Eleven-year-old Isis Chernila’s favorite band is Rage Against the Machine, she loves playing keys and ukulele, and she’s one of many girls who find a home for themselves for a week every summer at Girls Rock Denver, a nonprofit serving girls and non-binary and trans youth. Chernila gushes over the friends she made at camp and the amount of pizza she ate. But she also talks about the pleasure of forming a band with other kids who have the same musical taste as she does.
Girls Rock Denver offers a summer-camp experience that, like most, gives overtaxed parents a break — but the community-funded nonprofit does so much more. The organization is dedicated to cultivating confidence and progress in the young people it serves. To that end, campers form bands, practice playing music together and even play a culminating showcase at the Oriental Theater, and the women who run the camp teach them about songwriting, social justice, science, technology, body positivity and self-care.
Camille Montgomery, a concert booker in Denver and an avid supporter of Girls Rock Denver, is doing what she can to create a more inclusive space in the music scene. On July 13, she’ll host Femmes to the Front at the Larimer Lounge; the concert will showcase non-binary and femme musicians, and a portion of the show’s proceeds will benefit Girls Rock Denver.
“When it comes to Girls Rock and this show, my biggest hope and wish is to give them the funding they deserve and to spread the word about them,” says Montgomery, who adds that she wishes there’d been a program like Girls Rock when she was growing up. “I was trying to think of an organization that was inclusive of all people and was productive to all people. I’ve admired them from afar.”
The idea for the Femmes to the Front show came about when Montgomery, who is originally from Denver, was living in the Bay Area, where, she says, “it was really easy to book non-binary shows and create that feeling of ‘We are here, too.’ Every band is so diverse and ranges on the gender spectrum and race and sexuality. There was a whole diversity of really, truly representing what the world around us looks like.”
When Montgomery returned to Denver, the Larimer Lounge gave her the opportunity to bring diverse voices to the stage — something she hopes to do regularly.
“I want to continue shows like Femmes to the Front as an actual show, a repeating thing. It was really easy to book. I was worried some people might feel they were being exploited, like, ‘Oh, do you only want me to play because of my gender or non-gender?’ — which isn’t the case at all. We have so many talented musicians here, but everyone was really open; there was no hesitation.”
That’s a big change for Denver, says Montgomery, who’d moved to the Bay Area feeling that this city “was kind of this boys’ club...a pretentious atmosphere.”
Only a few select people, she recalls, had the opportunity to play shows and draw an audience — and they were mostly cisgender men.
“But coming back, Denver has been on the move the past few years and grown so much and become progressive and acknowledged its faults [from] the past,” Montgomery says. “And the music is just so good right now.”
A primary focus of Girls Rock is helping young people express themselves, regardless of their identity or background, and part of that is empowering female-fronted bands to book their own shows and grab an audience from the stage.
“I feel there is some hesitation — like bands can feel insecure because they don’t want their genre to be girl rock, you know?” Montgomery says. “They want their genre to be punk; they want their genre to be ska or jazz. They don’t want their [identity] to define them, and that’s 100 percent valid.
“As a female booker, I’ve already experienced so many challenges and struggles,” she adds. “One of the most important things I’ve ever learned is, if you are intentionally searching and looking for sexism, you will find it everywhere. But if you just focus on yourself and uplifting those around you, that’s going to be ten times more productive and rewarding.”
In promoting shows, Montgomery is shooting for equity among people of all gender identities, making sure women, trans and non-binary artists have the same access to playing venues as cis men. So don’t expect shows like Femmes to the Front to stop anytime soon; in fact, expect them to become part of the fabric of the city’s music scene.
“It’s important to me to add and provide for the community of Denver,” says Montgomery. “There are musicians and artists on this bill who have never played a show this big. I’m so stoked they’re getting the opportunity, and if I can help them in any way create more of a presence for themselves, that’s more than enough for me.”
With organizations like Girls Rock Denver building a strong foundation for women to enter the music industry, Montgomery is happy to leave that “old-fashioned mentality” of the boys’ club in Denver behind.
The bands performing at Femmes to the Front include Rotten Reputation, Plasma Canvas, Married to a Dead Man, the Proto Whats and Yours Truly. Local artists will also be selling their work, with all proceeds going to support Girls Rock Denver.
“Right now, I know there’s a stigma around this event for some people,” says Montgomery, “and there are a lot of people out there who are like, ‘Well, we don’t want this. We don’t want to be a token. We don’t want our gender to define us.’ There are also a lot of people who feel like it’s unnecessary. But if you went to a show every night of a week and counted how many musicians were males and how many weren’t, your perspective would change.”
Femmes to the Front
8 p.m. Friday, July 13, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $10 to $12, larimerlounge.com.
Correction: The story originally had an incorrect date for the event. The correct date is Friday, July 13.