Rock and Roll Summer Camp

By Kim Hoey
As published in
Delaware Beach Life
July 2003

Justin Harris picks out the prettiest girls at the mall. With a toss of his hair and a flash of his smile, he tells them he's in a rock band. Nine out of 10 times they tell him to get lost, but sometimes he gets a groupie.

"I'm totally a nerd," says Harris, 16, and lead singer in the band Too Far Gone. "I wear contact lenses, but if it weren't for those I'd be wearing those dark-rimmed glasses. I used to be that dumb shy kid in the corner."

In fact, Harris, who lives in Chestertown, Md., believes he would still be a quiet withdrawn shadow had it not been for two weeks he spent at Rehoboth Beach two years ago at Rock 'n' Roll Summer Camp.

"I know it sounds clich‚, but if it wasn't for rock camp, I wouldn't be as outgoing as I am now," says Harris, whose music is influenced by punk but who describes his band's music as only "something completely different."

Created by Walt Hetfield, music teacher at Rehoboth Elementary School, the rock 'n' roll camp is now in its fourth year. This year it will run from July 28 to Aug. 8. More than 80 young musicians from the ages of 8 to 18, many of them repeat attendees, come every year to literally sweat through the two weeks of garage band 101 in the non-air-conditioned music rooms at the elementary school. Hetfield, himself an experienced rock guitarist, opened the camp because he knows the difficulties of starting a band and finding a place to play.

"When you're under 21, it's hard to find opportunities to play," says Hetfield, who started the camp after helping one of his former students, now his assistant, set up a rock band of her own. Not allowed in bars, where most local bands play, and not old enough to drive to a practice site, many younger musicians have no way to connect with other musicians or no place to take their music if they do form a group.

"Kids want to be rock stars - but instead of dreaming about it, these kids are making an effort in that direction," says Hetfield. There are no formal auditions for the camp, but participants should have some knowledge of their instrument, such as basic chords or beats. Hetfield stresses that the participants do not have to have great musical ability, but they should have some, because music lessons are not part of the program.

"The basic idea is that students who have been taking individual lessons can get together in ensembles to perform and learn what it takes to get a rock band off the ground," Hetfield explains.

Hetfield and his staff try not to steer their students toward a single musical style, instead keeping an open mind about what the young musicians want to play. Depending on the attendees' tastes, the song selections vary from year to year - they can range from hard rock to heavy metal to country.

"I affect their taste a little and they affect mine," says Hetfield, who has played in numerous bands, usually in the classic rock vein.

Respect for others' musical tastes, and the willingness to accept criticism, are two lessons previous students say they've learned. Although the atmosphere is non-competitive, previous students say the camp can be both an ego-builder and a confidence-buster.

"It'll kick your ego down some," says Harris, who went to camp the first year thinking he would be the star of the show. He had, after all, been in a middle school band. After listening to some of the other students and the instructors play, Harris said he realized that he "sucked." "It kind of gave me the kick in the butt to learn to play better," he says.

Harris says he improved a great deal in just his first two-week camp. After Hetfield pushed him, Harris started playing his own music for the group. The experience made him realize that he had potential and restored his confidence.

"I opened up and stopped being such an introvert," Harris says. "Walt Hetfield is pretty cool."

Hetfield appreciates the compliments, but says he simply brings out the talents the students already have. Reaching beyond the limits of their musical skills, and sometimes even failing, are wonderful learning tools, says Hetfield, yet he doesn't want participants to be discouraged by trying something too far beyond their musical abilities.

"I make sure they don't crash and burn in public," says Hetfield.

The camp starts with some simple rock songs, such as music from the Beatles and the Doors, and then works up to more difficult pieces as the two weeks progress.

"It's like reading. We all start with Dr. Seuss and as we get older we become more sophisticated," says Hetfield. All ages of students work together in the two-room music area, often helping each other. "It's not like football or wrestling where they have to be in the same weight class. Music doesn't really have to do with age. They respect each other's skills."

The camp, which costs $250, has attracted more students each year. Some families now schedule their beach vacations so their children can attend. Hetfield thinks the reason for the camp's success is obvious: there are not enough opportunities for kids to play the music they like. In fact, Hetfield dropped out of his high school band because it didn't play music that interested him. Years later he took up guitar by private lesson.

"The problem now with music programs is there is no funding for music in schools," he says, adding that what is taught usually ignores the guitar, which is often young musicians' preferred instrument.

This lack of response to students' desires is one of the reasons Hetfield is so willing to listen to his campers.

"Students are like customers. I'm trying to give the customers what they want," he says. "I think pop culture has a place in the school. We need to update music education."

Music is only one part of the camp, though. The behind-the-scenes workings of a band is another major component. Selecting the type of music to play for a particular audience is one of the lessons, and preparation for live stage performance is another. Even the technical aspects of playing are explored, as students learn how to use their amplifiers, microphones and other stage equipment.

And what would camp be without field trips? This camp takes students to music gear retailers to try out equipment, and has taken students as far as the Paul Reed Smith Guitars factory in Stevensville, Md., to see how high-end electric guitars are built.

Another trip is to a professional recording studio, Mid-South Audio in Georgetown, where the students have the opportunity to make demo tapes featuring the arrangements they put together during the week.

"It's not like they're trying to put out a hit record - they're just learning the recording techniques," says Hetfield. The campers learn how to record separate tracks and then mix them together for the final product. The recording time and experience is one reason so many campers are repeat visitors.

Members of successful local bands are also known to stop by to "jam" with the students and to give some professional perspective on what it really takes to get a band going and keep it going.

On the final night of camp, the newly formed student bands get to perform at the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach as the opening act for "Love Seed Mama Jump," a well-known local band.

"They're usually walking 6 feet off the ground after that," says Hetfield. "I always tell them that that's the feeling you want in whatever field you go into."

Some of the participants become so good in their two weeks that they are asked to sit in with Love Seed during their show. It's a thrill they don't soon forget.

Amanda Novocin, 16, was so inspired that she started a band with other members of the class. They were hired for several actual "gigs" before they broke up late last year because of other time commitments. Valuable training she got from the camp included lessons in stage presence, and in how to get different instruments and band members to work together, says Novocin. "It takes teamwork," she says.

Colleen Clarke, the novice guitarist who inspired Hetfield to start the camp, is now a respected local player and Hetfield's assistant at the camp. She believes it's a great benefit to its participants.

"It's kind of cool to see two weeks of chaos come together into one hour of decent music," says Clarke, 19, of the live concert on the last night. "They rock out. They're not kidding around."

For more information about the camp contact Hetfield at 245-1670 or at the camp Web site:

Camp for Rockers

as appeared in the column:
LiveOnStage by Roger Hillis
The Daily Times, Salisbury, MD.
Friday, June 20, 2003

Walt Hetfield, music director of Rehoboth Middle School in Rehoboth Beach, is taking applications for his fourth annual Rock 'n' Roll Summer Camp.

The camp is open to aspiring musicians ages eight to 18, and will run from Monday, July 28 to Friday, Aug. 8.

There is no formal audition, but prospective campers should have a rudimentary knowledge of their instrument. Hetfield and assistant Colleen Clark, a former student, will teach individuals how to play in band situations. There will be field trips to the B&B Music store near Lewes and the Mid South Audio studio in Georgetown, where the group will spend two days recording.

There may be some surprises in store, as well. In 2001, Brian Wilson's wife invited Hetfield and the group to meet the former Beach Boys mastermind backstage at his concert at the Mann Music Center in Philly.

On Thursday, Aug. 7, the young musicians will show the public what they've learned when they play the deck of the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach, opening for Love Seed Mama Jump at 8:30 p.m.

Registration is first come, first serve until the available slots are filled.

For more information, visit Hetfield's Web site at