The hills (on campus) are alive with the sound of ROCKING!


Photo Courtesy: Travis Hairgrove

Skyler James (keyboard/vocals) and Jason Bentch (drums) of Houston-based Drop Out Vegas performed for the “jam campers” at Ferguson Auditorium last week as featured artists.

Travis Hairgrove, Editor

Teenagers walking around with their heads down with smartphones in hand, completely immersed in texting, Snapchatting, Tweeting or playing Pokémon GO is hardly an uncommon sight; but mass migrations of them marauding in one direction with Fender P-Basses or Gibson SGs slung over their shoulders or drumsticks protruding from their back pockets while wearing the obligatory (for drummers) Zildjian tee-shirt is something less frequently encountered.

Last week at Texas A&M University-Commerce, though, such throngs of young rock enthusiasts could be seen in transit throughout the day as they participated in rehearsals, recording sessions, music video shoots and masterclasses, which were all part of this year’s Camp Jam – a sort of “school of rock” style band camp in which vocalists, guitarists, bassists, drummers and keyboardists between the ages of 11 and 17 could learn in an encouraging environment and pick the brains of music industry professionals, then top it all off with a professionally stage lit performance at the end of the week to showcase what they’d learned.

Arlington/Dallas area-based guitarist, soundman and private guitar, bass and voice teacher Dave Corley served as Camp Jam’s director at A&M-Commerce.

“The majority of them, at this stage of their lives, do want to make music their thing in life, and there are many who are very talented, and if they keep at it, absolutely could do that,” Corley said. “In general, it’s all about just encouraging them. It’s a great social environment, because everyone here is into music. It’s not like at school, where when they say they want to be rock stars, other people tell them it’s not gonna happen. It’s all encouragement, here. They also learn a lot from each other. We give them everything we can, but they get a lot from each other, too.

“It’s just a blast for all the counselors,” Corley added. “We’re all completely exhausted at the end of the week, but in the best possible way. All of us just wish there was something like this when we were kids. It’s a very unique experience.”

The 41 teens and tweens who arrived in Commerce for this year’s Camp Jam were split into 9 bands, based on the number of years they’d been playing their instruments, how many hours per day they typically practice, and their preferred subgenres of rock.

“We have a little bit of everything,” Corley said. “It is rock-based, and we’re gonna have some pretty heavy metal, we’re gonna have some classic rock, and we’re gonna have some pop. Some of the players will really surprise you as far as what they’re into and what their influences are. I never cease to be amazed.”

And finally, one of the major draws of Camp Jam is its masterclasses, in which highly accomplished veterans of the music industry perform and host Q&A sessions. One of the most memorable of these, for Corley, came from guitarist Jennifer Batten, who’s best known for her multiple world tours as a member of Michael Jackson’s live band from 1987-1997.

“She told a great story about when she was in a rehearsal space in L.A.,” Corley said. “Eddie Van Halen was there and when he heard her playing his solo to ‘Beat It,’ he came over and asked her to teach it to him, because he couldn’t remember what he’d played…so she taught Van Halen his own recorded solo.”

Camp Jam is a nationwide series of day and overnight camps, and the one at A&M-Commerce has been held each summer for over five years. Those interested in learning more about it can visit