COLUMBIA, SC — The organizers of Girls Rock Columbia didn’t know what they would hear at a February interest meeting. They didn’t know if they’d have enough voices to make any noise.
“I expected maybe 25 or 30 people,” Kristin Morris said.
But more than 50 women showed up.
“From that meeting, we developed a core leadership team,” Morris said. “And we’ve been planning since mid-to-late February.”
There are numerous summer camps in and around the city, but Girls Rock Columbia, a weeklong camp that seeks to empower girls through music education, is one that will rock to its own beat.
The inaugural GRC will be held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday at Eau Claire High School. The campers, ages 8 to 18, will learn instrument basics and write a song with bandmates. They will perform a showcase Saturday at Tapp’s Arts Center. (Friday’s camp will be held there, too.)
Volunteers will instruct students on how to hold drumsticks and hit; how to move up and down guitar frets; and how to fit keyboard tones into songs. The mornings will be used for classes. During lunch, guest performers will play a set.
In the afternoon, along with band practices, there will be various workshops.
“It’s not just about playing music. It’s all things that are in this musical scene,” Mollie Williamson said. “So there’s zine making, screen printing. We have stage presence and vocal training. We have self-defense, talking about conflict resolution.
“It’s not just about how do you play music. It’s using music as an outlet to make positive change in our scene.”
For GRC, music is a vessel for self-confidence, positive female relationships and leadership.
“It’s a social justice movement,” Morris said. “Using music and music education makes a lot of sense because, historically, music has been a vehicle for social change.
“It charges people emotionally and it’s a catalyst for positive change, making people feel individually strong and also having a collective voice.”
“Girls Rock! The Movie,” a 2008 documentary film that followed four girls at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., popularized the idea of hosting music camps for girls. The flagship Girls Rock experience was founded in 2001. It has expanded under the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of organizations that support camps held around the world.
In March, Morris attended the annual conference which was, conveniently, held in Georgia this year.
“It’s really just a place for shared knowledge,” she said. “It was also incredibly encouraging.”
One of the core values of the camp alliance is to “actively expand opportunities for girls and women.” It certainly applies to GRC organizers.
“One of the reasons we wanted to do this is that we don’t have a solidified network of women,” Morris said. “We’re all sort of scattered and do different things, but I also think that’s been a benefit to us because we have people with such different strengths.
“We’re able to really work together as a group, and it’s not a hierarchy because of that; it’s much more of a collective.”
Females rocking isn’t a new trend. Last summer, Rolling Stone released “Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” was No. 1 on the list that had a mix of contemporary and classic — Adele, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Missy Elliott, Patti Smith and Blondie, among others — performers in the top 10.
But it can be argued that many on the Rolling Stones list, while highly regarded vocalists, weren’t part of bands, which is to say that they weren’t part of building songs from scratch.
GRC, which will have about 20 campers, wants to put instruments in the hands of girls so they can do just that.
“There are a lot of overarching themes” why boys get instruments and girls don’t, Williamson said. “Because girls aren’t supposed to be loud, because girls aren’t supposed to angry, because girls aren’t, in a lot of ways, supposed to be heard.
“They’re not told that what they have to say is important. That’s why boys get the microphones.”
GRC has nearby support — and inspiration. Girls Rock Charleston wrapped its third year earlier this month, and there are four camps in North Carolina. Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, held at Middle Tennessee State University the same week as GRC, is in its 11th year.
Organizers here had to raise money to rent the school, but they also wanted to have money to offset the $350 tuition, which includes snacks, access to instruments and art supplies.
“We (didn’t) want to leave girls out who really want this experience that can’t afford it,” Williamson said.
The collaborative vibe that weaves through Columbia’s arts community has rallied to support the GRC effort. Guys Rock For Girls Rock, a fundraiser at New Brookland Tavern, was held last month. In May, Fork & Spoon Records hosted a benefit at El Burrito.
Musicians are donating or lending instruments and gear for the week. Local music stores have also chipped in.
“Even the most cynical musicians, even they are feeling it,” Williamson said.
Nobody is expecting perfection — or the second coming of the Runaways, the Bangles or Sleater-Kinney, famous all-female bands.
“First of all, the Ramones played four chords their entire musical career,” Williamson said. “It’s not about, ‘We’re teaching them to play their instruments perfect and have this show.’ It’s about, ‘Hey, this isn’t scary. You can do this. You can play this instrument.’ ”
Jessica Bornick, who is coordinating music instruction, has volunteered at Girls Rock Charleston. She simply wants to instill positivity in the campers.
“It’s more about the attitude and the experience than the actual quality of the music,” she said.
That sounds about right.
If you go
What: Girls Rock Columbia
Camp showcase: 3 p.m. Saturday at Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main St.