‘This One Time, At Rock Camp ...’
‘Rock Camp’ instructors Lee Allen (left) and Dave Karnes
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Two local musos are preparing
to shape the next generation of rock stars.
By ANTHONY MARIANI
When most people above the age of 25 today were growing up, rock ’n’ roll — as a career — was something you didn’t necessarily work toward as much as stumble (sometimes drunkenly) into. Then some time around the early 1980s, when MTV brought the concept of rock ’n’ roll into living rooms across America, what was once a pastime for wayward teens who weren’t jacking up convenience stores and/or huffing began to seem ... quaint ... innocuous ... OK for everyday usage.
The music industry has never been the same.
No longer a hobby, churning out rock ’n’ roll music — good rock ’n’ roll music — demands increasingly larger degrees of skill, passion, and dedication. While there is a lot of crappy rock out there, there is also a lot of great rock, the kind that’s unlike anything any of us have ever dreamed of, from the White Stripes to Radiohead to even a reconstituted U2. The point is: Making a good rock record or album is not as easy as throwing together some barre chords over subtle variations of the 4-4 beat (though classics such as “Mystery Train,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Rock Around the Clock” have lost none of their kick-ass luster since they exploded into the popular consciousness half a century ago). No, the production of good rock ’n’ roll requires a.) being able to use advancements in recording and instrument technology to a distinct advantage and b.) being able to speak to listeners who not only may have heard all of yesteryear’s classics, but who live very complicated, complex lives. These folks need the kind of equally complex rock ’n’ roll that reaches them on an intellectual, spiritual, and visceral level.
Good thing that around here, we have the Fort Worth Academy of Music. The brainchild of degreed local musicians Lee Allen and Dave Karnes, FWAM is essentially an ad hoc organization — whose only employees are Allen and Karnes — that exists for one reason and one reason only: to teach whippersnappers how to rock.
For a few weeks this summer, Allen and Karnes are inviting young, aspiring musicians to learn the finer points of rocking and/or rolling in a retreat-like setting. Taking place in a section of the South Side building that houses the rock club Axis, “Rock Camp” is divided into two sessions (June 13-25 and July 18-30). The cost is $375 per two-week session, not including a $25 application fee. (There’s a discount for campers who want to partake of both sessions.)
The idea for a Fort Worth rock camp came from Austin, the state capital, where area pros under the auspices of the Austin School of Music have been teaching young’uns how to kick out the jams for the past 10 years. Allen worked there for five years as an instructor. He watched the camp grow from a small operation to one whose impact on the rather lively Austin music scene is now indelible. Dozens of Austin bands are populated by Austin School of Music alumni.
To Allen, putting together a Fort Worth-based rock camp was a no-brainer. Even though he has lived all over Texas, Allen has a lot of family in North Texas and considers Cowtown home. He first began digging the city in the early 1990s, when he started his day job as director of choral activities at Hill College and his night jobs at Fred’s Cafe and the Wreck Room. Allen said that the sense of camaraderie that permeates Fort Worth, specifically the West Side where both Fred’s and the Wreck Room are located, was so infectious that he was immediately smitten. “Soon as I got here, I met [Fred’s owner] Terry Chandler and [Wreck Room owner] Brian Forella,” Allen recalled. “And it was like, open arms. Come on in.”
While working at the Wreck Room, Allen began hanging out with bartender and legendary local musician Carl Pack. The two realized they shared a love of improvised rock. Not long after that meeting, “Carl and Lee’s All-Star Invitational Jam” was created, and it lasted for about a year. During that time, drummer Karnes had become somewhat of an All-Star regular. He and Allen had immediately “hit it off,” according to Allen, and after playing together as back-up musicians in a local singer-songwriter’s outfit, the two took full-time jobs as members of the house band of the traveling musical revue, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. In the year they played together in the production, Allen and Karnes became good friends. Both are well-schooled musicians — Allen holds degrees from Oklahoma Baptist University and West Texas A&M University; Karnes from Berklee College of Music — and they always talked about the importance of formal music training, not only for proficiency in “academic” idioms, such as jazz or classical, but also non-academic ones, like reggae and rock ’n’ roll.
A young kid with dreams of rock stardom who chooses to goof around with some friends and equipment in a garage rather than joining a rock camp is — in Allen’s opinion — taking the difficult route. “If you don’t have someone there, saying, ‘OK, quit goofing off. Let’s get this done,’ you’re wasting your time,” Allen said.
Allen and Karnes’ talks, however, didn’t pay off immediately — not long after Tony n’ Tina concluded, about five years ago, Allen married and moved to Austin. Not until he and his wife visited Fort Worth over Christmas and realized how much they missed friends and family here did the concept of rock camp regain some sort of momentum. Within a month of the epiphany, Allen and his wife were back on Cowtown soil. Even before that, Allen had begun fleshing out the idea — designing an advertising campaign, researching potential client pools, and otherwise getting psychologically prepared. “We did a lot of research,” he said. “And there isn’t anything like ‘Rock Camp’ in Fort Worth.”
Getting Karnes on board was easy. He was still as enthusiastic as he had been when the idea first took wing more than a year ago, and — as anyone who knows Karnes can attest — the drummer isn’t happy unless he’s doing 10 music-related things at once.
The two began promoting the project, chiefly by covering nearly every available blank piece of space in town with fliers and talking up the camp at every available opportunity.
“Response has been good,” Allen said. “We were more worried about blowing up,” having too many students. To help with instruction duties, Allen said, some local musicians will be called on. Each session will culminate in performances at Axis from the assorted campers.
Even though camp hasn’t begun, Allen is already planning for next year’s. “We want four sessions,” he said. “We would like it to grow to 10, 15, 30 instructors. When I was in Austin, when [camp] was still small, it was exciting. But now it’s world-class.”
Karnes’ reasons for helping found “Rock Camp” are mostly spiritual. “When I was growing up, there was magic happening,” he said. “I know that magic is still there, but being a professional, I have to work harder to see it.” The magic, he said, “was why guys like [Allen] and I got into music in the first place.”
The reward for Allen is not in the pittance that he and Karnes will be making off session fees; it’s in getting to see “kids come together and work together and essentially do something they wouldn’t normally do in the summer — I just get a kick out of it.” l
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