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Column: Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls San Diego is live and cranking up the volume

Campers Abby Hodge (left), Lori Rodriguez and Morgan Allen play bongos during this year’s Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls San Diego’s “Gxrls Rock!” camp at A Reason to Survive (ARTS) in National City. During the one-week camp, participants learn how to play an instrument, form a band and write an original song, The bands will perform their songs during a showcase on June 25 at the Music Box nightclub in Little Italy.
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Members of the Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls’ summer camp perform Saturday at the Music Box in Little Italy

When she attended her first Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls summer camp in 2017, Lori Rodriguez was a 12-year-old music fan who did not know how to play an instrument. Or how to write songs. Or how to be in a band.

Learning those skills took one whole week. Loving the camp took about 60 minutes.

“It wasn’t scary. It was very cool. I made a group of friends within the first hour of being there, and it was just assumed we would be a band,” said the 17-year-old camp veteran, who will be a senior at High Tech High Mesa in the fall.

“That is one of the reasons why I go back every year. No one is there to judge you on how you sing or how you are playing your instrument for the first time. It is very, very welcoming.”

Founded in 2015 by Melissa Grove, Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls San Diego is the local chapter of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international network of youth-focused arts and social-justice organizations that includes camps throughout the world.

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Like most of the rock-camp chapters, the San Diego nonprofit’s signature offering is its summer camp, where girls and non-binary individuals ages 8 to 17 form bands and write original songs that they perform at an end-of-camp showcase. No previous musical experience required.

In San Diego, the 2022 Gxrls Rock! summer camp is happening this week at A Reason to Survive (ARTS) in National City. The campers assembled for the first time on Monday, when they embarked on a journey that started with being introduced to their instruments, the musician mentors who would be showing them the musical ropes, and the campers who would be their bandmates. The rest of the week is being filled with instrument instruction, band rehearsals, and workshops on everything from songwriting and branding to self-image and identity.

Technically, camp ends on Saturday afternoon, when the bands will play their original songs in a live, open-to-the-public showcase at the Music Box nightclub in Little Italy. But if everything goes according to Gxrls Rock! plan, one week of camp is just the beginning.

“My wish or dream for them is they leave thinking, ‘I can do anything. Nothing is going to stop me,’” Grove said last week.

“I want them to leave thinking, ‘I want more. I want more empowerment. I want more drums. I want more music. Turn up the volume and let the volume be me.’”

Taking on the world through music, creativity and tons of teamwork is what Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls is all about. That was particularly true in 2020 and 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person camps an impossibility.

But nothing was going to stop Grove and her team from teaching girls about the joys of plugging in to their inner amplifiers.

In the summer of 2020, the organization held “Be Awesome Online,” a free five-day virtual camp that featured workshops in percussion, singing, ‘zine-making and songwriting. In the fall, there was a two-day Zoom workshop on “Songwriting for Social Change.”

In the summer of 2021, the online camp added music-production and recording instruction into the mix. That was also the summer the camp name changed from “Girls Rock!” to “Gxrls Rock!,” the better to make gender-fluid and non-binary campers feel more welcome.

And with the Black Lives Matter protests raising awareness about racism and social justice, and the pandemic changing even the most mundane details of their lives, the young people who came to rock camp had some serious stuff on their minds.

“You can prepare a topic, but there is nothing like saying, ‘What do you want to talk about today?’,” Grove said. “The first year, one of our younger campers wrote a song about will she still have friends after the pandemic. There was a song about extinct animals that gave me chills.

“Sometimes we get lighthearted, goofy songs, and sometimes we get these very in-depth, heavy songs. We welcome both.”

Lori Rodriguez will be 18 next summer, so her Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls experience officially ends this year. But like a great power chord, the reverb has been immense.

At camp, she met the friends who would become her soulmates. A workshop on identity gave her the courage to come out to her mom during that first week. Camp mentors told her about the San Diego Pride Queer Youth Chorus, and her participation there led to her current internship at San Diego Pride.

And when the next group of Gxrls Rock! campers gathers in the summer of 2023, Lori and some of her best band friends plan on being there as volunteers. Because once rock camp turns up your volume, there is no turning it down ever again.

“It’s a female-empowerment camp, which is so important today when social media makes things so difficult,” Lori said. “The songs that we sing at rock camp are about our community. We write songs about not being mentally OK or going through something traumatic. It is a very open community where you can talk about anything and always know there is someone there for you.”

The Gxrls Rock! summer camp showcase begins at noon on Saturday atMusic Box San Diego, 1337 India St.,Little Italy. Tickets are $12 at the door or atmusicboxsd.com. It is an all-ages show. Go to rockcampforgirlssd.orgfor additional information.


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