All photos by Shauna Alexander
All words by Jessica Sprigings and Shauna Alexander
For most kids the idea of being a Rockstar stays hidden in their bedrooms, only to appear in secret (or if old enough at BYT’s karaoke camp) but for sixty local area girls that dream has quickly become a reality. Formed in Fall 2007, with the Kingsbury Center as their headquarters, Girls Rock! DC follows in the footsteps of girls’ rock camps across the country with campers between the ages of 8-18 learning what it takes to be the next Suzi Quatro, Corin Tucker and my personal favorite – Alison Mosshart. These campers collaborate with a collective of teachers, musicians, artists and community-organizers as counselors to create an original song or DJ set in one week that will be performed in a showcase at the 9:30 Club. How many local bands do you know that would kill to play there?! Camp not only educates these girls about rocking out and working together but they also learn to hook up their own equipment and how to be confident with themselves. I was fortunate enough to see what camp like was like last Thursday, August 14th.
At camp don’t be surprised if you have Annie Lennox or Spinderella looking over your shoulder. Posters of these and other well-known female music legends cover the walls and serve as labels for the classrooms the girls scurry around to each period. Morning starts with assembly and a concept that should be implemented in every work environment – The Scream. All the girls hold hands in a circle with one girl being the first to scream. She could scream anything she wanted and as loud as she wanted. When she was done, she squeezes the hand of the girl next to her so that she could have her turn. Every morning they had this time together because, as one girl told me, women are taught to be quiet. BUT NOT THESE YOUNG WOMEN! This was their chance to be loud and crazy and do whatever they wanted in a safe space. Not only did the Scream let them feel free but it also eliminated a lot of boundaries between the girls. They felt closer to each other afterward. Plus, who wouldn’t love to tell their friends, coworkers or boss what’s really on their mind….
I was surprised to learn that some of these wee rockers have never touched a bass or drum kit before. That’s where the hour-and-a-half of instrument instruction comes in before lunch. Afternoon electives include classes like Women Who Rock; Song Writing; Image, ID and Media; and Self Defense. Even Amanda MacKaye of Fort Reno fame and Vicki Savoula, the Black Cat’s talent buyer, lend their expertise by teaching an hour-session called Bookin’ and the Biz, where the girls learn how to land gigs and find opportunities to promote their talents. The key behind landing a gig? Always be polite and send follow up emails.
The rest of the afternoon is set aside for band practice. Bands were formed on the first day of camp in sort of a “speed dating” scenario. Armed with questionnaires in hand, interviews were conducted between the girls with inquiries like “What’s your favorite color?” and “What’s the most played song on your iPod?“ being the crucial deciding factors on band placement. For the rest of the week it’s all business, where these groups work extra hard to compose or compile an original song or DJ set. It’s not surprising to hear two DJ’s rationally trying to cut down their set to the allotted time, (“Fine! The Janet can go!” exclaimed DJ Fireball in Thursday’s session).
As for the showcase, WOW, talk about being blown away by energy and performance!! We walked into the 9:30 Club to see a showcase of what was expected to be cute girls playing instruments and being adorable. That all happened, but they also totally blew away the crowd with their enthusiasm, their talent, and their total GIRL POWER. Ten acts were lined up on the 9:30 Club stage on August 15, 2009, and with smoother transitions between each performance than any other band I’ve seen play there, sixty girls reminded me of why I picked up a guitar in the first place.
I can’t praise the performances enough; I mean these girls totally killed it! Songs like “Eat This It’s A Pie in Your Face” (by the aptly named Pie In Your Face) were complimented by two dance-a-thons hosted by the Double Trouble Crew or the Triple Threat Crew who really knew how to get people moving. Obvious influences of Sleater Kinney shone through Silent District’s performance while the Black Roses channeled Joy Division with their crunching guitars and deadpan vocals. Meanwhile the Badd Grrlz capped off their performance by throwing their visors to the screaming crowd and Punk-G got an overwhelming amount of love as they kicked it off with a sweet bass intro that Jack White would envy.
Each act built off the energy of the previous, till the showcase came to an amazing close with all of the girls on stage dancing, hugging, and singing the camp theme song. There was even a pressroom where girls could be interviewed after their performance. By the time they made it to Jessica, who was on hand to get reactions, the bands were all pumped up from having just been on stage in front of large crowd of family, friends, and awe-struck strangers. Every girl she talked with loved the experience, loved their band coach, and wants to come back next year for more girl-centered awesomeness. This week seems to have reinforced for each of them that they can do anything!
One girl told us that if someone said her she couldn’t do something because she was a girl, she would tell him or her they were wrong. “Girls are people too!” Another girl said she had learned this week that girls can do anything and can usually do it better than boys! It seems all of the girls even want to start up their own bands and keep playing in preparation for next year (YES!). Other highlights of the interviews included DJ JayBird asking if we wanted her autograph, only to scribble her John Hancock across the page or how genuinely stunned each one of them was to have been able to fill their dream of being a performer. And the overwhelming response from all the girls when asked what they will tell their friends? “I Rock!” Yeah, you definitely do!
For more information on GR!DC (or to volunteer for next year!) head over to www.girlsrockdc.org