Inside The Girls' Summer Camp So Cool We Wish We Could Go

Director: Lina Plioplyte and Elise Tyler, Director of Photograpy: Lina Plioplyte, Producer: Elise Tyler, Editor: Jonathan Rogers, Sound Design: Matt Sutton, Color Correction: Jonathan Rogers.
As the year draws to a close, It’s a time to look back on things that happened over the past twelve months. Over the next few days, we’ll be revisiting some of our favorite stories from throughout the year, and seeing again what they mean for 2015 in review.

This story was originally published on December 11, 2015.


Despite many advances in society, girls still receive almost constant cultural messages to be polite, be measured, and to avoid the spotlight. Fighting those messages, and encouraging them to make their voices heard, isn't easy. That's where Girls Rock Camp can help.

The concept is simple: Instruct girls on how to play instruments, write songs, and jam, while teaching them about feminism and justice in the process. The program started in Portland, OR, in 2001 and spread to Tennessee, when Portland camp volunteer Kelley Anderson set up a program in Murfreesboro. Now there are more than 80 Girls Rock Camps, from Brazil to Canada to France, all dedicated to teaching girls that they have the power to change the world.

"We want to teach campers to say, 'I can create the world I want to live in through artistic expression and being critical of the world around me,'" Sarah Bandy, director of Youth Empowerment through Arts & Humanities, the nonprofit that runs Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp and several other rock camps in Tennessee. "We want to give them the positive reinforcement that you can create the world if you don't like what you see. That’s the most political part of our programming, giving them the tools to create the world they want to live in."

Bandy got involved as a volunteer with Girls Rock Camps years ago, and spent time teaching girls music and political engagement in Austin, TX, Oakland, CA, and Charleston, SC, before ending up in Murfreesboro. Through the camps — which provide scholarships to some 35% of Tennessee campers — and through the coed rock camps that Bandy also oversees, kids from 8 to 17 come together to learn respect, kindness, and musical instruments. The coed camp is trans-inclusive, and anti-racism and media literacy are critical components of the camp's message.

"A great way to have equality between people and level the playing field so we can all live in the world is through education," Bandy said. "We’ve seen a lot of power in music education. Giving girls a voice is the main goal of our program, giving them a voice and telling them they deserve to take up space in whatever way feels best for them."

The bands that form during camp aren't just throwaways; many campers keep playing, and at least one — country-punk quartet Those Darlins — has broken through to real-world success.

On a global scale, the Girls Rock Camp Alliance provides a central hub for all the camps and offers resources to people who want to start their own camp. "We have an annual meeting in Philly, and reps from Girls Rock camps from all over the world come together to talk about the best ways to end systemic oppression in all forms," Bandy said.

What does a bright future look like to Bandy? More scholarships for campers, more resources to keep camps going year-round — and the end to one patronizing phrase.

"It would be great to look around and see more female representation in the underground music scene, as well as in the mainstream media," Bandy added in an email. "I would also love to never see the phrase 'female drummer' ever again, and have it just say 'drummer.'"

Learn more about Girls Rock Camps here and Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp here.
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