Tempe, AZ - Forget the sleeping bags, the bug spray, or the tent tethering. At the New School for the Academy of Arts, intrepid campers pick up sticks, strum a bass guitar, or plug in the piano. Some of them do it for the first time in their lives.
Instead of wading out into rapid waters, 15 campers from ages seven to ten get one week to find their nerve and perform in front of a live audience. It happens every year, in late June.
"This is Camp Jam! Where there are no canoes, just lots of rock," explained Kidz Camp director T.J. Friga, "Really loud rock!" Kidz Camp is the younger musicians at Camp Jam. Friga has five days to reach their inner rocker. "I am in charge of helping the kids find band mates, pick out a song, a band name, and learn how to play their instruments."
On day one, it looks like an impossible task as children - barely bigger than an upright bass guitar - file in to the NSAA auditorium.
On stage is Camp Jam's local Director, Carole Pellatt, a longtime music teacher and valley guitarist. Dressed all in black, she is cool and collected despite the five day deadline.
She's done this three years in a row and knows what's at stake.
"When I have students who go through this camp," Pellatt has noticed, "for the rest of the year they understand the importance of practicing. It's no longer something that they are nagged to do by grownups. It's something that they want to do."
By day five, four bands are fully formed in the Kidz Camp. Eight year old Orin Thomas is paying serious homage to Black Keys' drummer, Patrick Carney, as he strikes the familiar opening beat of "Gold on the Ceiling."
He is confident after one week together with his band mates. Truth be told, he is relatively seasoned having picked up the drums since October. When asked why he chose percussions, "It makes a loud noise... and it looks cool!"
Pellatt is not surprised, "Giving someone a concert that is treated like a professional rock concert where you have pro lights, pro sound, a DVD, and they are truly treated like performers, they rise to that responsibility."
Another group steps onto the stage prepared to play vintage Beatles' tune "Twist and Shout." Barely tall enough to reach the mic stands, they appear unfazed as they announce, "We are the Unknown."
Only hours earlier Pellatt hears what they are really thinking, " They feel like they don't have it right up until they go up on stage."
As expected, a week's worth of collaborating and practicing pays off, "The bands pull it together and it's so good for their spirits and their brains! It's almost like they levitate off that stage when they're done."