Review: Rock ‘n Roll Dreams Come True at Joyful, if Self-Indulgent, Rock Camp

There’s nothing particularly exceptional about the filmmaking on display in Rock Camp, a new film about the long-running Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp that allows aspiring musicians, die-hard fans or anyone with the funds available to spend a week rocking out with legends from the last four decades of rock music. But then, that’s not the point of a film as joyful as this one; it’s more than competently made (co-directed by Renee Barron and Douglas Blush), which means we can focus instead on all the fun to be had (and surprisingly, the meaning to be found) at this escapist getaway that started as a concert promoter’s latest wild idea.

Rock Camp
Image courtesy of Music Box Theatre

Gunning for the top spot in the name-dropping hall of fame, the film is an hour and a half of a who’s who in American rock music, from Gene Simmons and Meatloaf to Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar, Roger Daltrey, Nancy Wilson and dozens more. In practically every shot during the Las Vegas-based, week-long camp the film follows is jam-packed with namecards calling out who’s in the room and which band(s) you know them from. Founder David Fishof spent years as a tour manager (he put The Monkees back on the map in the 1980s and convinced Ringo Starr to tour solo); the camp became just his newest idea to connect music makers with music lovers, this time in a way that centered the love of the art and joy of jamming together. Twenty years later, legendary musicians continue to return as “camp counselors” out of a love for the experience while some campers are repeat participants year after year after year after…you get the idea.

Rock Camp does come dangerously close to crossing into self-indulgent territory more than once; we get it, everyone loves Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp! So the filmmakers are wise to zoom out far enough from the days of vocal training and electric guitar masterclasses to introduce us to a handful of campers and what brings them to the annual events. These are high-powered accountants with buttoned-up day jobs; they are teachers or doctors or entrepreneurs. They all live their everyday lives far from the glamour of rock shows, which makes their time at the fantasy camp all the more special. In a couple of key instances, we get to know the campers quite well, understanding their lives back home, their inspirations for attending camp and what drives them to pursue their long-enduring passion for the music. Not only are they meeting the men and women they’ve idolized for years, they get to make music with them—legitimately a dream come true.

There is so much in life that is hard or unfair or just plain boring (especially lately) and far too often our days are shaped by the must dos and should dos, not the want to dos. A place like Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp exists purely to scratch the itch on that last one, to ensure that you do not depart this life without having done something awesome. From the corporate executive attending band camp again who decides to take the leap from behind “the kit” (that’s the drums for us squares) to the lead singer’s mic in center stage to the father who’s own music career was sidelined with the birth of a special-needs child who’s now recapturing his love of live music, those privileged enough to attend (and let’s be straight, this is a very privileged option to have in life) are getting so much more out of the experience than their memories of sharing the stage with their heroes.

Like every other in-person event right now, Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp has been put on hold during the pandemic; while we bide our time for the program to start up again safely, Rock Camp is a great way to live vicariously through the wanna be rockers who’ve been there and lived to tell the tale.

Rock Camp is now streaming on virtual cinemas, including through Music Box Theatre. A portion of your rental goes to support the venue while it’s closed.

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Lisa Trifone