Since 2014, a group of women have worked in coordination to help create a spot for girls to rock. Starting off as a Rock Shop, part of the Louisville Outskirts Festival, which was co-founded by Carrie Neumayer and Stephanie Abbary, the Girls Rock Louisville camp is a 501C3 non-profit staffed by volunteers from a variety of backgrounds who see music as an opportunity to build confidence, enrich the arts, and get students involved in social justice. According to their website it, “empowers girls and gender nonconforming youth from all backgrounds by exploring music creation in a supportive, inclusive environment.”
Talk to Her in Song
Part of the greater Philadelphia-based Girls Rock Camp Alliance, the Louisville camp benefits from the shared experience that came before, building on that to better the community.
Yearly, camp organizers congregate at the GRCA conference, which allows attendees the opportunity to share different practices that have worked or failed throughout the region. In addition to helping build a better experience for campers every year, the conference affords the chance to share resources between camps.
“I had some great conversations with other southern organizers around showing up for our trans and gender non-conforming campers [TGNC]. Many of us have camps in liberal cities facing preemption from more conservative state governments. Supporting our TGNC campers and affirming their identities is frequently different here than it is for organizers in Brooklyn, Portland, or Chicago,” says Mary Ralph, a coordinator with the GRL camp.
Moving to Louisville from Chicago three years back, Ralph came into contact with GRL director Carrie Neumayer and hit it off from there. At the time, Neumayer and company were working towards their second year of Rock Shops, and Ralph saw an opportunity to contribute, although not as a musician. Ralph took up the position as the Social Justice Education Coordinator, a task that plays to her strengths with non-musical content.
She explains, “Serving as the Social Justice Education Coordinator, a position that various legislation and executive orders are definitely affecting our campers, organizers, and volunteers. We are focusing more on self-care and being intentional about supporting each other to counteract stress and general hopelessness.”
Students come to camp with a varied set of skills for their instruments, developing not only over the time of the camp but during the gaps in between their repeated annual visits, a tradition that has grown in Ralph’s tenure with the organization. Ralph is encouraged by the progress that she sees during their yearly camp visits, measuring their growth in short bursts from year to year.
“I love watching families cheering on their campers during the showcase,” says Ralph. “It’s really cool to watch them grow musically and emotionally, challenging themselves and getting outside their comfort zones. This was the first year that we had a Teen Intern Position for former campers. They helped with instrument instruction and moving equipment and also formed their own band during camp. They’re also in charge of teaching campers our awesome GRL camp song,” says Ralph.
Sum of your Parts
Often introduced by their parents, the students, aged 10-17, come from a wide array of backgrounds. Some have musical homes, some have parents who want to see their children participate in the arts, while other parents see this as an opportunity for their children to engage something typically dominated by males. In some cases, the parents become volunteers, while in others they are bystanders working during the day shifts that their children participate in camp.
Brian Leuken, a producer and musician, and dad to daughter, Ellie, works a day job, preventing his presence during the camp week, although he hopes his influence is tangible.
“I work during the sessions so I can’t really participate. My wife has considered volunteering, but we’re both looking for our daughter to step out of her comfort zone and learn from those new experiences. That has paid off I think. She starts the week excited and leaves a little rock star,” says Leuken.
For Joni Tamalionis, her time does allow her participation, an objective she has fulfilled as a volunteer for the last several years. Since her daughter Sierra expressed an interest several years back, Tamalionis has found the time to not only help her daughter but to help incoming students, as well.
She explains, “I worked the door the last two showcases and the excitement that the attendees have when coming in to see the kids perform is infectious. It’s a pretty amazing experience for all involved, and not like anything my daughter or I have been involved with elsewhere. Girls Rock Louisville really changes these kids in a positive and noticeable way, in a very short amount of time. That’s why I support the organization and encourage anyone who might also want to get involved.”
The consensus seems to be comparable, regardless of the level of engagement, whether that’s working together at home to engender an interest in music or a hands-on approach. For Leuken, he sees that Ellie has had an overall enjoyable experience, one which he has helped to foster by not only exposing her to the music and musical instrumentation in his house but by providing her access to lessons with one of the leaders since her first camp. It is his hope that long-term exposure influences her interest, making it easier for her to participate in a traditionally male-dominated art form.
He admits, “She has grown up with a music-obsessed dad, so having instruments and recording gear and mastering gear around is commonplace. As long as she respects the investments I’ve made and doesn’t abuse the gear, I encourage her to explore. That said, my projects aren’t usually in the band context as they come and go with each project, so having her see that band environment and learn the interpersonal elements that go along with creative endeavors was a big part of what I wanted her to see (and it seems she has).”
For Tamalionis, that exposure is made manifest by her involvement with the program, and interest in making sure that Sierra was engaged. During Sierra’s first year, she took pictures, a role since expanded. As to Sierra, she considered her exposure to a variety of instruments and the formation of a band to be a highlight, and one that propelled Tamalionis to purchase a drum kit for her daughter after her first year.
“Rock music is dominated by men. Which is strange, because music is universal and should transcend all demographics,” she says. “But, I noticed that while I listened to a lot of female singers and some female bands, most of the music world was disproportionately male. The campers were seeing a different setting: women in all roles, not just a lead singer. But, women teaching instruments, leading classes, facilitating, loading equipment, and then of course, the girls forming all-girl bands. That’s exactly what I wanted my daughter to experience.”
Held last October, the Ladies Rock Louisville is the Fall counterpart to the Girls Rock Louisville, which is held during the summer months. Like the GRL camp, the LRL camp was created as a safe and inviting environment for any woman or gender non-conforming individuals over the age of 21 who might’ve missed their chance as a teenager to pick up an instrument and learn to rock. The camp is on a sliding scale, and held during evening and weekend hours, to facilitate the needs of working women and gender non-conforming folks.
While intended as a fundraiser for the youth program, the LRL camp shared similar goals of empowering adult women with the same supportive, intensive, inclusive community, centered around creative expression, social justice, and personal growth. Also like the GRL camp in the summer, which culminated in a showcase of camper formed bands performing their music at Headliner’s, the LRL camp concluded with a live studio session at La La Land, a donation by the recording studio.
According to Neumayer, “After the program, so many of the campers told us that it had been a transformative, life-changing weekend for them. That was a really awesome thing to hear. It’s rare for adults to have a space that is all about building their own confidence and space to be who they are outside of the roles they have in their regular lives. We hope that that confidence and strength they felt while rocking out will carry over into all aspects of their lives.”
Neumayer and the GRL family continue to grow in their efforts to enrich their community including more camps and the GRLCast, which already has one episode available.
On December 10, from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. you can pick up a copy of the Girls Rock Louisville 2017 album at the in-store release party, at Guestroom Records (1806 Frankfort Ave). Guest will enjoy snacks, a craft table, and hearing the new nine-track CD, which will be available for $8 (with a digital download included.) GRL campers can pick up their copies at this event for free.
You can learn more about the Girls Rock Louisville organization here.