But here they were, erupting through the confines of TT the Bear’s while a packed crowd hollered its appreciation. A delirious multitude of voices could even be heard singing along, knowing the lyrics to every tune like they were Ramones covers. It was the first showcase for Ladies Rock Camp Boston, an intensive, three-day program that took nearly 40 women out of their normal routines and them rock stars.
“You know how, sometimes, when you play an instrument through an amplifier that’s turned up really loud, you can physically feel it?” asked Hilken Mancini, co-founder and Program Director of the camp and its parent organization, Girls Rock Camp Boston. “It was the same feeling. I could feel the energy from the women behind me waiting for the next band to play, to see the women they had just made friends with get up and do it.”
Even after witnessing it in person, the sheer scope of what these women had just pulled off is not an easy thing to comprehend (much less believe). Nearly all of the campers who performed that night arrived at LRC on February 18 having never played an instrument, much less played in a band. With the help of more than 30 volunteers, each of the women (whose ages ranged from 19 to over 50) learned how to play a rock instrument, formed bands with fellow campers and wrote the songs that they would play on February 20 at the showcase.
Mancini, herself a long-time guitarist with such Boston bands as Fuzzy and Shepherdess, started GRCB after volunteering at the original Girls Rock Camp in Portland, OR – an experience that she says changed her life. It was there that she met Nora Allen-Wiles, a fellow Bay Sate resident who was volunteering with an administrative role at the camp. The two teamed up with Mancini’s friend and fellow musician Mary Lou Lord to establish a camp in Boston modeled after the one in Portland and the growing number of programs around the nation that have come to form the Girls Rock Camp Alliance.
For those who are unfamiliar, Girls Rock Camp runs summer programs for girls aged 8-16 with the stated mission of building self-esteem and leadership through music education and performance. Ladies Rock Camp was started as way to raise funds for the GRC while giving women over the age of 18 the opportunity to enjoy an experience similar to the one offered by the girls’ camp. It was held at the Spontaneous Celebrations Community Center in Jamaica Plain, which houses a large auditorium, a small gymnasium and various rooms that were used for workshops and rehearsal spaces.
As Administrative Director Allen-Wiles explains, LRC consisted of much more than guitar and drum lessons.
“We do a lot of empowerment exercises to build self-esteem,” she said. “We also do a lot of group-building and ice-breakers and things to get the women to feel more comfortable in their bodies before starting their day. A lot of it is things that we do with the girls camp, but they’re just as important for the women to feel more comfortable around each other and with themselves.”
Of course, running all of these activities takes a lot of work. Fortunately, LRC found no shortage of talented women eager to lend a hand, and many of them are names that might be familiar to those who follow the local music scene. Ex-Darkbuster guitarist Amy Griffin, now of Full Body Anchor and Movers & Shakers taught guitar lessons, as did Apple Betty guitar slinger (not to mention Boston Band Crush blogger) Kerri-Ann Richard. Hayley Thompson-King of Banditas worked as a vocal instructor, while Aerochix drummer Joni Scimone taught campers how to hit the skins. Many of the instructors also served as “band coaches,” offering support and guidance to the newly formed bands.
As for the campers themselves, many of them were women who have been attending concerts in the Boston area for years but had never gotten on stage themselves. Some heard about LRC by word of mouth, while others had some prior involvement in a GRC program. With the number of applicants vastly outweighing the number of available spots, campers were selected on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The very first person to sign up was Erin King, who was eager to take part in LRC after volunteering at last summer’s inaugural Girls Rock Camp Boston. It was there that she got her first and – until this year – only experience behind a drumkit when one of the girls in the band she was coaching stayed home sick one day. King spent 20 minutes tapping out the simple rhythm of the song her girls were playing so that the members who were present could rehearse. At LRC, she decided to give the skins another go.
In one large room of the Spontaneous Celebrations complex, nine kits were set up for the nine girls who had chosen to play the drums. 15 (presumably cacophonous) minutes of freestyle pounding were followed by more structured workshops. King learned how to keep a beat using only the kick and snare, and gradually worked in the toms and cymbals. By Sunday, she had learned enough fills to get through an entire song without entering or exiting two verses the same way.
To decide what kind of band they wanted to play in, campers were given the choice between several different genres in the rock spectrum (punk, glam, metal etc.). King went with “pop,” forming a quartet along with guitarist Rebecca Mitchell, bassist Wendy Grus and vocalist Ashley Willard (also of BBC fame). They decided to call their band The Boobytraps.
King likened the grueling practice-and-rehearsal to a “bootcamp,” She often spent the rare moments of down-time working on her beats. Even with the extra practice, King says that there were moments where she feared that her band’s one-song set was destined to be a disaster.
“In dress rehearsal, I just couldn’t do it,” she recalls. “My legs were trembling. I thought, ‘I’m not gonna be able to keep my feet on the pedals.’ But when we walked on the stage, I had this level of calmness. I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and I did everything exactly how I wanted to. I went for it and played my heart out.”
Not only did The Boobytraps nail their song, appropriately titled “Shut Your Trap (So I Don’t Fall In),” but they had so much fun doing it that they decided that there was no reason why their first show should be their only one. The four have since pitched in on a practice space at the Sound Museum. If they have it their way, you will be able to catch the Boobytraps playing a full set of original material (and maybe a few covers) on a local stage sometime this summer. (Click here to check their Facebook page for updates!)
Perhaps no camper had seen as many Bay State bands without forming one herself as Anngelle Wood, host of the “Boston Emissions” local music show on WZLX (100.7 FM). Wood found out about the camp when she interviewed Mancini and Lord about GRCB and LRC on her show, which airs on Sunday nights from 10pm-to-midnight. The
long-time local music booster’s only previous band experience was playing bass at a few shows with a short-lived cover band.
Wood decided that LRC was the perfect opportunity to get behind a microphone in an entirely different setting. When it was time to pick genres, Wood’s love of bands like T-Rex and the New York Dolls led her to form a glam rock band with guitarist Charlotte Huffman and drummer Lilia Halpern. The trio decided to call themselves “Dirty Gold.”
The experience of collaborating on an original song was a new one for the three women, but the empowering atmosphere of the camp helped them stay largely undaunted by the challenge of creating and memorizing the tune in such a short timeframe.
“We just kind of riffed a little bit on Friday and I listened for the melody,” Wood explained. “On Saturday, we put more of the pieces together and recorded it on Lilia’s iPhone. We listened back to the melody and then sat down and wrote all of the lyrics in about an hour.”
Dirty Gold had the honor of opening the Sunday night showcase with their song, “Bright Lights.” During the very first verse, Huffman’s guitar strap came undone, but like a true rock n’ roller, she carried on without a trace of panic. A member of the LRC staff snuck onstage and quickly fixed the strap as Huffman continued to strum the chords while grooving in place in a sparkling blouse that would’ve made David Bowie pout with envy.
That moment seemed to set the tone for a night of performances that did not always go exactly as planned – but were always fierce, lively and anything but self-conscious. The voices in the crowd that sang along with every word belonged to the campers and volunteers who had learned the songs, essentially, by accident, simply by being within earshot of the artists who wrote them, as they were being written.
It may be tempting to say that the main purpose of these camps is to provide women and girls with a gateway to a field in which they are constantly underrepresented and seem, at times, to be unwelcome if they do not fit a certain image. That’s a big part of it, and a noble, necessary mission to be sure. But, as Mancini explains, it really doesn’t tell you the whole story.
“It’s not often in life that there is no agenda,” she says. “Not that I think poorly of what people are trying to do; everyone’s got to make money and take care of their business. But we’re all so selfish and vain in so many ways that it’s rare to have a pure space where it really is about getting to that place where you’re building each other up and not monetarily driven and not trying to gain anything.”
That, more than anything, is what made this event so special. It was a celebration of friendship, power, pride, guts, blood, sweat, silliness, sisterhood, womanhood and, above all, rock n’ roll. That’s redundant, of course, because rock n’ roll encompasses all of those things. Anyone who was at T.T.’s on February 20 will tell you the same.
Girls Rock Camp Boston begins registration for their Summer Sessions on April 1st. Because of the astronomical success of Ladies Rock Camp, GRCB was able to raise enough funding to be able to host two separate sessions, one running July 17-23 and one August 8-13. E-mail email@example.com or visit http://www.girlsrockboston.org/Summer_Camp.html for more information!