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Girls Rock Milwaukee Empowers Young Women Through Music

Girls Rock Milwaukee's website

One week, 32 performers, and lots of fun.

That may sound like the tagline for a music festival, but it actually describes a new summer camp for girls with an interest in rock music.

Ashley Smith and Valeri Lucks are the co-founders of Girls Rock Milwaukee, the city’s first girls’ rock camp slated to run August 5-9 at UWM’s Zelazo Center.

Although Milwaukee’s Girls Rock program started this year, there have been Girls Rock camps across the country since 2001, when the very first Girls Rock program was established in Portland, Ore. Lucks says the program's goal "was to introduce music to girls in a way that would broaden” their perception of what they could accomplish.

“There are so many women who are into music out there, but they’re not represented well,” Lucks says. “In bands, they’re often the bass player, they’re often the vocalist, and that’s kind of where it stops. There aren’t a lot of women drummers out there.”

With this in mind, Lucks says the founders of the program “wanted to show girls that they could be anything in rock.”

While Smith and Lucks are interested in expanding the program in the future, this year they are thrilled to welcome 32 campers aged 8-16 to Girls Rock Milwaukee. At the start of the program, the girls are divided into eight separate bands according to age, skill level, and instrument preference. Each band then is tasked to create one original song.

Those songs will be performed at a culminating shared-bill concert at Turner Hall on August 11th.

Along with training the campers to play guitar, bass and drums, and learn vocal techniques, volunteer coaches work closely with the bands, helping them along their musical journey.

“It’s all volunteer-based,” Smith says. “We have a great group of people with broad experience and broad attributes to bring to the table, women and men.”

While music plays an integral role in this program, what takes center stage (so to speak) is Girls Rock’s focus on self-esteem through self-expression.

“Just the act of getting together and collaborating with four girls that you don’t know, creating something, and then standing up on a stage in front of hundreds of people and presenting what you’ve created is empowering in and of itself,” Lucks says.

To further empower the campers, Girls Rock holds workshops throughout the week on topics such as women in rock history, self-promotion, forming healthy relationships, and addressing media portrayals of gender.

“It’s about presenting girls with a different image,” Lucks says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with one image in particular, but the media does tend to present one side of an image of women, often. And we would like to present another.”

Smith adds that “it’s important for anyone to have a well-rounded idea of what’s out there musically,” that girls should know their options don’t start and end with pop.

Had Girls Rock existed when she was growing up and discovering music, Smith says, “I think that my musical life would be a lot different. It took me a while to find the underground or the more feminist approach to music.”

Participants will leave the experience with souvenirs: each girl will receive a CD of the bands’ songs and a video recording of the live performance.

The results of this week-long adventurewill be performed on August 11th at 4 pm, at Turner Hall. Tickets will be sold for $10 at the door. Though all the slots are filled for this year, Girls Rock Milwaukee is still looking for additional volunteers to serve as floaters, move equipment, assist with music instruction, and/or lend instrumental gear.

Rachel Bloom is a recent graduate in Human Biology from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This past year, she served as a fellow at the Women's Policy Institute in Providence and interned in a clinical psychiatry lab investigating how early life stresses impact adult neural connectivity. After focusing her efforts in the sciences during her time in college, she is thrilled to explore her longstanding, yet relatively unexplored, interest in radio journalism with WUWM this summer.