by Gracie Bucklew
In the summer of 2009 at the Columbia City Farmers Market, a nine-year-old kid and her mom came upon a little table that was advertising a new music camp to the area called Girls Rock! Seattle. The kid signed up immediately and has been involved with the organization ever since. I’m the kid. I’ve watched this organization grow and evolve from Girls Rock! Seattle, a budding summer camp with 40 participants, to Rain City Rock Camp for Girls (RCRC), an organization serving hundreds of grrls, womxn, trans and gender non-conforming people year round.
We live in a world where men dominate the music scene, misogyny is almost a given in popular songs, and “cat fights” are encouraged among female musical artists. This means that young grrls, trans, and femme kids are typically not empowered to try out music as a hobby or career. Musical creativity is too often squashed out of kids assigned female at birth unless it comes in the form of sweet and tolerable singing or piano playing; they’re hardly ever given a little drum set or an electric guitar with a distortion pedal. RCRC seeks to change that.
RCRC’s summer camps, held in Greenlake and in Kent, send youth on a transformative journey through themselves. There are campers who enter our doors unwilling to sing into a mic who end the week belching their band’s new original song on stage at the Crocodile for a packed crowd.
On Meet and Make New Friends Monday, campers are encouraged to meet someone new. Bands of usually around four campers are formed, composed of a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist or two, and a lead vocalist. Throughout the week, the campers learn their instrument in Instrument Instruction, while creating an original song with their band.
Then comes Try New Things Tuesday, in which campers are challenged to exit their comfort zones and enter their challenge zones. In Guitar Instruction they learn new riffs, and different fills in Drum Instruction. Bassists may try out learning a classic base line from their favorite songs while vocalists attempt to growl their lyrics.
Wacky Wednesday brings new life to the camp. One kid shows up with antlers and whale socks and another with a sparkly tutu and a onesie. This day allows campers to steamroll expectations and freely express themselves without any limitations or judgement.
The whole camp expresses gratitude to one another on Thankful Thursday with yarn necklaces. Everyone gets a number of little pieces of string that, when tied onto someone else’s necklace, represents a specific thanks.This is also the day when bands get to create a logo for themselves and screenprint it on shirts!
Friends Forever Friday acknowledges all the great connections that were created and strengthened throughout the week. Campers receive three friendship bracelets that they can switch and swap with their newfound pals.
During lunchtimes, campers get to eat while watching a performance from a local all-female or gender non-conforming band. These role models show the campers that it’s possible for their dreams to be a reality — If those gals can do it, so can I! This mentorship appears again in the fearless volunteer force that makes the entire camp run, comprised exclusively of womxn, trans and gender non-conforming people.
RCRC is more than just a music camp though. Music is used as a medium for personal growth and social change. Rock Camp nurtures self-empowerment and development of individual strengths in a diverse and supportive environment. It also encourages the exploration of new things, the trying of limits, and the smashing of barriers.
Workshops are given everyday, touching on the non-cismale experience, laden with barriers, in the industry and in life. The self defense workshop teaches campers how to protect themselves in an increasingly dangerous world. The body image and media literacy workshop trains campers to be skeptics of the media and to love themselves because of qualities that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Each day ends with a scream circle. Around one big circle, everyone, volunteers included, gets the chance to expel all feeling from the day in a great scream. The circle is also a nod at the societal (and interpersonal) patriarchy that tries to silence everyone who is not a cisman. The assembly is then topped off with a raucous rendition of the camp song played by the camp interns and sung by the whole camp. It is, in my opinion, one of the most revitalizing parts of Camp. It charges up sister and siblinghood.
This week of amazingness culminates in a showcase of all the bands’ songs. Campers get to experience performing on a big stage, often for the first time, with a band of more than one hundred peers and mentors behind them.
In the words of a camper, “The world needs this.”
Gracie Bucklew is a musician, artist, Unitarian Universalist, intersectional feminist, and activist and contributes a regular local pop-culture column to the Emerald. She is currently a student at The Center School. She lives on Beacon Hill with one of her moms, and is a lifelong resident of Rainier Beach with her other mom. She loves her friends, cats, and ice cream.
Featured image taken from RCRC’s Facebook page