Girls Rock Asheville fosters young musicians

LONG LIVE ROCK: Asheville girls ages 8-16 come together for six days of collaborative music making, culminating in a pair of showcases June 27 at The Mothlight. Photo by Sarah Harnden

The rock ‘n’ roll camp for girls concept began in 2001 as a Portland State University student’s thesis. “It started with a question,” says Girls Rock Asheville‘s executive director Erin Kinard. “’Can we do this?’ The answer was yes.” Soon after, the first camp took place in Portland, Ore. Today, says Kinard,  “there are over 60 camps worldwide, including programs in Peru, Iceland, Austria and 12 in Sweden.”

Kinard got involved in the initiative through someone she knew. “One of my high school friends became the executive director of the organization in Portland,” she says. After volunteering there, Kinard moved to Asheville with plans to start a Western North Carolina-based camp. Girls Rock Asheville, now in its second year, is a six-day camp for girls ages 8-16, held at The Mothlight in West Asheville. With no experience required, campers learn about making music and working as a team. The camp culminates in a pair of showcase concerts at the venue on Saturday, June 27.

The first Girls Rock Asheville camp took place last July. “I had been advised to take an entire year to plan,” says Kinard. “So we were originally thinking about 2015.” But once she put the word out about her idea, “the momentum was so strong that we asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t we just do it now?’” That event included 34 girls; this year 36 girls will take part in the program, which is at capacity (registration is closed).

GRAVL 2015 begins with band formation, an activity that Kinard calls “the craziest part of camp.” After soliciting musical genre ideas from the campers, the entire group takes part in a sort of musical-chairs activity. “When the music stops, you group up with the people around you and have a little talk about [a specific music genre]. We do that four or five times, and then the last time, we tell them, ‘Now run to the genre you want to play.’ And then from there, groups are formed.” Kinard adds, “Maybe there are some tears, maybe not. Hopefully not. It went perfectly last year.”

Because no musical experience is required to participate in GRAVL, the camp features an instrument petting zoo. There, the girls take some time to explore various musical instruments. “Other camps assign the bands and instrument,” says Kinard. “That might be smoother, but we feel that our way is more about the girls’ personal experiences.”

Each day’s camp program includes band practice, instrument instruction, two workshops and a lunchtime concert featuring female or female-fronted bands, followed by a question-and-answer session. Workshops include self-defense, media literacy, female-focused history, storytelling, performance techniques and heavy-metal yoga. Asked to describe that last item, Kinard laughs and says, “It’s just what it sounds like.”

The program director emphasizes that GRAVL is “an organization for women and by women. A lot of times [society teaches] women to compete and to tear each other down. We feel it’s very important for girls to see women working together, leading, being strong in their roles.” The camp also offers full and partial scholarships to economically disadvantaged girls. “No questions asked,” Kinard adds.

The organizers of GRAVL have even more ambitious plans for the future. “We’re hoping to launch a ladies’ rock camp this fall,” says Kinard. The weekend event will raise funds for scholarships. And the group hopes to expand the summer program to two sessions beginning in 2016. “The demand is there,” says Kinard. “It’s just a matter of staffing it.” If funds and resources allow, the Girls Rock Asheville organization hopes eventually to offer an after-school camp and an overnight program.

As a not-for-profit venture — GRAVL is applying for 501(c)(3) status — the organization depends on community support. “Right now,” says Kinard, “the most pressing matter is food donations.” The need for donated — or even loaned — musical instruments and audio gear is a close second. There’s an especially urgent need for guitar and bass practice amplifiers.

Yet another way to support the work of GRAVL is via purchase of tickets to the showcase at The Mothlight. “Capacity is 350 people,” says Kinard. “Last year, a lot of people were turned away. We definitely don’t want that to happen again. So this year, we’re doing two shows.”

WHAT: Girls Rock Asheville camp, girlsrockasheville.org
WHEN: Monday-Saturday, June 22-27 (camp is full), at The Mothlight, themothlight.com

WHAT: GRAVL showcases
WHEN: Saturday, June 27, at 2 and 3:30 p.m., at The Mothlight. $5-$15 donation

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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