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Girls rock at this Pittsburgh summer camp

Emily Stimmel
August28/ 2015

On a Saturday afternoon in August, nine bands took the stage for an adoring crowd at the Union Project in Highland Park. They played songs with titles like Pizza Party Illuminati, I’m Not Sorry for Who I Am and Unstoppable. Many of them had picked up an instrument for the first time less than a week before.

The showcase was the culminating event of Girls Rock! Pittsburgh—part of a growing international network of girls’ rock camps that empower self-identified girls, ages eight to 18, through music. Since its founding in 2013, Girls Rock! Pittsburgh has hosted four camps, enrolling girls from economically and socially diverse school districts across the Pittsburgh area. Tuition fees are determined on a sliding scale and scholarships are available to all girls, thanks in large part to the Sarah & Susan Wolfe Scholarship Fund established last year in memory of the sisters who cared deeply about feminism, children and education.

The camp—which recently acquired status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization—is a true labor of love, run entirely by a core group of dedicated volunteers inspired by a mission of “amplifying self-confidence, creative expression, independent thinking, mutual respect and cooperation.” “Our volunteers wish they had something like this growing up,” says organizer Madeleine Campbell.

On the first day of camp at Winchester Thurston, 50 girls formed bands and split up into instrument-specific groups to rehearse guitar, bass, drums, keyboards or vocals. Later, when band members practiced together, they visited other groups to hear each other’s songs and offer encouragement. “Seeing this happen always reinforces one of the main reasons we do this,” says Campbell. “To foster a network of girls and women who support one another while maintaining their own unique voice.”

Outside of musical instruction, campers filled the five days at camp with workshops. This year, Master Lisa Nakamura and Michele Colvard of Shaolin Studios led a self-defense class, where campers kicked, punched and harnessed the power of their voices. Attendees learned how to take up space through an activity that embodies the spirit of the girls’ rock camp movement: each girl entered a circle, proudly declared a reason she rocked and struck a “power pose” of her choice.

Amy Garbark of garbella and Adrienne Rozzi of Poison Apple Printshop taught girls to design and screen print patches, t-shirts and other band merch, sharing practical skills and providing real-world examples of successful local female artists. Other workshop topics included songwriting, electronic beat-making, creative movement, zine-making and meditation—especially helpful for calming frayed nerves the day before recording.

Girls were treated to daily lunchtime concerts by local female musicians representing country, rap, rock, indie and experimental styles. After their performances, Tilley Hawk, Moor Mother Goddess, DREAM PHONE, Katie Capri and slowdanger hosted Q&A sessions with the campers, sharing their personal experiences and inspiration.

This year’s bands—Awkward Silence, Electric Spark, Night Girls, Rainbow Rock, Crystal Rain, Midnight Monkeys, Power Outage, *shrug* and Wolf Vein—demonstrated raw talent at their August showcase, but musical proficiency is not a primary goal. “If a camper walks away and never touches an instrument again, that’s fine. What matters is that she knows she can,” says Campbell.

Camp organizers encourage self-identified women to volunteer year-round. Musical experience isn’t necessary. Other ways to help include donating instruments and gear, downloading campers’ songs and purchasing items from the WolfePack Goods shop, which helps to fund scholarships. And on Saturday, September 26th at 2 p.m., check out the Girls Rock! Pittsburgh Stage at Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville—part of this year’s VIA music festival. Email [email protected] to learn more.

Featured photo: Awkward Silence youth band, Photo courtesy of Girls Rock! Pittsburgh

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.