Little girls file excitedly into classrooms at Carr Intermediate on Wednesday morning in Santa Ana. School's out, but these kids are reveling in a different kind of summer camp, one that rocks! The intense Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls Orange County one-week program is fully underway in its mission to transform sixty-five girls into seasoned, confident musicians. The OC experiment is in its third year and the experience of past camps motivates volunteers to give it their all.
"After the first year, everybody felt the camp was amazing and needed to happen again," says camp co-coordinator (and Weekly contributor) Candace Hansen. "We try to mix it up so the girls get a musical education but also give them informational workshops that they would never have access to outside an environment like this."
The goal of Rock 'n' Roll Camp Orange County is to 'empower girls through music.' Similarly-styled Riot Grrl spaces have been staples elsewhere, but OC is new to the game. Kids ages 7-11 are deemed 'tapes' while older girls from 12-17 are 'vinyl.'
All camp goers formed their bands on Monday and are busy perfecting all the facets of songwriting and performing for a Saturday showcase at Anaheim's Chain Reaction. Workshops are focused along feminist lines with topics like self-defense and body image. The kiddos learn about DIY culture, too, with lessons on zines and silk screening.
"I'm so stoked to have this here, especially in Orange County because for girls and women there's a lot of emphasis on how you look or cattiness like as women the only way to have another connection is to cut other women down," says Hansen. "We try to make this a real intentional space and address that with the girls."
On this morning, sisters Jackie and Michelle Reyes have a classroom full of young girls ready to listen to their workshop on emotional well-being. The kids fidget in their desks swinging their feet back-and-forth, but are attentive. The discussion, centered on a kind of pedagogy of the body and emotional intelligence, turns to coping skills.
"I have one," says Michelle, wearing disarming pink bunny ears. "Rocking out!" Reyes goes on to explain how a certain song or type of music can soothe sadness. "When I feel angry or sad, normally I start drawing," a girl responds. The Reyes sisters have the girls stand up to get wiggly like cooked spaghetti which is the opposite of stress tension. Not only is the workshop key for self-care in a world unkind to girls and women, it also helps them in practical ways like teaching techniques for taming jitters before going on stage.
In the music rooms, kids practice vocals, drums, guitar, bass, and keys for an hour-long session. Students sit around in a circle playing power chords, scales and solos on loaned electric guitars. "The 'tapes' are usually confident," says volunteer instructor Julie Viramontes. "As the camp goes on, they feel more comfortable with their instruments and fellow students."
Downstairs in another classroom, girls are banging away on drum kits while Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" blares from a speaker. The kids keep the beat steady on the verse. Instructors help them do a snare drum build up before the chorus explodes in a display that would bring a smile to Dave Grohl's face.
The rock camp breaks from its intense schedule to have a little fun during lunchtime concerts. Isabella Nevarez, 11, and her friend Lyra Vargas, 9, sit down next to where special guest musician Sunny War will play. The two formed a band called "Astro Dragons" at camp and are having a blast. "I like it because it's a safe space," says Nevarez. "I've learned how to play bass, work in a team, collaborate to write songs and I made a lot of friends."
Both Nevarez and Vargas love the rock camp theme song they recite everyday, among other activities. "I'm really excited for Friday because that's when I get to do karaoke," says Vargas in between burrito bites. She professes a love of Joan Jett and Cyndi Lauper. The Astro Dragons are already thinking about their weekend showcase. "I'm nervous because I have to sing in front of a bunch of people," Vargas adds.
The two kiddos get to see how it's all done when they cheer on the blues of Sunny War's claw-hammer picking style. On her last song, all the girls start clapping and dancing around the lunch area having a summer camp moment they'll never forget.
Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls 2015 Showcase at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, Sat., 1 p.m. $10 suggested donation. All ages!