Rock Camp for Girls OKC 2016
This was the second year for the OKC Rock Camp for Girls, which was brought to life here in Oklahoma City by Carter Sampson. Sampson was able to see the original Rock Camp for Girls in Portland and volunteer there before wanting to create a chapter here in Oklahoma. The camp hosted 50 campers, ages eight to seventeen, and almost that many volunteers for a week in July at Studio 612 in the Paseo Arts District. The organization was able to do many different fundraisers prior to the camp starting which allowed them to purchase all of the gear for the camp, as well as grant every scholarship that was requested for this summer.
On the very first day of camp the girls were assigned their instrument, which included guitar, bass, keys, drums and vocals. They also formed their bands on the first day, and were given the freedom to choose who they wanted in their band. This process gave the campers a chance to mingle and talk to one another in an attempt to find like-minded girls who want the same things in a band. It fostered social skills, collaboration, and working together as a team among other things. During the week the campers worked together as bands to come up with a band name and write a song that they got to perform before an audience at two different times on the Saturday after the camp was over.
“I think just seeing these girls come in on day one, and you can tell a lot of them are really nervous and scared and they don't necessarily know many of the other girls, and they've never played instruments, and then seeing them on Saturday with how confident they were, how many friendships they had made, and getting to see those bands perform on stage and their different songs and their stage presence and their cute little things that they would say before and after their songs, I think that was really fun to see that big change,” Said Sampson.
These girls and the volunteers accomplished so much in just one week. Not only were they forming their bands and writing songs, but they attended two different workshops every day which focused on many different issues and topics including; Women who rock, free to be who you are, body image, self defense, racism and activism, songwriting, screen printing and more.
“Some of those workshops that we do are really fun and some of them are really serious and can be kind of heavy. I noticed that a lot of their song lyrics were kind of based on the things that we talked about in those workshops, about equal rights and racism and all those things. Which I think is really important for kids of all ages to have an open conversation about these things because it's a big part of our world right now unfortunately,” Said Sampson.
The campers also attended music lesson classes in their particular instrument as well as went to band practice with their band members each day. Each morning began with yoga, as well as a scream circle where all the girls and volunteers held hands in large circle outside and took turns screaming as loud as they could. Sometimes this would illicit heads poked out of the apartment complex from across the street to see what all the noise was about. Having the girls learn band management helped them to compromise and work together as a team. They were encouraged all week by the volunteers to build each other up and not tear anyone down. From learning how to play instruments, write songs, screen print their own band shirts and everything in between these girls got to experience just what it’s like to be a part of a band and a team who relies on the whole group working together to be successful.
The camp was very well organized and orchestrated, which isn’t an easy feat with 50 girls. Having so many women with all different backgrounds who jumped in to spend the week volunteering and mentoring to these campers definitely helped the camp to be successful and running smoothly.
“I was really excited to have more volunteers this year so we can have more experiences and more personalities for the girls to relate to with the volunteers. You can see yourself in certain girls and you can bond with them and teach them the way that you teach or the way you learn or just bond with them on a mentor level, it's really cool,” explained Sampson.
I got to take an inside look during the week on a couple different occasions at the camp. Being inside to see how the camp was run and organized was an amazing experience. Watching the girls go from being timid and shy on the first day, to being pumped up and ready to perform for an audience on Saturday was awe inspiring. The volunteers took pride in what they were doing and everything they did was filled with excitement and passion for why they were all there. Watching each and every volunteer pour unwavering support and encouragement into the girls throughout the week, giving plenty of high fives and “you’re awesome” words of encouragement, was heart-warming. The volunteers were just as excited and changed by the week at camp as the campers were. This included local musician Ali Harter, who spent the week volunteering at Rock Camp, teaching guitar as well as anything else that was asked of her.
“I started at rock camp because Carter is one of my closest friends. I believe in her and when she says jump, I never have to question her motives. I always jump,” said Harter with a laugh. “She's good people, the best kind. I understood the concept when she first explained it to me, but I didn't understand the importance of the camp until I witnessed it first hand, which ultimately is what kept me involved. In a time and a town where individuality and the arts aren't embraced how they should be, to see a platform created that fosters our most important resource, our youth, it kind of takes you aback. It lights a fire under you. You immediately see the void that a camp like this is filling. It's a music camp for sure, which is a viable life tool and means of income for these girls, but ultimately it is an empowerment camp. It builds the girl’s characters, and the volunteers as well. Between the girls and the volunteers I have watched rock camp heal wounds, breath life, spark alliances, and perpetuate kindness & happiness in a world that is pretty damn sad. You can’t unsee these life lessons. THAT'S why I'm involved.”
Watching the patience Harter had with these young girls, some as young as 8 years old, as she taught them how to play an electric guitar was incredible. Not only did she have patience with them, but she spoke to them with respect as if they were her peers instead of speaking down to them like most adults do with small children, which went a long way with empowering and instilling confidence in the campers. When asked what her favorite parts of the week were, Harter wasn’t quite able to get into too many specifics.
“I'm being incredibly vague because one of our principles is to create a safe environment for the girls to wholly be themselves and thrive. We adhere to the laws regarding minors and protecting them against themselves and harming others, but we also know how to recognize when they just need a place to vent. We protect them while giving them to tools to protect themselves. It’s something I wish I’d had, and a rule book I wish were applied to more institutions,” explained Harter. “My favorite moments with the students are the ‘AH-HA’ moments. The 'I can do this' moments. The 'I navigated this situation with a positive outcome' moments. The 'I'm really truly going to be OK' moments. They are big moments and they are small moments, but they are the all day, every day of rock camp, and that's why I'm involved. I wish rock camp’s principles for every little girl I meet. For every woman. I wish them for myself. I wish them for my daughters. We say it a million times a day at camp and I wish I could say it here and daily with the sentiment behind it ringing clearly, ‘YOU’RE AWESOME!’ and ‘High-five’. I was primarily the guitar instructor, but I had Tara Harper with me all week, and we invited local women players to guest teach. I was a floating band coach, which means I went around to all band practices to offer up any advice they wanted. And then I just helped any and everywhere I was asked.”
There were many different local musicians other than Sampson and Harter that jumped in during the week to help including Kierston White, Elizabeth Forsythe and Jade Castle among many others. But there were also non musical volunteers as well that helped in a variety of ways also.
“I became involved with rock camp last year but was unable to volunteer, so I got my niece enrolled. Afterwards, attending the showcase and having felt so disappointed that I wasn't more a part of it, Carter came to me and said, "I NEED you here next year! We need a woman JUST LIKE you and your good, positive energy. Please make it happen next year!" And I did,” explained volunteer Mollie Nunn. “First and foremost we create a safe environment where young women are encouraged to be themselves. About 50 volunteers from all walks of life guide these young ladies through a week’s worth of instrument instruction, song writing, collaboration as a band, in addition to the tailored workshops on things like positive body image and self defense. These girls learn so much more than just music.”
Nunn was a band manager for one of the bands, she spent the week helping to guide and mentor and direct a group of five girls as they went through the band and camp process. Her band, The #’z (Hashtags) were a part of the ‘Flat” group, the younger girls. The girls were split into the ‘Flats’ and the ‘Sharps’, younger and older girls separated into groups. The volunteers are lovingly called “Roadies” during the week.
“My favorite experiences from camp this year included that we did a workshop where we broke the societal image of the most beautiful woman. We identified beauty in ourselves and in the women around us, and reinforced to these young girls that they are enough. The pressure to be this or that today is so great, especially for women, that I think we forget to love ourselves. We really tried to send the girls out into this world with the message; Love yourself. Be confident because You Are Enough,” said Nunn. “Then of course my other favorite moment at camp was my band’s first showcase performance. They opened the show to nearly 400 audience members, and they were incredible! Absolute magic happened on that stage. They went from being five random girls on five random instruments on Monday to a full on, rocking out, BAND with a gig on Saturday. It was simply amazing to watch it all come together. I've never met so many incredible women that worked tirelessly for a week to empower the young women of this community. RCGOKC is truly making a positive impact on young women and in this city! I'm just grateful to get to be a part of it.”
Every day at lunch during the week the camp also had local guest musicians play for the campers, in all different varieties of genres, which gave them a diverse view of music. Some of these included Chelsey Cope, Chavez Soliz, Kate Diesel from Harumph, Cut-Throat Queens and more.
One camper, 13 year old Nani had this to say about her week at camp, “It was really cool when the Cut-Throat Queens played with us. The workshops are super fun. I liked learning how to ‘break fingers’. I liked the workshop with the different instruments. The person playing the harp with a modern spin and the accordion players were interesting. I loved the opera singer and metal band,” she explained. “I met girls I wouldn’t normally meet and found we had things in common. Carter and the volunteers are awesome. I can’t wait to be a ‘roadie’ when I get too old to go to camp and help teach other girls.”
Nine year old first time camper Starla had her heart set on singing vocals when she came to camp on the first day, and was disheartened to learn she was assigned to play guitar. By the end of the first day of camp she was so excited and pumped up about playing guitar that she borrowed her brother’s acoustic guitar and practiced all evening.
“My favorite part of rock camp was band practice because it was really fun making up a song with my friends and learning how to play guitar. I wish it lasted longer than a week, it should be a rock school for girls all the time,” said Starla who is already excited about going back next year.
The whole week wrapped up on Saturday with two different showcases at Will Rogers Theater, where each band got to perform their original song in front of all of their friends and family. They sold tickets for the event, but another cool thing that shows the heart and soul of the camp was that Sampson also told all the campers that if they had family or friends that the campers wanted there that weren’t able to buy a ticket for any reason then they had some set aside for that. Girls were able to put their family or friends who couldn’t purchase a ticket on a list to get in free, because the camp definitely wanted them to have everyone there to see them perform that they wanted and didn’t want any reason to stop them from that.
Watching these ten bands come on stage and perform their songs was probably one of the most fantastic things to see, it was goose bump worthy. Every girl there cheered their fellow campers on, and you could see the pride and joy on each of their faces as they showed off the skills they had learned that week. It was amazing to see all of these young girls and young women successfully play drums, guitar, bass, and keys, as well as sing their hearts out, after just a week of instruction. The empowerment and encouragement in that venue was palpable, and there’s no doubt that these campers will remember this week for the rest of their lives. It also no doubt made a big impact and effect on their confidence and self image. These experiences are especially important in this day and age of ‘the mean girl’ where girls tend to be so fiercely competitive and catty to one another. This camp stresses working together and supporting one another, of putting differences aside and embracing strong female friendships, which is a very powerful thing.
“It’s a magical little bubble, every camp that I've ever been a part of has been like that and we get so involved throughout the week that we forget what the real world is like. I had a lot of women, volunteers, a few days after camp say ‘oh my gosh I searched all over my building for a Reba McEntire room for some reflection and there wasn't one” or ‘I offered high-fives to everybody in my office today’,” said Sampson with a laugh. “So the flipside of that I think is that it’s really cool that the attitude and the spirit of encouraging each other and building each other up and not breaking each other down all goes back to school with these girls. I know it goes back to their homes with them and then school starts in like two weeks, so I really hope that kind of attitude is infectious and it does spread. We need more positivity. It’s tough being a little girl, especially being a teenager. I wouldn’t want to do that again, especially these days. Girls are going through so much more than when I was in high school 20 years ago, there's things we never dreamed of.”
Having the Rock Camp for Girls here in OKC is an amazing thing and the fact that so many wonderful women will sacrifice a week of their time, many of them using their summer vacation time just for this experience, is not only impressive but it also a testament of the character of our community as well as the local music scene. If you would like to get involved you can find out more information about the Rock Camp for girls on their website at www.rcgokc.org or on their FB page.