Looking back on 11 years of She Rock She Rock's music camps for girls

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Some Girls Rock n Roll Retreat alums: How does so much rock fit into one photo? Photo: Emmerlee Sherman

Sometimes it takes a role model to carve a path for others to follow.

That's certainly true for women trying to find their voice in male-dominated music scenes. This July, She Rock She Rock once more aims to provide such role models by hosting its 11th annual Girls Rock n Roll Retreats. The day camps are held in weeklong sessions, and offer a safe, supportive environment for girls and the female-identifying to collaborate with each other and create original songs, allowing young women the chance to express themselves freely with the end goal of bolstering their confidence and skills.

City Pages spoke with Sam Stahlmann, Alyse Emanuel, and Jenny Case, three Twin Cities musicians leading the cause, about the history of She Rock She Rock and what they’ve learned in nurturing the next generation of musicians.

Jenny Case [executive director of She Rock She Rock, bassist for Flamin Oh’s, guitarist in Judy Gloom]: I started playing in bands when I was 15, and I always wanted to do it. I think in the '90s there were a lot more women on the radio and on MTV and whatnot, so there was a lot more inspiration to do that... My absolute heroes were L7. It didn’t seem like they were worried about being cute. .. It was very political, and it was singing in raspy voices and screaming. It was very angry and had a lot to say. I was in that same boat.

I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be in an all-girl band, so that was my first band. That band lasted four years, and after that band broke up I didn’t play with women for a long time, because it was hard to find women to play with. That was one of the reasons I started Girls Rock Camp.

Sam Stahlmann [program director for She Rock She Rock, guitarist for With Iowa In Between, and Cadence & The Wolf, bassist for Ahem]: She Rock She Rock first began just as Girls Rock n Roll Retreat, which is our summer program. The first one took place in 2007. I was 14 at that time and I went to the very first camp. One of the co-founders, Jenny Case, was actually my guitar teacher at that time, and I was taking private lessons from her.

JC: Sam had been taking guitar lessons from me since she was 11, and she reminded me a lot of myself when I was trying so hard to put an all-girl band together. Back then there was no Craigslist, there was only the City Pages ads in the back. I was a 14-, 15-year-old girl putting ads in the City Pages for other female musicians and not getting a lot of responses.

Sam was trying to start all-girl bands with girls she knew from school, and she’d start a band, and they’d get a MySpace page up and a band photo but they wouldn’t get a rehearsal in. She’d come into the next lesson and say “I got a band together!” She’d show me the MySpace page, and I’d be like, “Cool, have you written any songs yet?” “Well no, we haven’t really gotten together to play music actually.” And that happened like a couple times.

Alyse Emanuel [teacher at She Rock She Rock, drummer in Ahem, Cadence & The Wolf, and Judy Gloom]: My interest in learning drums actually came from hearing that my junior high school's jazz band had never had a girl drummer. I had to fix that! Soon after that I started taking lessons and performing with the School of Rock, and Jenny Case was a music director there.

SS: [Jenny] had heard about these girls rock camps happening on the coast ...
She had heard of them happening in Portland, and then California, and the east coast, and she really wanted to bring one here. She wanted one because I was her student, and all I wanted more than anything was to be in an all-girl band.

JC: I was teaching at a co-ed rock camp in the summer of 2006. There weren’t many girls there to begin with. Me and another female teacher tried to put on a history of women in music workshop, and we wanted to segregate the girls from the boys, and we weren’t able to do that the first session of camp. So we had the whole group of both boys and girls, and we’d talk about like Joan Jett and Heart. I just remember the boys snickering and kind of mocking it, and the girls just sat there and kind of ignored everything. They weren’t very enthusiastic and they weren’t participating. At the end of the workshop our idea was to get the girls onstage to try out some new instruments they hadn’t played before, and none of them raised their hands. We were bummed, we thought we ran a crappy workshop.

The next session, the following week, we decided to try it again, except we insisted that we get only the girls this time, and it was completely the opposite. They were super enthusiastic and they were raising their hands and participating, and they had all these ideas and they had questions, and at the end of the workshop when we asked who wanted to come up onstage and try a different instrument they all raised their hands. I just remember getting goosebumps and looking at the other female teacher and going “Oh my God, I get why Girls Rock Camp is a thing now.” I didn’t really get it until that point. Girls can just really, really open up and be themselves when there’s not boys around.

SS: I was actually the first person ever to sign up for Girls Rock n Roll Retreat. I went to camp that year, and I got put in a band. Actually, the girls I got put in the band with all still teach at camp, and we’re all still in a band together.

JC: She wanted to be in an all-girl band so bad. I had known Allie and Alyse and Hailey, who ended up being in Cadence & The Wolf with her. I knew them from elsewhere, and when I met all of them I said, “I have to put them in a band together, they’re gonna love each other!” I wanted to help her find a band, and she had reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger.

AE: Cadence & the Wolf started the first year of camp. We were all 13 and 14 years old and we started out writing super goofy songs. Over time, we began writing more seriously, but kept it very collaborative, just like at camp. We all participate in lyric writing, we usually start a song from scratch together in rehearsal; there isn't one person who brings the song in. Girls Rock n Roll Retreat staff members also helped us get our first gigs, which kept us going as a band after camp. We probably wouldn't be a band today without their encouragement and inspiration.

SS: We were called Half Demon Doll, and we’re now Cadence & The Wolf. Just the way that we write is so collaborative -- making sure everybody’s ideas are heard, making sure that we try everything before we say no -- and in that space while we’re practicing we’re not afraid to say what’s on our mind.

AE: Girls Rock n Roll Retreat taught me how to write my own drum parts, collaboratively write songs and generally how to be in a band.... If I hadn't gone to Girls Rock n Roll Retreat I probably would have been too shy to form my own band and wouldn't have started writing music until much later. The biggest thing I gained from Girls Rock n Roll Retreat was confidence in myself as a drummer and as a person.

SS: When you’re out in the music scene, the men in my bands may not quite understand the microaggressions the women in all of my bands face. Just in watching guys in the scene interact, you can feel left out sometimes, because it can be a boy’s club, and you’re kind of on the sidelines. It’s cool to know you have another woman in your band you can hang out with, or who will understand what you’re facing.

It gave me a community of people to feel comfortable and confident around. Not only did I meet girls my own age and was able to start this band that I wanted since I was ten years old, but between the four of us we were really able to create a community and space to write really cool music and express ourselves, and play shows as teens. That was incredible, but also to have all of these mentors at the camp, to be like “Wow, she’s like a really cool punk lady, and is making cool music in the Twin Cities, and she’s so confident and awesome and I hope I can be like her one day.”

There are three remaining Girls Rock n Roll Retreats this summer: one at Laura Jeffrey Academy in St. Paul the week of July 17-21, and two at the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Eden Prairie, the weeks of July 24-28 and July 31-Aug. 4. You can find more information and register for the camps here


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