Many local students got to live a dream this summer - to be part of a professional rock band.
Rock Band Camp was developed and engineered by local teacher and Cape Coral resident Jim Knecht Jr. A 2008 Golden Apple Teacher recipient, Knecht is now choir and orchestra director at Three Oaks Middle School, and president of the non-profit Music Foundation of Southwest Florida.
He's also been a professional musician for more than 20 years, saying concerning anything to do with a band, "been there, done that" in true "muscianese."
Drummer Chris Hillman and singer Derrek Connolly both atttend North Fort Myers High School and Cape Coral residents.
He said the idea for the camp came about one day about four years ago when he and Danillo Hernandez, a former Lee County teacher and himself an accomplished guitarist, started brainstorming about a fun and educational summer camp for local students.
"We thought, why not have them produce in four or five days, a band like professionals?" he said.
The response was overwhelming, so much so that in the last two years, students have had to audition for slots, with 21 students accepted in this, the second year of the camp.
They were matched up into three bands, went through a five-day camp and then gave a performance last Friday night.
"It was very structured," Knecht said. "We paired them up based on ability, chemistry and personality."
The band team members were then required to use the art of communication which each other, working together to choose songs, pick numbers they wanted to play and name their band.
"They were required to communicate and worked with each other - like a marriage," Knecht said.
He said he encouraged them to call or text each other after the first long working day, to make sure they were ready for day two.
They practiced, were critiqued and taught techniques, and spent time perfecting stage presence.
Then came the big performance Friday night, with all the professional equipment.
Two camp participants, drummer Chris Hillman and singer Derrek Connolly, attend North Fort Myers High School and are Cape Coral residents.
"It was definitely a professional experience and also helps my improvisation with music," said Hillman.
He's been a drummer for the last six years.
"It helped me transcribe my music better, listening to it and playing it right there, the beat I heard," he said.
He said he would go again next year.
At North Fort Myers High School, Hillman will be a junior this year, and he is in Red Knight Jazz group and the drum line in the marching band.
Mother Kara Hillman said, "This is his second time going - they get a great deal out of it. A lot of the teachers are band teachers or music instructors, and the people who work with the foundation care about the kids. That always makes it so much nicer as well, especially when music programs are being cut in school budgets."
Connolly has performed in many venues over the last few years as a vocalist - both at school, live performances and professional competitions. He said he also enjoyed the experience.
"I felt like a rock star," he said. "It was very exciting, and I liked how we worked as a team, and I made a lot of friends."
Both are very talented, said Knecht.
Students came from all over Lee County for the experience.
The first band that performed - Funktion - featured Maddie Ruth, voice; Megan Kupser, voice; Ashley Adams-Jack, voice; Matt Bryant, guitar; Luke Quinnell, guitar; Kyle Fauerbach, keyboard; Connor Camron, bass and Hillman on drums.
The second band was Dark Matter Goldfish, with Baylie Pohle, voice; Shelby Hancock, voice; Spencer Barney, voice; Kyle McKenna, guitar; Jacob Tinkoff, bass and Kyle Nelson, drums.
Band three was Hidden in the Dark, with Connolly, voice; Nate Cruz, guitar; Wesley Kemp, guitar; J.J. Schneider, guitar; Zack Bryant, bass; Chris Foust, drums and Matt Browning, drums.
"We're now talking about a two-week camp next year so we can expand, teach them to record and more," said Knecht.
Rock Band Camp wasn't the only music camp he orchestrated this year. There was A Cappella Camp and more.
To learn more about next year's Rock Band Camp, call 281-4412 or email Knechtj@Comcast.net.