th birthday.
"She didn't want a party and I wanted to do something different — something memorable — for her," Zarella said. "She plays the bass and I thought this was something she would enjoy."
Enjoy is an understatement, said Walsh, a health care analyst who has played bass guitar in a couple of bands over the years as more of a hobby than anything else.
"It was like being a teenager again," she said. "The guys were so nice and very patient. We learned a lot."
As part of their $1,500 Rock Star for a Day package, they were picked up in a chauffeured limousine, had a dressing room stocked with their favorite snacks, jammed with three professional musicians for four hours, performed a song of Walsh's choice ("Crossfire" by Stevie Ray Vaughn) that was taped for them to take home on DVD, and Walsh was given a bass guitar. Also, as part of the package, Zarella, a novice drummer, was able to partake in the jam.
"It was the coolest," Zarella said. "I mean, how much more memorable can you get?"
Walsh said that while she may be a bit biased, she thought their taped performance sounded great and that getting out of her comfort zone was the perfect birthday gift.
"I'm a nine-to-fiver in front of a computer working on spreadsheets all day," she said. "What a great way to free yourself and enjoy the music and the people you're with. We want to go back and do it again."
"The people who come here and do this love it, but so do the musicians," Fishof said. "I mean, Roger Daltrey has done it seven times. They enjoy meeting people who are all about the music. It's not an autograph session."
Walsh agreed, saying the musicians with whom she performed were "very helpful and made the experience so much fun."
They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Not in this case. This is one experience you'll want to share with family and friends.
ROCK 'N' ROLL FANTASY CAMP
3485 West Harmon Ave., Las Vegas, 888-762-2263, www.rockcamp.com. Packages from $299.
Juliet Pennington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.