I’m a full-time mom. You know the type. My days are spent cooking meals, doing dishes, buying groceries, doing laundry, walking dogs, wiping noses, clipping toenails, and performing every other pleasant and unpleasant task required to keep two kids, two dogs, two frogs and a hamster alive and relatively happy. But for my birthday weekend, I left all that behind for three days at Ladies Rock Camp.
My birthday weekend officially began Thursday afternoon when my husband and kids dropped me off at Newark Airport. I waited on a long security line, submitted to the requisite frisking and de-shoe-ing and made my way onto the plane. A few minutes into the six-hour flight it became clear that the air conditioning wasn’t working and the little televisions in the back of the headrests were on the fritz.
The man sitting next to me, who was a pilot for the airline, suggested I write a complaint letter. “Maybe you’ll get a free ticket out of it.”
I said, “Sir, I have twins. This is bliss.” I pushed my seat to back to its full inch and a half reclining position and basked in the hum of jet engines.
I rolled my carry-on through Portland Airport and grabbed the Days Inn shuttle to my hotel, located in a gritty, industrial area on the outskirts of the city. Cool. The next morning I and a few other female hotel guests were shuttled to our destination. Its only signage a piece of cardboard propped up in the back window of an old Volvo station wagon that read “Ladies Rock Camp.”
I stepped inside the windowless building and was greeted by the first of many smiling faces.
“Welcome to Rock Camp. Follow me.”
We were led through a cozy reception area and living room decorated with posters of Joan Jett, The Runaways, and Debra Harry, through a hallway with sound-proof practice rooms, a kitchen, a large room with rows of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, amps, tambourines, cables, drum kits, and a piano to the Big Room with tables and chairs, a large stage, a killer sound system and lots and lots of snacks.
After enjoying some tea and trail mix, we took turns standing up and telling where we were from and why we were here. “Seemed like fun.” “Divorce.” And my favorite: “Something I had to do before I die.”
We were given lanyards that were color-coded to our instrument of choice. Mine was hot pink for “guitar.” Then we broke up into groups according to the genre of music we were most into. I found my band mates, Sarah and Vijai, in “Indie Rock.” And thus my band, Vampire Cupcake, was born.
After establishing our bands, we broke up into groups by instrument and were assigned our instructors. My guitar teacher was Tara, a petite, sweet-faced young woman (think Reese Witherspoon with two-tone hair and Elvis Costello glasses) who as it turns out is also a professional acrobat. She led me and a few other guitar players back to the room with all the instruments and let us pick out whatever we wanted. I found a sweet Fender Stratocaster, grabbed an amp and cable and followed Tara to a sound-proof room.
In the most supportive and encouraging way, Tara taught us how to tune, hold, plug in and strum our guitars. In a few minutes I was playing. After an hour and a half I had the beginning of a song.
The lesson flew by and it was back to the big room for a delicious lunch of homemade vegetable lasagna, fresh fruit, salad, herbal ice tea and cookies. It was like my dream menu.
At band practice Sarah, Vijai and I showed each other what we’d learned that morning and put together some beats and melodies. An hour and half later it was time for snacks and songwriting class. My fingers were grateful for the reprieve.
Another guitar lesson with Tara, then across the hall for band practice and finally a Mexican feast to end the night.
Saturday was more of the same with the addition of a silk screening workshop that resulted in some killer Vampire Cupcake T-shirts. I cut the collar out of mine, got a studded belt and rocked it “Flashdance”-style. At 7 p.m. we were kicked out of the Big Room so they could prepare for karaoke night. I spent the downtime icing my aching wrist and burning fingertips. Did Slash ever have to do this?
An hour later we stepped into the Karaoke Lounge which was now equipped with a full bar and lit only by strings of colored Christmas lights. We bought each other drinks and poured over thick binders containing thousands of songs, scribbling our favorites on slips of paper that we handed to our lovely DJ. Then we danced like groupies until we were beckoned onstage. I brought the house down with the ever popular “9 to 5” (who doesn’t love Dolly?) followed by a rousing duet of “Proud Mary” with Giselle, my new Canadian friend.
Sunday was filled with more delicious food, another band practice and then makeovers in the Big Room. There were straightening irons, teasing combs, nail polish and lots of spay-on hair dye. Sarah spray-dyed her red hair Kelly green at the tips and I spray-dyed mine cherry red. Then we packed up our instruments, crammed into the teachers’ cars and headed to downtown Portland for our concert.
We were making our debut at the Satyricon, a world famous club that has hosted Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. And now, Vampire Cupcake.
My band was opening the show and I was nervous. I grabbed my guitar, which our LRC roadie had tuned and waiting, and walked up the stage steps. Then I pulled my cool new $12 fedora down over my eyes and waited for our introduction.
“Ladies and Gentleman, Vampire Cupcake!”
Baum … Baum baum … baum baum baum baum… Hey, that was me making that cool baseline. And it sounded pretty good!
Sarah had never played the drums. Vijai had never sung outside her shower. I had strummed a few chords in my bedroom a hundred years ago. But with the help of our unequivocally cool teachers, we found our inner rock stars.
Peg, a 65 year-old grandmother who had never sung before, spray-dyed her white hair blue, slicked blue nail polish on her nails and sang a killer punk song.
There were women in their 20s armed with youthful courage, women in their 60s clutching bucket lists, mother/daughter groups who came to share this cool experience together.
After the show I hopped the red-eye back to NJ. Dawn was breaking as I rolled my suitcase up our front walkway. I looked up to see my pajama-clad children running barefoot towards me and I scooped them into my arms.
“How was rock and roll camp, Mommy? We missed you!”
I told them all about my weekend as my husband raced to get ready for work and I jumped back into my life, laying out the kids’ homework assignments, packing lunches and making pancakes.
Did Slash ever have to do this?
Then this no-sleep cherry red hair axe playing fedora-wearing rock star took her kids to Kindergarten. And then came home and took a nap.
The money I spent on this fantastic weekend goes to Rock Camp for Girls, a very worthwhile cause. Check them out here. You can also check out Vampire Cupcake’s first single, “Girl Crush,” on my Facebook page. Friend me. There are a lot of Eileen Kellys in the world. I’m Eileen Kelly Comedian.