There is a commanding, outwardly visible shift that starts to happen to a Girls Rock Camp attendee. It takes place somewhere around midweek. Terminal shyness, remnants of self-doubt, and any sour notes start to fade as more important things like song structure, sisterhood, and powerful stage swagger gain significance.
"If you can take on a new instrument, you can take on anything in the world!" musician Steph Taylor professes convincingly. She's working with fellow musician and Sweat Records' Emile Milgrim to bring a South Florida version of Girls Rock Camp into fruition this summer.
Taylor's father showed her every song by the Beatles on piano, songs that she picked up and played at an obsessive rate while still in grade school. This helped strengthen her as a person and musician. Now, Taylor wants area girls to know that same wonderful feeling.
The camp originated in Portland, Oregon, and uses music as a platform to foster self-esteem and empowerment in young girls. It quickly grew into a transformative force with camps now held internationally. Girls Rock Camp takes one week out of the summer where young women from all backgrounds set up camp, pick an instrument, form a band, write their own songs, settle on a band name, and then perform in a concert with the rest of the campers at the end of the seven days.
It's a project that's championed by supporters and participants like Riot Grrrl alum Sleater Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Bratmobile founder Allison Wolfe. But it's been noticeably absent in Miami until this year.
"Girls Rock Camp has groups all over the world as this empowering movement for girls and Miami has never had a chapter. As a musician in Miami, I've always been perplexed by that, so I've always wanted to do it," Taylor says. "So one drunken night, I wrote an email to Emile pleading to her, and she was on board right away. And I knew she'd be a perfect comrade in this because of how many resources we have between the two of us in the musical community."
Milgrim's involvement started immediately. "Music is the only thing that's ever made real sense to me. And I've worked hard to be able to make it my day job, even though a lot of people told me I was wasting my time," Milgrim explained. "In the music world, performance and otherwise, the presence of women is often the exception and not the rule. It's crazy that in 2015 that's still the case, but positive female role models can help change this by educating, inspiring, and empowering young girls and women to pursue music."
Both Taylor and Milgrim are no slouches when it comes to ensuring Miami always have something new to listen to. Steph makes music as both herself and her band The State Of. And Emile's helping out with recommendations as managing partner and record buyer at Sweat Records, owner of Other Electricities record label, and through one of the bands for which she drums.
But while both have excelled in the local music scene, they would like to see more engagement from female musicians. They agree that a thriving community is one that encompasses a mix of genders, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. At this camp, as with all Girls Rock Camps, no child is turned away because they can't afford it.
"There are not as many females represented in the rock and roll realm as there are men. When you look at a band that has women in it, there are a lot of singers. We want to see a larger presence of bass players, drummers, and girls doing all kinds of things... Sound engineers!" Taylor says. This is where Miami Girls Rock Camp will come in, even if slowly at first. "We are still so much in the beginning stages," Taylor explains. To make camp happen they need donated instruments, volunteers, sponsorship, and funds.
The camp held a volunteer session in January and the turnout was good, but that was not surprising to Taylor. "I know for a fact that there are so many talented and amazing people in this scene — women and men — that would want to be involved, and I was really excited to see them involved."
Taylor says the camp will be solely focused on empowerment from music to self-defense workshops, down to what food will be provided. "We want these girls to really learn, and every aspect of camp will be with a message of self-worth and awesomeness."
They have enlisted the assistance of others who will help with outreach at schools, including Miami teacher Heather Burdick who has worked previously with Girls Rock Camp in Austin, Texas.
"She's got exactly that energy and understanding of what the camp is supposed to fuel in these young girls. So she has been a great asset at helping us cross our T's and dot our I's" Taylor says "We have some friends that are teachers and some are in lower income neighborhoods, so we want to reach out to kids in every demographic and age and get them interacting with each other and give opportunities to people who might not otherwise get those opportunities. We are also doing outreach with the LGBT youth, so we're trying to make sure there is a going to be a nice mix."
Friday marks their first major fundraiser with a benefit show at Churchill's Pub. There will be several other events and fundraisers leading up to the camp's kick-off in July when the transformation from ordinary kid to full blown rock star will take effect.
"It is amazing to see," says Burdick "I knew there was something incredibly powerful about the experience just from going to the showcases before I ever got involved. The power those little girls embodied on the stage brought me to tears every single time. I didn't even understand why, really, at first. Once I worked at a camp though, from beginning to end, it was just incredible to see them expand and transform — almost literally, like little butterflies."
She surmised, "In the end, I discovered what made me cry... it was the freedom of self-expression these girls had achieved, and how clearly empowering it was for them. That weird stage when girls go into themselves and hide, totally preoccupied about what others think, was just wiped away, and what was left was exuberant, boisterous, joyful self-expression, girly-style."
Steph Taylor says Girls Rock Camp Miami is still actively looking for volunteers to get the word out and seek sponsorship and donations and local female musicians to teach workshops when it gets closer to camp time.
"I think it's important to look to the next generation and say, 'Look at all of these badass women. There's a community of us. I think helping them see it streamlined will help them see the bigger picture."
A benefit for Miami Girls Rock Camp featuring a "super sweet" raffle and live performances by Steph Taylor, Raffa, Quarter Horses, Holly Hunt, Bonnie Riot, Bleeth, Sadie Hawkins, and Haochi Waves, 9 p.m., Friday, March 6, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NW Second Ave., Miami. Ten dollar admission with all proceeds going toward the camp. Visit the camp's Facebook page.
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