Rock and Roll Summer Camp // Facebook photo
Ball State alumnus returns to Muncie with rockin' ideas
After years of traveling the world with a passion for music, there was something missing for Ball State alumnus Christopher Swinney.
He traveled on tour with his own band, worked in music festivals and even tried to help the music presence in Jamaica, but there was one memory he always cherished - starting The Rock and Roll Summer Camp in Muncie.
In February, he and his family moved back to Indiana and Swinney was contacted by Jeff Robinson, the director of community relations at Cornerstone Center for the Arts, about their mutual interest in offering Rock and Roll Summer Camp again.
“Partnering with Cornerstone is the best thing that I could do because they kind of took a lot of the risk away and a lot of the hard stuff away that I needed to do and now I can kind of just focus on the kids,” Swinney said.
With arts education being the mission of Cornerstone, Robinson said that putting on thiecamp was an easy decision, especially considering Swinney’s extensive experience in music and with the camp.
“Particularly here in Muncie there’s a strong and long history of the local music culture,” Robinson said. “With local bands and things like that, these camps like this are what continue that rich culture.”
In 2012, after starting the camp, Swinney decided to focus on his own career, moving to Gulf Shores, Alabama to work in artist relations for The Hangout, the country's third largest music festival.
For five years he worked with popular artists such as Tom Petty, Ziggy Marley, Stevie Wonder, The Killers and Imagine Dragons until he decided it was time to do something different.
A year after joining a reggae band, Swinney was offered a job as the entertainment director for Margaritaville in Jamaica, but he quickly found out that it wasn't the place he or his wife wanted to be.
“I moved to Jamaica for about three months with my wife and my one-month-old son to kind of fix their entertainment down there,” Swinney said. “It was supposed to be a year contract but after a few months it kinda wasn’t the place to have a baby.”
His family then moved back to Alabama where he started Rock and Roll Summer Camp again. While there he worked with talented artists including Shelby Brown, who made it to the semifinals on "The Voice."
Even then, something was missing, that's when his wife suggested that they move to Indiana because of how often he talked about his experiences in Muncie, the place where he started the camp in 2006.
Originally, Swinney didn't have a partner like Cornerstone, so a lot of the costs came out of his pocket. After paying his staff and the bills, he would donate the remaining money to a charity of the children's choice.
But since reinstating the camp with the help from Cornerstone, the price dropped from the original $350 to $200 per student.
“Partnering with them does legitimize the camp a little bit because Cornerstone is a very positive influence in the community,” Swinney said. “I mean people judge and I have a lot of tattoos but I also have never been arrested, I’ve never done bad stuff, I just love music and I love art."
With the quick turn-around, it was hard to get the word out about the camp, so Swinney isn't expecting the same number of students as he had in the past, but the camp's goal remains the same - teaching campers more than just how to play an instrument.
“I had to figure things out myself the hard way.” Swinney said. “Not knowing who to go to for t-shirts, you don’t know how to make your own CD or where to record your stuff, like we teach the kids everything. We gotta give them a guidebook to being a musician.”
A lot of the lessons that Swinney teaches to campers comes from his own experiences.
Swinney began playing guitar at 7 years old and at 13 he started a band called Chronic Chaos. Upon graduating high school, the band signed a record label and went on tour, performing in famous music festivals like Warped tour.
When the band broke up, Swinney opened a recording studio in Muncie and taught lessons at Muncie Music Center. He joined The Ataris, a rock group from Anderson, Indiana, and continued teaching between world tours and music festivals.
He's trying to use each of those experiences to teach up and coming musicians through the camp.
From 12-5 p.m. each day for a week, campers ranging in skill and age, 11 to 17 years old, will learn skills such as how to play instruments, how to work light and sound boards, how to record music, how to network in the music industry and how to have a good stage presence.
But there's more to the music industry, as a young artist, Swinney said it's important not to turn down opportunities. He sold merchandise for bands, worked on guitars and drove a van for two months, never once playing an instrument.
“One of the things we teach the kids too, never say no to anything,” Swinney said. “I wanted to kind of build my resume so when a bigger band came calling it made sense for them to call me and that’s one thing that nobody really gets.”
The camp tries to adapt itself to each camper, but each student is expected to be respectful of everyone they interact with. Swinney has no tolerance for bullying and has even kicked groups of campers out before.
“I’ve had parents tell me that camp’s the only place that they feel normal," Swinney said. "They don’t play sports, they aren’t in student government, they love music and when they come to camp they kind of feel like they’re with like-minded people.
“I say, ‘we’re here, we’re family, we’re trying to do something together and if you can’t respect that you can go somewhere else,’ and I’ve never had a problem with that.”
Swinney learned at a young age that “music is just music,” no matter the genre or artist, and he hopes to help campers realize that all types of music can be good.
Part of the camp time is dedicated to learning about bands that aren’t played on the radio as much and having discussions about whether or not the kids liked the music saying "if you actually talk to kids and want their information they give you this long drawn out answer that's really deep."
At the end of the camp, the campers will be able to showcase what they learned in a concert and, while nothing has been finalized, if the first camp is a success, there may be the possibility of a second session toward the end of the summer.
“Eventually I would like to do just an after school camp sort of thing for my job or work at a nonprofit, I mean I love money everyone loves money but I also love working with kids,” Swinney said.
Even if Swinney isn’t able to see all of those with an interest in music in the Muncie community, he hopes to continue to network through the lessons in guitar, bass and ukulele through his sessions at Muncie Music Center.
There is still time to sign up for Rock and Roll Summer Camp through Cornerstone’s website, by calling 765-281-9503 or by visiting the second floor desk.