Girls Rock, the camp that gives girls and gender-nonconforming youth the chance to build community, learn instruments and perform, went entirely online this year. And while that's shaken up the business model, the campers still managed to write songs, empower each other and rehearse over Zoom. This year's camp included workshops in anti-racism skill building and songwriting. Participants even managed to combine the two, writing a protest song to add to the mix.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25, Girls Rock will live-stream its annual concert online, performing music that the campers have spent the past two weeks working on. Westword caught up with co-director Shannon Webber over email to discuss the 2020 show and camp during a pandemic.
Westword: Tell me about this year's camp.
Shannon Webber: This year we’re holding camp for two weeks instead of one, and just in the afternoons instead of all day. Campers start with an all-camp energizer, where we have fun, move around, learn important ways to be stronger, and connect. Then they head to another Zoom room for instrument instruction for bass, drums, vocals, guitar, keys or their electronic beats program. After that, they choose a workshop to attend.
Some workshop highlights from this year include anti-racism; a plethora of musical skill-based workshops from the Atlanta-based band the Txlips; making music out of found sound objects; finding your passion; and leadership development, along with the staples — songwriting, stage presence, appreciation and logo-making.
After workshops each day, they head to band practice, where they work on and record their original songs. Self-recording is an entirely new skill we’re learning this year! And we close the day with a live performance from a femme-centered band and a listening room, where campers lead the topics of discussion or reflect on what they learned that day.
How is it going?
Rock Camp is the best place to be! We miss each others’ energy, and we miss being able to make friends in person, but overcoming new obstacles is our jam, and everyone at Rock Camp is kicking butt!
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How do you encourage musicians to collaborate online? Does it work? Why or why not?
We are using a lot of new online platforms to run camp this year: Mighty Networks and Discord to communicate, Zoom to connect, Google Drive to organize and save our projects, and Soundtrap to record individual parts and collaborate on writing an original song. Each of our ten bands is doing things a little differently, so it’s quite a whirlwind for us all! The campers often play live together over Zoom during band practice, where they also learn new skills and practice their original songs in instrument instruction each day.
It is working, and both our campers and volunteers bring immense tenacity, intelligence, positivity and creativity to camp each day! We have an entire volunteer team for tech troubleshooting, and the campers are taking to the new technology and platforms well. We learn from them every day, which is exactly how things should be. All the campers are also writing verses for a protest song together this year and making music videos for both songs, so it’s a lot, but everyone’s hanging in there and learning new things.
That’s the whole point of Girls Rock camp, really — that we all push ourselves out of our comfort zones, try new things, and then realize how capable, strong and resilient we are. Every day, we find better ways to accomplish our shared goals of musical collaboration, growth and building connections with each other.
Have there been any surprises to conducting camp this way?
It’s been interesting to see that the campers may actually have amplified voices in a digital setting, because anyone can chime into the chat whenever they want about whatever they want, so everyone is heard. This is our first year operating camp for two weeks instead of just one, since we’re only doing half days. Eight hours is way too long for any of us to sit in front of a computer! And we’re grateful to have the additional time to grow accustomed to the new online platforms and to create what will hopefully be lasting friendships.
What challenges have your campers talked about facing at camp and beyond?
There have definitely been some technological and access barriers, whether it be spotty Internet connections or the natural fight/flight/freeze that our brains experience when faced with new information/technology. We have made many personal deliveries of equipment, hot spots and gear to campers’ homes, and we’ve done a lot of troubleshooting and made a lot of how-to videos. Our campers’ families have also been incredibly helpful with equipment and technology setup and troubleshooting for their kids, so we’re all doing this as a village, which is great. This is a heavy time for our community, and the youth are grappling with racism, the pandemic, home-schooling, etc. It’s been clear that having a place like Girls Rock at this time is critical. It’s a place where they can truly be free to explore who they are and learn about difficult topics and different experiences in an intentional and nurturing environment.
You waived fees. What challenges are you facing as an organization?
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The undeniable inequities in our society have been pronounced during the pandemic, and Rock Camp is no exception. Many folks did not access camp at all this year, which may be due to technological limitations. We are gifting USB microphones to each of our sixty campers this year, and we’ve issued hot spots to at least nine families. Without our main annual fundraiser, the live Showcase, and with breweries closed and the inability to throw benefit shows like we have in the past, we definitely will need to find new ways to fundraise over the next year. That said, it has been important and has felt good to provide as many resources as possible to our camper families at no cost. Some families are still donating and even increasing their donations this year, for which we’re very grateful.
What can our readers expect from the Girls Rock Showcase?
We will live-stream the Showcase on July 25 at 7 p.m. Links to the event will be posted on our social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on our website). We’ll premiere ten music videos with original music written, performed and recorded by the bands during camp. The evening will conclude with a video for a protest song, a collaboration across the entire camp.
The Girls Rock Showcase will be live-streamed at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25. For more information, go to the Girls Rock website.