World's Quirkiest Adult Camps
Published: October 2009
By Jeryl Brunner
Learn to hunt ghosts or spar like a gladiator. Who says camps are just for kids?
Gary Hofstetter, president of a private equity real estate fund in Boston, describes himself as a "suit on State Street." That’s quite a change from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was a wild-haired, rock-loving roadie for local bands in Upstate New York. But as the years advanced, he tucked away that part of himself for different kinds of gigs, like a career, marriage, and a child ("Dylan," named after Bob).
In December 2003, as he was turning 50, Hofstetter dreamed that he was in a rock and roll camp, jamming with artists that he adored. Seeing it as a sign, he enrolled in the Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, a five-day fantasy-come-true program in New York City founded and run by tour producer David Fishof (who also operates camps in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and London). "I sang with Brain Wilson six feet in front of me. Roger Daltrey taught me 'Pin Ball Wizard.' That’s a true fantasy," says Hofstetter. The "suit" was transformed.
No matter what your fantasy may be—to become an astronaut on a shuttle mission, an elephant trainer, even a ghost hunter—chances are there is a program or camp waiting for you.
"In recent years, the number of specialized camp opportunities for adults has grown significantly," says Peg L. Smith, chief executive officer of The American Camp Association (ACA). "Camp isn’t just for kids anymore," she says. "In a hectic world, it offers an oasis, with opportunities for learning in a fun environment." And more people are opting for unique learning programs over your typical park-yourself-on-a-beach getaway. "Many adults find a camp vacation to be more rewarding than a week at a resort," says Smith.
In Gary Hofstetter’s case, the reward was living out a dream. "You really live, breathe, and play the rock star," he says. Campers are divided into bands and appointed a rock-star counselor (think John Anderson from Yes or the Allman Brothers' Dicky Betts). The pros work with their charges to write and ultimately perform a song. Everyone stays in the same hotel, shares meals, is shuttled to the studio, and hangs out together at night. "We're not spawning fans," says Hofstetter, who has stayed in touch with Bad Company's Simon Kirke. The week culminates with a performance at sold-out venues like the House of Blues.
Rock fantasies aren’t the only ones being catered, too, however. Consider the Crush Camp experience at Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines in California. The three-day intensive program teaches students how to take wine from vine to glass while feasting on gourmet food. Campers pick grapes, tasting and smelling as they go to understand the difference between a chardonnay and a fume blanc. "We learned that by tweaking one variable, it makes a huge difference creating the ultimate bottle," explains camper Paul Burek, who attended the camp in 2006. "I learned that this is not a science, it’s an art."
And sometimes, camps can turn mere aficionados into experts—or even working professionals. Just 90 days after graduating from Atlantic City’s World Poker Tournament Boot Camp in 2007, poker amateur Lee Childs used his training to make it to the finals of the World Series of Poker. The computer engineer advanced over 6,348 people and took seventh place, winning $705,229. And on Stan Newman’s Crossword University cruise to Cozumel, Belize, Guatemala, and Key West in 2004, one participant, Donna Levin, was inspired to create her own puzzles, which she has since sold to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and other publications.
The students don’t just leave their programs with a newly discovered skill. "I developed a Rock and Roll connection with all the campers and musicians," says Gary Hofstetter. "It’s so much more than just five days. It lasts a lifetime."