Britt Lightning noticed a pattern of behavior the week before Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp. Many of the people who signed up will try to call out, their self-doubt, fear, and anxiety disguised with excuses about why they can’t make it. More often than not, Lightning gets to the root of it, with people admitting that they’re “scared to death.”
“I say to people, ‘This is like group rock therapy and music is healing,’” Lightning shares with American Songwriter on day three of the 2023 Women’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Nashville. “When you play it and you immerse yourself in it and you push your own boundaries, that is power, and power through music.”
Lighting, who’s known as the lead guitarist of the all-female rock band Vixen, was a counselor at Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp for the first time in 2019, describing the experience as “magical” and “unlike any other experience I’ve ever had.” Impressed with both her musical ability and business background, Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp Founder David Fishof brought her on board to help plan the camps, hosting eight of them across the country in 2022. Lightning pitched the idea of doing an all women’s rock camp, an idea she initially got push back on with other team members skeptical that it would sell.
Lightning asserted that with rock and roll still being a “male-dominated industry,” having a camp designated for all women would create a safe environment. They hosted the first Women’s Camp in May 2022, which sold out “right away,” she says. Melissa Etheridge, Orianthi, Nancy Wilson, and the Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine all served as counselors for the inaugural camp.
“This camp had the most camaraderie that I’ve ever seen because everybody bonded together,” Lightning recalls of the “uplifting” experience. “We all have the same goals, we’ve all experienced feeling not at home in this environment when we want it to be our home, and now we’re all here together, and let’s do this and lift each other up. It was so inspiring.”
The 2023 installment, which includes women of all ages and skill levels, featured country great Wynonna Judd, Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale and The Bangles’ Vicki Peterson as counselors.
On Saturday (Jan. 21), Hale took the stage at SIR Productions in Nashville with five bands comprised of female musicians from all over the U.S., with ages ranging from seven years old to 70. Each band took turns performing one of Halestorm’s songs, “Amen,” “I Get Off” and “I Miss the Misery. Injecting a sense of warmth into rock and roll, Hale greeted everyone with a hug, her impact clearly stated as one of the campers teared up saying, “I’m about to cry. I have her lyrics tattooed on my arm.”
Onstage, Hale said she was having flashbacks to being a 13-year-old when she started playing music, saying she would have “killed to have this opportunity.”
“You’re making these people’s lives,” Hale shared with American Songwriter backstage after the performances. “It’s such an amazing thing because I wish I had something like this when I was a kid. I would have come to multiple of these.”
Transitioning from frontwoman to backup singer, Hale shredded on guitar and offered supportive harmonies, making a point to go up to each woman onstage and rock out.
“You’re seeing this beautiful panic like ‘I can’t believe I’m here,’” she continues of how it felt to be onstage with the musicians. “And I know what that feeling is, so to be a part of passing that on and get to hug so many people that are crying on my shoulder and you get to hear the stories about how you’ve impacted their life. If you had told me that I’d be having those conversations in my 30s when I was 13 I’d be like, ‘No way. That’s not going to happen.’ So it’s the beautiful thing for me as well.”
Performing with the campers also provided her with a refreshed perspective of her own music that she’s been playing for years with her longtime bandmates. Hale applauds how the women made the songs their own, whether it was the drummer who played another four rounds at the song’s end or one of the guitar players who played the synth part in “I Get Off,” which Hale admits she sometimes forgets is in the song.
“It was really neat to see everybody’s different take and also the things that poked themselves out of the song … I thought that was really beautiful,” she observes of the “out-of-body” experience. “I think the number one thing that I learned playing these songs with other people is that it’s fun and they’re meant to be played joyously and not seriously.”
Lightning has also witnessed this sense of joy and empowerment across the many camps she’s helped coordinate, sharing a particular story about a first-time camper named Adam who attended in February 2022. A casual musician who wanted to use the camp as a way to motivate himself to play guitar again, he shared that he went to a music store a couple of weeks after the camp when two guys heard him play and approached him in the store to ask if he wanted to join their band. Adam agreed and now gigs with the band multiple times a week.
“He goes, ‘If I hadn’t been to rock camp and just been through all that and broken down all those insecurities and walls that I had about my own playing and my own self-confidence and the way I perceived myself, there’s no way I would have said yes,” Lightning recalls of Adam’s testimonial of how the camp inspired him to accept the opportunity.
Carolyn, an attendee at the Nashville camp, is also living proof of this notion. A native of the Seattle, Washington, area, Carolyn has been playing drums off and on throughout her life since she started practicing on the tops of empty ice cream tubs when she was a child. “It just resonated with me,” she says of the instrument. At the age of 61, she found out about the School of Rock and ended up on their mailing list. That’s how she found out about Women’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp and decided to sign up.
Using part of the inheritance money she got after her mother passed away almost at the age of 99, the now 68-year-old bought a new drum set and paid for the camp’s tuition. “If I’m going to do this, I want to raise my drumming to the next level,” Carolyn said of her mentality going into the camp.
Women’s Rock provided her with the opportunity to play with one of her drumming idols, Samantha Maloney, who’s performed with Motley Crue and Hole, among other bands. Carolyn describes a specific moment when she and Maloney made eye contact as they crashed their symbols simultaneously.
“Just by osmosis, I can follow her and I picked up a lot of different techniques already,” Carolyn raves. “Now I feel like I have raised up to that next level because I’ve allowed myself to get there instead of being intimated or afraid that I can’t do it. It was a confidence-builder that I was sitting there playing next to one of the best drummers in the world.”
The women’s ability to take risks was not lost on Hale, who as a woman in rock knows what it’s like to embrace adventure, admiring the way they stepped out of their comfort zones. “By being able to see in real-time the transformation that these girls have gone through and talk with them, as an artist, I want to be more in touch with that with myself,” Hale professes of how being part of the camp impacted her. “That’s something that I try to put at the top of the list of my priorities. Every time that I’m being creative is, ‘Remember why you do this,’ and on all of these girls’ faces, that’s why it’s important.
“They’re just ferocious about it and they’re doing something that is uncomfortable for them,” she continues. “They’re taking the risk, they’re saying yes to adventure. I can probably narrow every great thing that’s ever happened to me to that really scary decision to be like, ‘I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to dive in headfirst into the shark tank and can figure it out as I go along,’ and some of the conversations I had with these girls were just like that. I’m going to be talking and thinking and stewing with this for a long time.”
That sense of self-confidence expressed by both Adam and Carolyn is something that Lightning has witnessed having a ripple effect across many people’s lives who attend the camp. A key theme of the camp is being present, instituting a “no phones” policy to ensure that people are living in the moment during the “immersive four-day experience” to allow for that confidence to shine through.
“I think the biggest thing is that people come away with [is] more confidence in themselves in everything that they do because when you think about it, what’s more difficult than getting up on a stage with lights on you and delivering a show to an audience?” Lightning asks. “If you can do that you can do anything.
“Music brings us all together and any insecurities go out the window here because this is an inclusive, supportive environment and we’re all in it together,” Lightning continues. “We’re all growing and learning and there’s always more to learn. That process never stops … people are exhausted at the end of it, but craving more because you’re on such a high when you’re here and it’s really special. It makes you feel capable of anything.”
(Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images)