February 25, 2013
If someone had told me a week earlier that I’d soon be on a stage in Las Vegas, belting out an Aretha Franklin number without a care in the world, I’d have probably hidden under the nearest table. But now I’m living proof that you don’t need to be the next Sinatra to make your Sin City debut.
A new ‘Rock Star for a Day’ package from the folks at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp provides music fans with a rare opportunity to jam, record and perform on stage with world-class touring and studio musicians – whatever your instrument or level of skill. This bespoke experience is much more intimate than the wildly popular multi-day, multi-attendee Rock Camps, which makes it an ideal option for limelight-shunners and shower singers (like me). So, despite being as far removed from a rock chick as it’s possible to be, I decided to swap my hairbrush for a microphone and give it a go…
It’s clear from the outset that an impressive amount of planning goes into making these encounters a success, and a few days before my session I’m asked for a list of songs I might like to sing so I can be matched with the appropriate musicians. But I have to admit I’m slightly dubious at this point. Mistakenly or not, I’m labouring under the impression that the ‘rock’ in ‘rock star’ means I’ll be expected to perform some kind of screeching heavy metal anthem – about as far from my comfort zone as possible – and the list of popular tracks sent to me as a ‘helpful guide’ is hardly reassuring. Somehow I can’t see myself wrapping my feeble vocal chords around Alice Cooper’s School’s Out or Van Halen’s Runnin’ With the Devil.
But Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp pride themselves on being able to provide musicians for any musical genre, from bluegrass to bebop and folk-rock to funk. And access to a vast pool of talent ensures a carefully hand-picked band will be waiting for me, fully clued-up on my preferences. Even so, I’m still feeling slightly more anxious than excited at this stage. Despite having something of a musical background, it’s been a good two decades since I’ve willingly sung in front of strangers – the odd bout of raucous karaoke notwithstanding – and I’m anticipating warbly-voiced nerves and feeling like a fish out of water. But I fire off a cobbled-together list of ‘safe’ song options and remember this is supposed to be fun.
Fast forward a couple of days and I’m standing in a state-of-the-art rehearsal studio at R’n’R Fantasy Camp’s new off-Strip home, feeling altogether more relaxed. I’ve spent the last half hour getting to know the members of my very own band – guitarist Zach, bassist Kenn and drummer Alex – who greet me warmly and immediately put me at ease.
Before we get stuck in, I’m invited to sit in on another wannabe rock star’s final performance: a middle-aged bass player who’s recording a version of Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine. He’s been practising for a while and he’s pretty much note perfect, but at the very last moment he hits a few bum notes and looks utterly dejected. Second time round, he does the same thing again. But there’s no way anyone’s letting him go home with a less than perfect recording of his day. Despite running over time, he’s offered nothing but encouragement until he gets it right and he leaves the studio a happy man.
Now it’s my turn and we’re just about to run through one of my choices for the first time – Adele’s version of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love. Other than a worry that I’ll massacre a classic song, my main concern at this point is that my band will be bored. After all, this is a slow, simple tune with nary a complex guitar riff in sight. Hardly an exciting challenge for musicians such as these, who’ve played with superstars like Chaka Khan, Chuck Berry and Meatloaf to name but three. But when I look around me mid-song, all eyes are closed and the band seems genuinely engrossed. And I’m surprised to find that I feel perfectly comfortable in this environment too. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – which, of course, is the whole idea.
By the end of the afternoon we’re ready to record, so we head to the live room and jump on stage. Surrounded by various instruments, amps and cables, I almost feel like a bona fide musician and whisper “one-two” into the mic just for the sake of it, before the tech guy indicates we’re good to go. Then, suddenly, sound fills the room in a way that only live music can and I momentarily forget where I am. The acoustics are amazing. I don’t even recognise my own voice. And I realise I haven’t felt this connected to my musical side for twenty years or more. It feels good, powerful even, in a way that I’d completely forgotten. No wonder my band seem so chilled out. They get to do this for a living, every day.
Remarkably, we get something recorded in a couple of takes, and my rock star day is almost at an end. But there’s still a bit of time left to run through a couple more songs from my list, before the band start ramping it up and shouting out their own suggestions. I have to admit, I find their enthusiasm nothing short of infectious and I’ll happily try anything now. I realise this is something I’ve secretly wanted to do for years and I don’t even mind who’s listening any more.
And that’s how I came to be on stage in Las Vegas, belting out an Aretha Franklin number without a care in the world…
Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp have just moved into a permanent, flagship off-Strip location, and now anyone can be a Rock Star for a Day. Whether you fall into the category of complete novice, lapsed musician or plain old wannabe, this new experience will bring out your inner rock god quicker than you can say Led Zeppelin – perfect for time-poor tourists who can’t commit to the longer programme but still want to experience the thrill of performing live with professional musicians.
Virgin Atlantic operates a daily direct flight to Las Vegas from London Gatwick.