Midway through the 2003 hit comedy School of Rock, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) — frustrated by what he perceives as a pacificatory nature among his elementary school charges — attempts to lay bare the true nature of rock ’n’ roll.
“You’ve got to feel it in your blood and guts,” he tells a bewildered group of students in preppy uniforms. “If you want to rock, you got to break the rules. You got to get mad at the man!”
Jack Black’s amenable idiot is not wrong in pointing out that rock ’n’ roll does indeed have strong roots in rebellion. But one need not identify a straw man (or be angry) in order to rock.
Case in point: owner, operator and engineer of St. Augustine’s Eclipse Recording Company, the genial Jim Stafford.
Since opening Eclipse in 2000, Stafford parlayed a love for all things sonic into a flourishing business that specializes in media engineering, from audio/video/data forensics to TV and radio voiceovers to live sound production for local events. Stafford’s bread-and-butter, however, is Eclipse’s well-appointed recording studio, where he’s recorded a wide range of music and TV projects, including the soundtrack to the recent Kevin Costner-produced Hatfields & McCoys which aired on the History Channel and was performed by (who else, but) Kevin Costner and his country group The Modern West.
“He’s a really, really nice guy. He was very approachable and very considerate,” Stafford says of Costner. Take that for what it’s worth, as the more you talk to Stafford, the harder it is to imagine him saying anything negative about anyone. But don’t mistake Stafford’s convivial tone for a lack of passion. He’s dedicated his life to an infatuation he discovered long ago.
As a child of the ’60s, Stafford was inspired by bands like Hendrix and CCR and followed the Grateful Dead for years. Decades later, with access to his own personal musical playground, he’s apportioned his studio with some of the finest gear in the region, including ’50s and ’60s era vintage guitar amplifiers and a gorgeous 1915 Steinway grand piano. “It’s a pretty cool place,” Stafford says, casually.
Stafford believes it’s such a cool place, in fact, that this summer, he’ll partner his state-of-the-art recording facilities with St. Augustine’s world-class music venue, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, to give several dozen middle-to-high-school-age kids an opportunity to experience a truly unique week of camp. Attendees receive instruction from accomplished players, form bands, and perform on the main stage — it culminates in a recording session at Eclipse.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn from professionals and also get comfortable performing and recording,” Stafford says.
The Friends of St. Augustine Amphitheatre (FOSAA), of which Eclipse has been a longtime sponsor, will be underwriting much of the cost and providing scholarships to young musicians who need them.
“It is really a great program they’ve set up,” says Carol Gladstone, president of FOSAA. “We have a really rich musical community here, and Jim [Stafford] knows everybody in it.”
As a 501c3, FOSAA awards yearlong grants to nonprofits and schools that wish to use the amphitheater for events or multi-day camps.
“Our mission is to bring more usability and visibility to the amphitheater, which we feel is the community’s amphitheater. We want everyone to be able to use it,” says Gladstone.
For the last three years, FOSAA has put on the Children’s Summer Music & Arts Camp. This year, they’ve partnered with Stafford to offer Camp Rock.
Gladstone says Tommy Bledsoe, arts program specialist for St. Johns County Schools, planted the seed with Stafford, before the two brought the idea to FOSAA, seeking financial assistance.
“Ryan Murphy [St. Augustine Amphitheatre’s general manager] has always dreamed of the amphitheater having an educational arm,” Gladstone says. “When you bring kids in, you’re training future artists and audiences, as well.”
Asked about the impact such a rocking camp experience could have on future generations of Northeast Floridians, Stafford voices the most excitement I’ve heard from him.
“When they get up to play their concert set, our campers will be able to imagine performing in the exact spot that their musical heroes have stood,” he says. “That memory will last forever for these kids and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of them returns to play there themselves, inspired by their experience.”