Medford native Page Hamilton of the band Helmet was a special guest instructor. - Bob Pennell

A rockin' good camp

Page Hamilton nods and taps his foot in time as his teenage proteges Colonel Sanders and the Mountain Men rip through a rough version of a song they've spent nearly a week crafting.

After the last power chord echoes through the walls of Jacksonville Elementary School, Hamilton stands up and pumps his fist.

"All right, that was good," Hamilton says. "We made it through the entire arrangement, but now we need to work on some transition things."

Hamilton, a Medford native who fronts the popular and influential hard rock outfit Helmet, has the full attention of his students at this year's Britt Rock Camp.

Colonel Sanders and the Mountain Men is made up of a group of Ashland high schoolers whose sights are set on a life of rock 'n' roll. Their name might elicit a grin, but they come off as serious musicians on Thursday, eager to pick Hamilton's brain.

Before a session break, Hamilton barks a few more words of encouragement, but leaves the band with a challenge.

"No more mess-ups, OK?" he says. "We've used up all our mess-ups for the week."

Colonel Sanders and the Mountain Men members nod in agreement.

During the break, bassist Josh Griffin expresses his gratitude that his band can work with someone who has achieved success in the tough music business.

"It's really nice to learn from someone who knows what he's talking about," Griffin says.

Lead guitarist Loren Trottmann hopes the band, whose real name is Autopilot — members chose the Colonel Sanders moniker strictly for the camp — will take the teachings of Hamilton and apply them to live gigs in the future.

"He's taught me a lot about music theory and things like that," Trottmann says.

They are among several bands who invaded the school this week for the Britt Festival's third Rock Camp.

The program brings in veteran musicians from across the country to teach kids lessons in rock 'n' roll and life.

"This is really about empowering them," says Chaska Potter, an instructor who sings with the Los Angeles band Raining Jane. "Some of them are so shy when they get here, but by the end of the week they really come out of their shells. Watching them take ownership of their songs is really impressive."

Rock Camp focuses on regional musicians between 13 and 18 who devote the week to forming a band, working with their bandmates to craft one song and preparing it for a live performance.

Rachel Jones, who is the Britt Festivals director of education and community engagement, says the week can prove transformative for some of the students.

"Some of them might not be very social at school, but after a few days here they come out of their shells," Jones says.

The curriculum involves formulating a band, deciding what genre of music to play and creating a marketing campaign consisting of a band logo and T-shirt design.

The gear for the week was donated by the Guitar Center. It was put to use, judging by the broken drumsticks and guitar strings seen in the rehearsal spaces.

"I've broken three sticks already," says a grinning Sam Ordonez, the drummer for Colonel Sanders and the Mountain Men.

The genres run the spectrum, from classic rock to punk and metal.

Miriah Rible, vocalist for blues-rock Miriah Rible and the Rebels, says the camp is getting her past any stage fright that might creep in during a gig.

"I still get nervous in front of people, but it's getting better," she says. "I've just learned that I have to be myself on stage."

The bands move through various classes throughout the day, before settling into practice in the afternoon. The empty halls of the elementary school vibrate as groups such as Wings of Oblivion, Anarchy and Liam Keith and the Case of the Mysterious Finger Bongos rock out in the classrooms.

The bands will debut their songs at the Rocky-Tonk in downtown Medford this afternoon at 5 p.m.

There is no cover and anyone is welcome to attend.

Hamilton hopes Colonel Sanders and the Mountain Men will have the kinks worked out of their tune by showtime.

"I'm not going to lie, I was nervous on the first day," Hamilton says. "I thought, 'Oh man, this is going to be mayhem.' "

However, the band seems to be pulling it together, he says.

"It blows my mind the amount of energy they have," Hamilton says. "They actually work better together than some professional bands I've produced."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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