PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp returns

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette — Keyboardists Gracia Perala and Madison Teddy share a look before switching places during Saturday’s PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp.

HOUGHTON — After a year off, PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp returned with a well-received finale Saturday night, as campers blazed through three hours of covers and originals.

This was the 10th non-consecutive year for the camp, which included about 20 children.

With a smaller-than-usual group of about 20, the children got more one-on-one time with instructors, said camper Rylee Foreman.

“The instructors helped us out and helped us grow as people and grow as a band,” she said. “And I think it was an amazing show.”

Olsson, creative director of the camp, decided not to hold the camp in 2018 after the death of his son Remi. He played a song in Remi’s honor on piano. That was preceded by a short video including clips of Remi’s Rock Camp performances and remembrances from several of his fellow campers.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette — PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp performs “Joy to the World” during Saturday’s finale.

“It was pretty tough,” Olsson said afterward. “But it’s a battle I won’t lose. I will only win. I’ll face whatever it takes to show that life is beautiful.”

Covers spanned more than 50 years, with catalog hits from Dio and Stevie Wonder sharing space with Billie Eilish.

Most full band performances took place on the main stage. The orchestra pit in front housed smaller performances: a trio replicating the three-part harmonies of indie supergroup Boygenius, and several solo performances.

One exception to the pattern was Flow State of Mind, whose songs included Foreman’s favorite performance of the night, newcomer Daryn DuPont’s lead vocal on “Dancing in the Moonlight.”

“It was cool to see how they really vibed with the music, and how she really got into that song,” she said. “It was something she was really able to make her own.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette — Mclain Waatti plays a partially improvised piano piece during Saturday’s PJ Olsson’s Rock Camp concert.

Gracia Perala’s band performed one of her own songs, which she had put on the back burner until Rock Camp. The band came up with a group arrangement, and also sped up the tempo.

“It was weird, putting all the notes on the bass and all the notes on the guitar,” she said. “But I think it made it a whole lot better.”

Her favorite part was the finale, beginning with “Imagine,” then adding more people until culminating in “Joy to the World.”

With the year break, Foreman said, many of the people who had played in the past had aged out of the program.

In the first week, band members sat down with each other and figured out their shared musical interests and what instruments they could play. They also set aside time to bond with each other.

“We had two pizza dinners with our band, and it helped us really connect,” Foreman said.

Campers learn more than just music, said instructor Dan Tracy. He related the story of one camper who had extreme anxiety when she first came in.

“On day one, she kept saying I’m not gonna make it I’m gonna go home,” he said. “And day two, little different person. Day three loving it. Day four, couldn’t think of not being here. And then for the rest of it, she was just having a blast and smiling.”

The camp will be back next year, Olsson said. And he’s planning something new, as well: a “Little Rockers” camp for 7- to 12-year-olds, where they will learn songs like “Johnny B. Goode.”

“We’ll have a recital at the end, where we start getting kids ready for this camp at a younger age,” he said.