Is there any teenage rocker who doesn't dream of taking the stage and performing in front of an adoring audience? Even though our youthful dreams of rock 'n' roll stardom may become harder to achieve as we age, they rarely fade from our conscience completely.
Enter Ladies Rock Milwaukee. The three-day, three-night camp encourages women of all ages to unleash their inner rock star. On the first night of the camp, participants form a band. Ladies Rock Co-founder Mary Joy Hickey was inspired to work with Ladies Rock after watching a group of pint-sized rockers perform at Girls Rock Milwaukee.
“Watching the [Girls Rock] showcase at Turner Hall, I was in tears,” says Hickey. “It was a very powerful experience. I went home and cried some more about how I needed to get involved in that sort of organization.”
First-time Ladies Rock camper Sarah Schauf played clarinet throughout high school and college, but she didn’t pick up a rock-adjacent instrument until Ladies Rock. Many of the camp’s participants make the point that the male-dominated music community can sometimes be intimidating to women.
“It’s almost nice to be in the limited space of only female-identifying people because there’s not that worry of social expectation,” says Schauf. “If it were more of a mixed environment, we might feel more self-conscious.”
Addie Skillman is a Girls Rock MKE organizer and volunteer “band coach” with Ladies Rock. Band coaches encourage camper creativity and get to watch the music making magic happen firsthand. Many band coaches are Milwaukee-based musicians and former Ladies Rock campers.
“There’s so many of us who are local musicians,” says Skillman. “I think I can speak for all of us to say it’s really awesome to be able to share our passion with new women and spread the joy of making music.”
A few Ladies Rock campers came into the camp with preexisting musical experience, including Becca Segal. Even though Segal has performed in bands before, she appreciated the opportunity to meet new musicians.
“It’s a really great networking weekend to meet other musicians who are at your level or around it because they advertise it as no experience necessary, and that’s really rare,” says Segal. “It’s a way to find a new community that otherwise wasn’t accessible to you.”
Three campers were turning 50 this year, and a few admitted they joined the camp because of hitting that milestone birthday. Jill Barry notes that women of a “certain age” are sometimes viewed in a certain light.
“In our society, women of our age — middle age — there’s a lot of invisibility with regards to us,” says Barry. “Ladies Rock is one of those opportunities that we can take to bust out and say, 'Hey, just because we’re of a certain age doesn’t mean that we can’t rock.'”
At 61, Sharon Lurman is the oldest camper this year. She says Ladies Rock is a much-needed break from her usual stressors.
“Sometimes people need to get away, and they go to a spa weekend or something,” says Lurman. “I really think of this as much better than that because not only am I learning something really amazing and I’m with people who are really incredible, but I am really being cared for here and supported. That is the best spa I could imagine.”