Mark Farner

The Mac Wire’s Anne Raso Goes To Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp


Text And Photos By Anne M. Raso

Have you ever wondered about Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp and whether it is worth the steep price of admission? Well, we here at themacwire.com say to pick one of the camps with your favorite artist as a counselor and invest your hard-earned cash…because you get to spend hours upon hours with them in an intimate setting and learn three songs with them (including an original) and even get to record with them if you select certain package deals for the camp!

   We observed for a couple of days at the recent New York Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp, held at the Gibson Guitar Studios in midtown (this is the former Hit Factory where the likes of Thriller were recorded), and we were lucky enough to roam freely from studio to studio and check out the “counselors” (rock stars) and “campers” (students). Each band named themselves, learned three songs (including a Who song to be performed with visiting superstar Roger Daltrey) and recorded one song in a nearby studio. Bands consisted of six or seven members plus the counselors. Counselors during our visit included Rudy Sarzo, Mark Hudson, Sandy Gennaro, Non Hendryx, Mark Farner, Richie Kotzen and Kip Winger. We have to admire all the patience and knowledge the ccounselors had with their “campers”–and have to extend a special thank you to Mark Hudson for letting yours truly play tambourine on the all-star jam of The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There” and to Richie Kotzen for letting me play cow bell on The Who’s “Can’t Explain.” 

     Each counselors also gave a “Master Class” where students could request to play anything from the artist’s repertoire. We sat in on Mark Farner’s class last Sunday in the basement of the Gibson Studios and were impressed to learn that Mark can play every part of every Grand Funk song! He took time out to give each camper who came up to the stage a “run down” no matter what instrument they played…and he was also up to having anyone who wanted in the crowd to come up and play tambourine or sing background vocals. Mark did a fierce version of “Mean Mistreater” with the campers and it was something no one else got to hear either privately (as part of his Camp group Red In The Hood or at the BB King’s show all the camp groups performed during their “showdown” at BB King’s).

     Many of the campers were given R&R Fantasy Camp packages as birthday, Christmas and Hanukkah gifts and most of the ones we spoke to worked nine to fives or owned business outside of the music biz. When we checked into drummer/counselor Sandy Gennaro’s room, we found an interesting a friendly group from all over the country whose chosen group name at Camp was The Usual Suspects. Lead singer Donna Travis has a Pat Benataresque vocal style and particularly soared on “I Hate Myself For Loving You”–one of the three songs the band had to learn as part of the R&R Fantasy camp program. Travis, who lives in Milford, CT, is the single mom of twin 14-year-old girls and is an administrative assistant to the head of the legal dept for Subway World Headquaters. Also, to give our readers an idea of diversity in each camp band, The Usual Suspects also featured Jeff Boice on guitar, who in everyday life is one of the owners of Classic Kitchen & Bath in Roslyn, NY, and Lee Stahl, another axeman, and owner of The Renovated Home in Manhattan.
    We also spent time with old acquaintance Rudy Sarzo, who we knew back in his Quiet Riot days and has since gone on to play bass with everyone and anyone–at press time he is with Blue Oyster Cult but was Ronnie James Dio’s bassist (and longtime friend) at the time of his passing last year. Rudy is an excellent counselor because of his easygoing nature and ability to find humor in anything–and because he has played with so many bands, his repertoire is amazing. When Roger Daltrey made the rounds to sing a selected song with each band, he did “Behind blue Eyes” with Rudy’s band (Heart Of Steal) and it was possibly the high point of the entire camp to get such an intimate audience with the Who legend. There were only a dozen people in the room, and Roger not only signed and posed for pics with everyone after singing “Behind Blue Eyes” but also spent some private time and shared hugs with the band’s lead singer. Hearts Of Steal performed an original song called “Seven Year Fog” about this touching subject matter for Roger, who seemed to greatly appreciate it.

    The “grand finale” to camp was the benefit for Jesse Farner at BB King’s on Monday, January 17th. The goal was to raise 100,000 for the Grand Funk legend’s 21-year-old song who is paralyzed as the result of a spinal cord injury. Farner has been busy making his Michigan home disability-friendly and besides having each camp band do ten minutes sets each, there were guest stars popping in and out including Bad Company’s Simon Kirke, AC/DC’s Cliff Williams and an hour long set by Roger Daltrey which included some unusual musical choices on his part (we never expected him to perform “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Born To Run”)! Other than some technical difficulties during Roger’s set, it was a mind-blowing night and 3 Doors Down flew up all the way from their native Mississippi to do a half hour set. Promoter David Fishof auctioned off seven or eight newer models of Gibson guitars signed by all the rockers participating in the show of the tune of three and four grand each, which definitely helped up the take for the charity show.

    As you may know, VH1 has been televising Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp and there are camps coming up all over the globe. The next one is in late February at the Bahamas’ Atlantis Resorts and features Tommy Lee, Lita Ford, Ritchie Kotzen, Rudy Saro and more, so be sure to go to rockandrollfantasycamp.com to check out the details. We will be keeping an eye on all campers who participated in the future to see if they are able to climb the rock and roll ladder and “go pro”! We were quite impressed with that talented campers, who ranged from sixth graders to 50-something plastic surgeons! We want to see if anyone’s going to be able to give up their “day job”! (One of our camp favorites on vocals was Mark Dickstein of the camp band mentored by counselor Kip Winger called The Dicksteins. Mark actually has a band in the West Palm Beach area named Wild Card–and he’s one of our camp “picks to click”!)

Donna Travis, a Connecticut-based Rock And Roll Fantasy Camper who sang lead in Sandy Gennaro’s group The Unusual Suspects, could not resist planting a big wet one on Roger Daltrey when he came into her group’s studio to both perform and observe. Can any girl blame her?
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The Mac Wire’s Hot Pick For Tonight: All Star R&R Fantasy Camp Jam Fundraiser At BB Kings’s NYC

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Two of tonight’s luminaries–Rudy Sarzo and Roger Daltrey–their all-star jam tonight in honor of Mark Farner’s son Jesse is going to be a rock blockbuster! (On Sunday at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, Roger performed “Behind Blue Eyes” with Rudy, a camp counselor, and his band Heart Of Steel.)


Mark Farner–one of the most talented of all the Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp counselors and of course, a rock legend. Will Roger Daltrey perform Who songs with Mark (AKA “The Captain”)  tonight at BB King’s Times Square at the benefit for his son Jesse? We have to keep our lips sealed, but we think there’s a good chance personally! 
By Anne Raso

We were just lucky enough to spend time hanging out with Mark Farner and his group of Rock And Roll Fantasy Campers (who call themselves Red In The Hood, partially because of their talented red-haired female lead vocalist, Christy Hemme, a hostess of Spike TV’s TNA Wrestling). Mark has been one of the most inspirational “camp counselors” and really gives 100 per cent into coaching his rock-star-wannabe pupils. He also let anyone camper who wanted to jam with him last night over at the camp, which takes place at the Gibson Studios over in midtown (the space was formerly know for housing the Hit Factory and is still divided up into many individual studios where the campers did their thing).

Tonight at BB King’s is a benefit for Mark’s son Jesse Farner, 21, who is paralyzed after a severe neck cord injury. When we spoke to Mark yesterday, he told themacwire.com that he is totally renovating his Michigan home to be handicap-friendly for Jesse, and it is a big undertaking. 

Being the legend that he is, Mark will be making some foot-stomping music tonight with not only the fabulously talented Rock And Roll Fantasy campers, but some of its biggest luminaries! Yes, we snuck into rehearsals yesterday, and caught all the counselors (including Rudy Sarzo, Mark Farner, Sandy Genaro, Mark Hudson and Richie Kotzen) jamming together with Roger Daltrey on Who songs and you will not want to miss this. Simon Kirke was on bass and it was a blast. Tonight, performing on the bill besides Mr. Daltrey as the headliner, will be 3 Doors Down and Cliff Williams of AC/DC. It’s a rare mix of artists you will never get to see together again–so head to town or where a frown! And remember that the show is for a great, great cause!

TICKETS: Tickets for the event are available through Ticketmaster. Included in $300 ticket price are early VIP seating, meet and greet with Mark Farner and friends. Tickets just for show at 7PM are also available for $50–go to markfarner.com, rockcamp.com and bbkingblues.com for more info.


Photos: Anne Raso