Rock camp for dads

Ever dream of being Neil Young?

Ray Wuolo has, and the 49-year-old father of four doesn’t let his age get in the way of that dream.

He’s one of several Twin Cities dads that have traded Tuesday night soccer practice for rock and roll jam sessions in a new summer program called Rock Camp for Dads.

Rock Camp is an outlet for musical adults to hone their talents in a band-type setting. The five-week camp was created by Mike Michel of the Bill Mike band.

“It’s about getting together and playing. It’s about not being a dad for a bit, and just being a kid,” said Brad McLemore, owner of Linden Hills House of Music.

The camp formed under Michel, who noticed a need for adult musicians to have a place to meet and expand their talents as a group.

“People want to play, but they don’t have time to be in a band. It’s hard to meet people who want to play, or can play or have time to play,” McLemore said.

The camp was an instant hit. Michel was getting calls and e-mails from interested fathers the same week he posted a camp description on Craigslist. Dads from all corners of the Twin Cities, as far as Lakeville, St. Paul and Coon Rapids signed up.

“I was looking for someone to jam with; someone with the same crazy schedule that I have, someone who understood that Friday nights are bad because it’s family ice cream night,” said camp alum David Morabito.

Right now the camp is just for guitarists and bassists, but McLemore said it might open up to more instruments, possibly drums. All adults, including females, are welcome, even those without kids. The only qualification is that you can play a song.

The camp is $175 and runs once a week for five weeks, ending with a 20-minute performance at a live concert. Practice is usually Tuesday or Wednesday from 7:30–9 p.m. with a little extra jam time at the end.

Every Tuesday dads in jeans, sandals and baseball caps meet in the lobby of the Linden Hills House of Music for band practice. Each brings their own instrument and amp if they have one.

Camp leader, Michel, sits in front with his acoustic guitar and bass. He is younger than most of his campers, who range from early 30s–50s, but his easy demeanor suits the laid back atmosphere.

With picks in hand, they hammer out the mechanics of a Beatles song. Within 40 minutes they are playing the whole song through with improvised solos.

The group learns two new songs each week, and while Michel diplomatically chooses music to fit members’ interests, it naturally falls into rock.

The first camp session, comprised of eight guitarists and bassists, ended July 16. The second session ended Aug. 20 at Linden Hills Live.

McLemore hopes that in the future the camp will help adults form a band outside of camp.

For returnee Brian Toms, the camp is a dream-come-true.
"The cost is very reasonable. The time commitment (one night a week plus the concert) works great, and Mike is a cool guy to work with," Toms said. "I had such a good time the first go-round, I jumped at the opportunity when an opening arose in this current session."

Most campers have played for no less than a year and have basic knowledge of guitar, but some have years of experience playing in multiple bands. Both Toms and Wuolo, guitarists and fathers, have played for 30 years off and on with their own bands.

Wuolo has kept his group going with impromptu jam sessions at his house.

"We found out that some of us can play bass and drums and some of us aren’t afraid to sing. Who knows where it will go? Maybe there’s a band in us," Wuolo said. "The beauty of age is that embarrassment is a trivial emotion compared to missing out on the important experiences of life. We got a lot of rock and roll in us yet and as Neil Young says, ‘It’s better to burnout than it is to rust."