Camp like a rock star

Try a sports or music adult camp—the splurge is well worth the money

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From the January 2016 issue of the magazine.

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You could consider Norm Glowach savvier than most: He didn’t arrive at Camp Copperhead with any illusions about how far the fantasy would go. So he wasn’t let down when the star attraction turned out to be a little bit of a grump who “doesn’t suffer fools.” Glowach, a government worker from Yellowknife, says he signed up at singer-songwriter Steve Earle’s camp in upstate New York hoping to learn a thing or two about his first love—crafting a piece of music. Glowach isn’t a professional musician, and at 56 he says, “I’m too old now to start.”

But like countless other adults who enrol themselves in fantasy camps, Glowach considered a few thousand dollars—registration at Camp Copperhead with a private room and bath costs about US$3,600—a worthwhile expenditure if it meant keeping his youthful passion aflame. While others obviously harboured notions that ponying up the dough would entitle them to a chance to befriend “Steve,” Glowach had the more realistic goal of absorbing a few “tips, hints, inspiration—all of those things are helpful to me to continue my growth and keep me interested in this puzzle we call songwriting.”

Among the activities proposed as antidotes to the over-scheduled life of the contemporary adult, few sound as wholesome as sleep-away camps for grown-ups, where participants can hope to rekindle the innocent hopes of childhood—at least for a few days. Author and journalist Christopher Noxon has coined the term “rejuveniling” to refer to this yearning in its various forms. While the popularity of fantasy camps is difficult to quantify, the category seems to have gained currency in recent years, after first appearing around the early 1980s as a means for baseball fans to play make-believe.

Options abound. In addition to camps for would-be songwriters like Camp Copperhead; there are camps for those who wish they could be professional poker players or surfers; even camps for people who fantasize about fighting off zombies in the smouldering remains of contemporary civilization (albeit with catered lunches provided).

The cost can be anything but child-sized. Take hockey camp: It cost participants $4,400 to lace up the skates and glide alongside retired stars Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer in the November 2015 edition of the Montreal Canadiens fantasy camp. (The fee included two nights’ stay in Montreal and one in New York.)

Music camps are more expensive than sports camps. The Las Vegas–based Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp series, for instance, features middle-aged icons drawn from the upper echelons of the rock pantheon, including Cream drummer Ginger Baker and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, & Nash. Jamming with the rock gods can only be had for Olympian prices: Booking one spot in an upcoming four-day hard rock Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy camp in February in Los Angeles costs a minimum of US$8,600, and adding a few extras (such as photos with the stars) quickly runs the total past US$10,000. Accommodation is not provided.

But if Norm Glowach’s experiences at Camp Copperhead and other adult music experiences are anything to go by, you’ll want to keep in mind that you’re not going to make lifelong pen pals with, say, Van Halen’s bass player. In Glowach’s experience, Steve Earle was clearly “not there to be my friend, he’s there to teach me.”

Still, a newer wave of more modestly conceived camps offer an element of escape with less of the star-chasing aspect. The inaugural three-day Camp Reset, held just outside of Toronto last summer, costs just $379. At this camp the theme is camp itself: going off-grid and enjoying nature like we did when we were kids. To ensure that the mental age reversal was encouraged to take full effect, some of the accoutrements of adulthood were stripped from registrants upon arrival.

Will Lam, a Toronto tech sector worker, signed up in part because he never attended camp as a child. He was also drawn to the no-cellphone rule. “That really sold it for me,” says Lam, who, like all the campers, went by a nickname the whole time (Lam’s handle was Soundwave, after a favourite Transformers character from childhood). “You’re a kid again,” Lam says. Emma Brooks, a member of the organizing committee, says Camp Reset will be back next year to further explore the value of play on the adult psyche. “Our focus is on making people feel like kids again.”

For Glowach, the skills he polished were valuable, but the connections he made to like-minded people were precious, too. “I was inspired enough to write five songs while I was down there, and I learned a bunch of tricks I didn’t know about,” he says. As for the new friends he made: “I fully expect I’ll do some writing over the Internet with them in the next couple of years.”

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