Day Five: The Final Frontier
In the morning, I arrive at the studio refreshed and find our band eating breakfast together again. This isn’t necessarily the case for other groups, as some tensions flare after four 10-hour days in close quarters. I think we are fortunate we’re all about the same age, with similar musical tastes and abilities, of equivalent socio-economic strata. We actually like each other.
After a couple of takes of the original song, we move on to “Soul Man,” which we’ll soon rehearse with the horn section for the “Late Show” band. I notice the horn players are here, and a lanky guy is chatting with my bandmates. He compliments my custom-painted guitar, so I ask, “Do you play?”
He says, “Yes,” so I hand it to him to try it out. My faux pas is obvious as soon as he starts shredding notes out of the Telecaster. I slunk over to him and humbly say, “Uh, you’re Bruce Kulick from KISS, aren’t you?” He kindly acknowledges. (Duh! I felt like a heel.) He’s cool with it, so we jam on “Further on Down the Road,” and in his expert hands, my guitar never sounded so sweet.
At our lunchtime banquet, Fishof has all sorts of presents and awards to hand out, including original art for the new counselors and headphones or wireless speakers for the most-improved camper from each group (drummer Sturge wins from our band).
The B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square is a sizeable venue, and they’re expecting a capacity crowd. My bandmates look calm but enthusiastic. The running order of the bands was drawn by lottery, and we’re performing last. It’s going to be a long night. (Watch Billy's rock 'n' roll fantasy come true at last in the Day Five video.)
Sitting through a couple of the camp-bands’ sets, I realize that Stanley ought to be nominated for sainthood simply because he has to sing with so many amateur bands in one night. Each group has 12 minutes to perform a song with the Letterman horn section, an original song, and a cover song chosen by Stanley. But the time limit went out the window after the first band.
There are some fits and starts as the mostly novice- to intermediate-level musicians chug their way through tunes, and while there are some flubbed moments, there are (thank goodness) no train wrecks. As the succession of bands marches onstage and off, a highpoint comes when both Stanley and the horn section perform the Ides of March’s hit, “Vehicle.” The low point has to be a mercilessly long rock version of the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila.” Their counselor, Mark Hudson, 56, who regularly dyes his beard rainbow colors and has chosen to wear a kilt to the big show, must have thought this was a good idea.
Relaxing backstage before our set, it dawns on me that I’m actually relieved that I don’t have to sing and be the front man tonight. It’s a huge undertaking to play guitar, remember all the words, sing on-key, and be entertaining—all at the same time. It took a couple of days to settle into my role as sideman, and I’m pretty grateful now.
I know from previous experience that technical difficulties can ruin a show, so before I take the stage, I make sure there is a spare, tuned guitar waiting in the wings in case Gaechter or I break a string. We open our set with the up-tempo “Movin’ On” and immediately energize the audience. I add some backing vocals on the “whoa whoa” refrain and encourage the crowd to sing along. Both drummers are in sync as we charge into our original song, which is full of familiar classic rock devices, from the opening riff to the breakdown ending.
Next up, the horns join us for “Soul Man,” and we don our Blues Brothers sunglasses for added effect. We reach a fever pitch when Stanley joins us onstage. The audience can guess from the intro what is about to hit ‘em. I kick my leg out over the crowd, hitting the first power chord. KRRRANNG! Stanley gets into it as if he was singing in Madison Square Garden, and we provide the flawless backing he deserves. I raise my fist in the air as I hold another power chord. This is the fantasy-come-true of any teenager who used to pore over photos in Rolling Stone. We close with the big finish of cymbals crashing and guitars bellowing to thunderous applause. After taking a bow, the band is met by an audience on their feet and frenzied. Yes, this is the stuff dreams are made of.