Here's the third in a three-part series about Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, a business celebrating its 21st anniversary. (The next camp starts on June 29th and features Nancy Wilson of Heart.)

The goal is to provide an inside look an inside look at all aspects of a business -- and hopefully inspire you to turn your own business into a superstar.

The first article (check it out here) featured founder David Fishof sharing where the idea came from, how he struggled through the lean times, and how he built a rock and roll institution. The second article featured Mike Inez, the bass player for Alice in Chains, and how the experience "touched my heart in a way that my heart hasn't been touched in a long time."

This article focuses on the customer experience through the eyes of two campers -- and superstars in their own rights. Tracy Katsky is a producer whose latest project is the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet and the founder of KatCo, a production development company. Tom Kapinos is a writer and producer of shows like Californication, Lucifer, and is writing the upcoming White Famous, a Jamie Foxx series for Showtime.

Ladies first, so let's start with Tracy.

What made you decide to try a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp?

Tracy: Another TV show runner had done it, I was playing in a band and he came and jammed with us... and he said, " You should do it."

Although this was before the book came out, I was having my own Year of Saying Yes. I said, "F it. Why not?" (Laughs.) And, it was an excuse to go to Vegas and have a grown-up weekend with my husband.

Trying new things was a commitment I made to myself. I would always have said no to something like that before, which was a great reason to say yes.

Just because you decide to try something new... doesn't mean you aren't nervous about trying something new.

Tracy: I was very nervous. Plus, I was supposed to go with a guitar player friend who had to back out at the last minute.

So I show up and get put into a band and my rock star counselor was (heavy metal guitarist) Kane Roberts, who fortunately is truly hilarious and helped me feel a lot more comfortable.

It also helps that the counselors work hard to play up the strengths of the people who attend, and play down their weaknesses. One time a woman came to camp and literally didn't play any instrument; she was just huge fan of one of the stars. A counselor taught her one chord, gave her time to work on it... the poor lady was super nice but she couldn't even keep the beat on a tambourine. Yet the counselor managed to find something she could do that would help the band.

I was deeply impressed by that.

Being a counselor can't be an easy job.

Tracy: I feel like the people who are good at being counselors are self-selected. You have to love music, you have to be patient, and you have to love musicians of any level.

They also need to be both diplomatic and assertive. Some of the campers are rich "CEO types" who are used to being in charge, to never being questioned, to never being corrected... and the counselors sometimes have to look them in the eye and tell them they need to do better.

For some, it's a profound experience to get that kind of feedback. And then, to have to join in and be a part of something bigger... that's also profound for them.

The Camp is the most fascinating sociological experiment you've ever seen. For example, one guy was this speed metal drummer... and it turns out that back home he's the roofing king of the Midwest. (Laughs.)

Playing with the rock stars is awesome, but meeting some of the people that you meet just as interesting.

Meeting some of the rock stars has to be cool, but you wouldn't go back if you didn't get more out of it than that.

Tracy: You're right. I love to play, and I love to play with all kinds of different people. You learn something from everyone you play with.

And you definitely get better by playing with the counselors. It's a little like playing with a tennis pro. You can play against your friends all you want... but you won't get a lot better unless you play with a pro. They push me to find out what I can do, and I'm so grateful for that opportunity. They really take time to make you better. They talk about playing a different way, placing my hands a different way, changing the tone of my amp... it's stuff I never would have thought of because it's not intuitive to me.

It sounds like you take more than just music home with you.

Tracy: I've been working in one industry for a very long time, so like it or not, many of the people I work with already have a fixed notion of who I am and what I do. The same thing is true because I'm a parent. I'm a mom, some of my friends are moms, and we all tend to fall into our day-to-day characters.

What's great about the Fantasy Camp is that I don't know those people, I'm probably never going to see them again, they don't know who I am or what I do... and it's incredibly freeing. It's a little like being a kid and going to summer camp and being exactly who you are, or being someone you normally are not... you're not locked in like you are in your everyday life.

All that is why I've been to four or five camps. It's not intimidating, it's inspiring --and it definitely opens your eyes.

And now for Tom...

Same question for you: Why?

Tom: Music was my first love. I grew up playing guitar, loved every variety of hard rock and heavy metal... and then as I got into my late teens and early 20s I realized I didn't want to be a musician, I wanted to be a rock star. I just wasn't naturally gifted.

If you put a pen in my hands, I'm fine. If you put a guitar in my hands... I'm okay.

I also didn't like the idea that to make my way in the world I would have to depend on three or four other dopes.(Laughs.)

Once I had success as a writer, I started to play guitar again... and the idea of going to a Camp just seemed like fun.

As a lifelong musician, was it intimidating to plug in next to a bunch of rock stars?

Tom: Not at all. My experience at the most recent camp was with the guys from Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots, and they could not have been nicer. They didn't act like they did it for a paycheck. They really seemed like they wanted to be there, and that makes you immediately relax and feel like you fit in.

I really like playing with the rock stars. They're always so gracious. They seem like they remember what it was like, once upon a time, to not be so talented and to look up to other people.

Sometimes the rock stars are the most humble people there. (Laughs.)

Take me through a day.

Tom: It starts really quickly. There's a welcome announcement from David, and then you and your bandmates are quickly sent to a rehearsal room with a counselor. So within minutes, you're playing music.

It's actually pretty intense in that way, especially if you're a hobbyist. If you're a guy who picks up an instrument in your spare time, you definitely don't play with other people every day.

That would be the intimidating part for me: going from playing in a room by myself to playing with true professionals.

Tom: For people who may have found success in other areas, it's humbling. It's especially humbling to be the remedial player in the room. (Laughs.)

But you know what? You lose track of time. The whole thing takes four days, but the hours go by in what seems like minutes.

As you get older, its hard to think of many experiences where time just disappears. In this case it all melts away.

You've done it more than once. Why go back again?

Tom: I go back because David has done such a great job of getting interesting people to participate to in the Camp. Every year there is someone new and cool.

So there are two reasons to go back: playing with musicians I admire... and then playing in the band that gets assembled.

Every time I've left a camp I've gone home more inspired about music in general and playing guitar. Plus the anticipation makes me play a lot more in the weeks leading up to a camp. They give you a song list and I really try to dig in and, to the best of my ability, learn the songs.

That definitely makes me play more than I normally would, so that's part of it. Going to a Camp motivates me to do the work.

It seems like playing in a band is a lot like your day job.

Tom: It is an interesting mix of creation and collaboration.

I recently created Lucifer on Fox. I wrote the pilot for that, created it, was a producer, and I'm doing a new show on Showtime called White Famous about a young black comedian who is on the verge of being so famous that even white people know him. We shot the pilot past September.

The pace of TV is great. It moves so quickly that you have to go with your gut instinct at all times, and you have to rely on the people you hire. Sometimes it comes out far better than you would have imagined. Like with David Duchovny on Californication. That was a seamless marriage of actor and material.

Other times you see what actors do well and write to that.

The best part of creating a show is the freedom to go anywhere you want with the characters you create. The little niche I've carved out is a little like music: you just get to jam.

In my business, it doesn't get better than that.

Published on: Mar 20, 2017
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