Story by Pamela A. Keene | Photos by Scott Rogers
The sounds of electric guitars, drums and keyboards wafts through the hallways at Brenau University’s Burd Auditorium, not what you’d expect on a sunny summer day on an otherwise relatively quiet campus. But for six days each summer, young aspiring musicians converge on Brenau University to get a leg up on careers in the world of entertainment.
Called “Camp Jam,” the annual event brings in youth ages 12 to 17 from all over the country who want to write songs, produce music and possibly become the next Top 10 musical artist. It’s one of a half-dozen Camp Jams across the nation and they’ve been taking place for more than a decade.
“Many of the kids are children of musicians and their parents are eager for them to have a chance to see what the music business is all about,” says professional guitarist and singer Dave Corley, director of Camp Jam. “But we also have a number of kids who just love to make music and this is their chance to be with others of like mind, put together bands, learn to write and produce music and perform.”
Corley says that, while some of the students take part in band and orchestra programs at home, Camp Jam plugs them into today’s music and entertainment arena. “Some of these kids are considered geeks or outcasts in their schools, but when they come here, they find out that they’re not alone. They share a love of music and the desire to perform and this is a place they can do just that. Everyone here is very into music and they all have a common purpose.”
Camp Jam offers both overnight and daytime sessions. Programming is the same between the two; only the day campers live locally and don’t spend the night in the dorms. “About 90 percent of the kids are overnighters and many of them have attended multiple years,” Corley says. This year’s Gainesville camp hosted students from Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. “We even have a student who traveled from Mexico City to be here,” he says. “And we’ve had other international students from Europe and New Zealand at other camp locations.”
Camp organizers take over part of the Burd Center for the Performing Arts, designating several large rehearsal rooms for these musicians to work on their music. It’s not unusual to see a teen sitting by herself to work out musical riffs or complex guitar fingering, or a small group in a common area picking out music on unplugged electric guitars and creating vocal harmonies. For the occasional visitor, it’s like being immersed in virtual creativity around every corner.
Corley and the staff build a production and sound studio on site and students all get their turns recording, mixing, laying tracks and learning about the technical side of entertainment.
Camp sessions are taught by professionals in the music business, people who are sincerely interested in fostering young talent. The rest of the year, staff members are playing gigs, recording, writing songs and making a living. They bring their real-life experience to Camp Jam.
“They’re accessible to all the campers and really want to help them succeed in their goals,” he says. “The campers also learn that this business is all about relationships, and they realize that being here may just open some doors for them.”
Success stories? Yes, including the young drummer from Oklahoma who attended the camp in Dallas a couple of years ago as a teen. “Some other musicians heard him play and he was asked to be in their band,” Corley says. “All the other guys were in their 20s and 30s, and he actually went on tour with them. Of course, his family was very supportive of him.”
The week, culminates in a stage show for campers, parents and guests. All week long, bands put together cover arrangements of hit songs or work out how to interpret original music for the big finale Friday night. They head home that evening after the show, but many of them have formed friendships that last from year to year.
“They stay in touch by texting, Skype or FaceTime and make their plans to get together again next year,” Corley says. “It’s amazing to watch them as they grow their talent and excel. At Camp Jam, there are no canoes or swimming lessons,” he says. “It’s just rock music and a time for these kids to test their musical wings.”