Music News & Reviews

Rock camp for girls teaches skills that go beyond the stage

Rock camp for girls teaches skills that go beyond the stage

The sights and sounds of Girls Rock Sacramento as young musicians write a song.
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The sights and sounds of Girls Rock Sacramento as young musicians write a song.

One song. It’s a modest goal for the young musicians who’ve spent the past five days practicing instruments and penning lyrics at the new Girls Rock Sacramento summer day camp.

But each tune – just a few minutes of earnest, amplified melody – represents much more than just budding musicianship. Girls Rock Sacramento, housed in an Auburn Boulevard rehearsal spot, seeks to empower young female musicians with life skills that go far beyond the stage. The songs, which will be performed Saturday at the camp’s final concert, are the culmination of young female musicians learning to work collaboratively and to speak and sing loudly in a society that sometimes says women are meant to be seen, not heard.

The upstart program, in which team building and tenets of girl power are expressed through guitar licks and collaborative songwriting, is unlike anything seen in the Sacramento area. Girls Rock Sacramento, geared for girls ages 7-17, even includes a self-defense session, a way to keep these musicians safe on future nights when they might encounter dangerous scenarios lugging their equipment to their cars or elsewhere.

Music educator Larisa Bryski said she hopes this new generation of players will further shed some of the baggage attached to the label “female musician.” Bryski, a longtime Sacramento area vocalist who leads Girls Rock Sacramento, is the program’s self-described “mama bear.”

“It’s so much more than music,” Bryski said earlier this week as a Girls Rock rehearsal buzzed and clanged around her. “I’m hoping that when they leave here they feel good and happy and a little bit stronger.”

Girls Rock Sacramento is just warming up. Bryski received the keys for the rehearsal spot, which is located down the road from her former place of employment, Skip’s Music, on June 1. The space, once a beauty supply shop, is now filled with gear that’s been donated by friends and a few sponsors, including Guitar Center and Dunlop.

The $200-per-musician program kicked off July 17 with a “mini camp” that culminates with the Saturday concert for friends and family at its rehearsal spot. Twelve musicians, plus another girl who helps with equipment and other roadie-like duties, signed up for the inaugural session. Beginner musicians are welcome. Along with individual instruction and group rehearsal time, the program includes workshops in how to make band posters, performances from guest musicians and more.

Girls Rock Sacramento essentially uses music as a means for encouraging creativity and camaraderie. Any kind of cattiness toward one another is not cool and all genres are legit, whether your tastes lean more toward Drake or Twenty One Pilots.

Along with music, friendships have been created. “It’s been awesome,” said Jojo Minnick, a 14-year-old singer. “We just jumped right in like we all knew each other. There’s so much friendliness. There’s no judging.”

Bryski ultimately hopes for Girls Rock Sacramento to operate as a nonprofit organization and reach many more young musicians for the 2017 summer camp sessions. In the meantime, a “Ladies Rock Camp” is being planned for the fall that targets 21-year-old women. During the Girls Rock Sacramento off-season, Bryski will use part of the space to teach voice lessons.

“I really want to make this big,” Bryski said. “Sacramento deserves to have a big Girls Rock camp next year and I’m committed to that.”

The volunteer-run program is affiliated with Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, a Portland-based organization founded in 2001 that now includes more than 60 camps around the world. The individual programs don’t operate from a master curriculum, but are built from a core set of values that include diversity, resource sharing and the power of music to create social change.

Emma Simpson, a bass coach for Girls Rock Sacramento, attended the Portland program as a young musician and suggested a Sacramento chapter to Bryski in late 2015. Simpson now serves as a mentor to these young campers, offering tips for creating walking bass lines and words of encouragement. She’s joined by a team of coaches that includes drummer Katie Pryor and guitarist Samantha Valentine.

“I feel like my heart grows 10 times every day that I’m here,” said Simpson, a skilled upright and electric bassist. “I’m looking at these little girls playing these big instruments, and they’re getting it. It’s so fulfilling.”

To develop their song, campers were put into two groups. One group includes girls ages 7 to 11; the other has girls 12 to 17.

On Tuesday, the second day of rehearsal, the older group of musicians were still in the getting-to-know-you phase. After working on a section of their song, an original pop-styled tune with a relaxed 6/8 tempo, everyone was asked to go around the room and compliment their fellow musicians:

“Not only are you a female bass player, but you’re a bad ass,” one said.

“I appreciate all of you, you’re all so chill. I don’t feel like I’m being judged,” said another.

Bryski, crouched near the stage where the girls couldn’t see her, broke into tears upon hearing these comments. She said she is all too familiar with the backhanded compliments that come with being a female musician, that you’re “good for a girl,” or worse, confused with being a groupie. Once, after a gig in Folsom, a woman told Bryski that she had a great voice but needed to lose 15 pounds.

“It killed me,” Bryski said. “I deserve respect for what I’ve done and how I present myself as an artist.”

So far, Michael Minnick likes what he sees as it’s time to pick up his daughter from camp. The older group of girls have spent a chunk of the afternoon working on their song and splicing together lyrics that were written collaboratively: “Appearance isn’t all that it seems/You don’t know the full side of me/Why does it matter what I do/Screw you, I’m gonna break through.”

Michael Minnick knows how tough it can be to come together as a band and to juggle all the personality types. He’s a drummer who has played with the local bands Stars & Garters and Whiskey and Stitches.

“This (camp) has more of a social movement and feminism piece, which I think is cool,” Minnick said. “It’s kind of punk rock, when people got together and started a band even if you haven’t learned your scales.”

Soon, it will be time for these musicians to share their sounds. By the end of the week, the songwriting had gone so well that each band was on track to perform two original songs at the concert, doubling their original goal. But the number doesn’t matter. For Veronica Hankins, the camp has helped the 15-year-old singer truly find her voice.

“It’s been so much fun and so welcoming,” Hankins said. “I’d never thought about being in a band before, but I do now.”

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

Girls Rock Sacramento

3830 Auburn Blvd., Sacramento