Maximum rock and roll: The girls rock camp
by Kpoene Kofi-Bruce Off Our Backs, Jan/Feb 2002
When I was little I used to fantasize about being a rock star. My whole family and all of my friends would laugh asI made an ass of myself in front of the television, singing “I Love Rock and Roll” in my high-pitched voice, dreaming about waking up as Joan Jett or Chrissy Hynde. The closest I ever got to becoming Patti Smith was singing along to the cassette tapes that came with my Gem and the Holograms dolls (ahh, the glory of the 80’s!). But I did wonder sometimes whether, even if I weren’t a Black girl growing up in the shadow of the nation’s capital, it would have been any easier to make my dream come true. Somewhere in the reaches of the Deep South, a kindred spirit was wondering the same thing. Less than a year after transferring to Portland State University from the University of Georgia, Girls Rock Camp (GRC) founder Misty MacFarlane had begun working to make the dream a reality. The GRC-held August 20 through August 25th-is a labor of love, the result of years of dreaming and toil. For a charge of $20 per camper, GRC teaches 100 girls, grades 6-12, to become full-fledged rock stars by encouraging and developing self-confidence, strength, and empowerment through the medium of a chosen instrument– guitar, bass, drums, or vocals. Misty has lost countless hours of sleep (and gained a head of gray hair!) overseeing all aspects of the camp to make sure the vision is never lost. She turned her camp into a reality by petitioning her women’s studies professors, leafleting at conferences, even drawing the Camp’s logo and contacting record labels and artists for sponsorships. Luckily, she is no longer alone: drawing on the creative energy of her vision, GRC now boasts a staff of 100 volunteers, and support from artists as diverse as Indigo Girl Amy Ray and the Beastie Boys. I was lucky enough to get to speak with Misty at her (soon to be ex-) home, though I forgot the 3-hour time difference and called at 7 a.m.! But, being a superstar herself, Misty was very gracious. This interview took place one week before the Camp. oob: What’s left to be done? Misty: Oh, so much! There’s always all these little details that have to be taken care of. Fires come up every day. oob: When does it hit you that this is happening? Misty: Usually at 4 a.m. when I sit up in bed with a jolt and just go “Oh my God!” I don’t wanna be presumptuous, but yeah, it is amazing that this is all happening. oob: How did you get this idea? Misty: It just kind of seemed like a natural progression. I worked with bands and saw the misogyny in the industry. When I went into a music store there was never the assumption that I was a musician. When anyone talked about tech stuff they were never talking to me, they were always talking to the guys, even though I was doing as much as they did. I always wanted to do a rock high school. But how do you start a school? I mean, I don’t know! I never got to go to summer camp, but camp is always really geared towards sports or science, and those are areas where girls are always underrepresented. But see, I know that if I wanted to really rock out when I was 12, 1 didn’t have the chance, and even if I were 31 I probably wouldn’t have the chance. And I just kind of played with it as a fantasy, I went to Ladyfest and saw women helping other women and I thought, “Oh-maybe I don’t have to do this by myself.” That was really inspiring. I couldn’t get away from Olympia. oob: How did this start? Misty: It’s a blur. I moved in September from the south, from Atlanta, and I’ve had this idea for 8 years but wasn’t in the right places as far as social location and in my own life, and I would sit there just daydreaming of doing it, but I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. It was like a fantasy. So my partner got a position teaching at Portland State, and I thought, “Well, I could stay at Georgia State, or I could transfer to Portland State.” Thank God I transferred! You know what? This is my senior project, like in the women’s studies department you have to do a certain number of community service hours and everyone was volunteering at homeless shelters and crisis centers. But I was like, “you know, screw this, it doesn’t always have to fit into this mold of typical, women’s studies. You’re just intimidated and scared to try something new.” So I went to my, advisor and suggested it to her and she was like “sure,” neither of us ever thinking that it would reach this proportion. But every class that I had, we had these little projects or essays, and I would make them apply to the camp. I told myself that if I backed myself academically I would get this camp done. I would take a class in women’s studies on empowerment, and everybody in class would pick a topic and write a report, or go out in the field. I just plugged the camp into every assignment. I didn’t have time to actually do the schoolwork. I would have never graduated if I had other work to do. This was so much my own effort. Even the graphics that you see on the posters and on the website-that was me. I sat down at my table and started drawing these graphics that are plastered all over the world. I didn’t even have the money to make the photocopies to put around town, but this guy at Sir Speedy donated fliers under the table. With this whole camp the DIY (do it yourself) ethic can’t apply more. oob: So what happened after your advisor said “sure”? Misty: I had a couple of months of putting up fliers around campus, going to conferences, just trying to drum up interest. But nobody was really jumping on board, asking, “Who are you and what are you doing?” I would get up in front of my classes, and say, “Hey, I’m doing this camp. Help me!” Suddenly people from my school started getting interested and we started having meetings and getting lots of volunteers. oob: How did the word get out around Portland? Misty: The community here is amazing and supportive. Once word got out into the music community the response was incredible. It was about 4 months of struggle for such an amazing payoff. Little did I know how many of us it would take to pull this off. I thought I could just do it all myself. I was like, “Well if nobody wants to help, I’ll just do it myself You know–I was being naive. oob: When did you realize that this was becoming a big deal? Misty: I realized it when I was sitting in Corin Tucker’s house [Tucker is the lead singer of punk band Sleater-Kinney] and she was giving me advice on how to handle the media, what kinds of things I needed to be doing, etc. I was driving home and thinking, “Okay. . . maybe this is a bigger deal than I thought.” And the phone just started ringing off the hook one day. Literally, one day it started ringing and it has never stopped. You can hear it beeping constantly in the background. Amy Ray has been a huge supporter. People have called us in a lot of situations. Penny Lane just called me up. This phone just rings all freaking day! As far as getting musicians to come, we went through their management, or they came to us. For instance Corin said, “I can’t come, but maybe Carrie [Brownstein, guitarist of Sleater– Kinney] can.” We can’t print a lot of the names because they’re really picky about what they are allowed to do. We want to publicize but we can’t. We’re in a really weird situation, but if we could publicize we would get more support. oob: How did you get the musician/ label support-specifically for the Ebay auction? Misty: We sent out sponsorships to the labels we respected (Kill Rock Stars, K Records, Grand Royal) and they all responded. At this point we were just doing little raffles, and we asked them to send us some vinyl. We didn’t think they would send us memorabilia and things. The Beastie Boys donated these dolls that they handmade themselves, and there’s only like 200 of them. It’s tempting having all this stuff in my house! I’m like “I want it!” I can’t even afford this stuff. I’ve been wearing the same Airwalks for 4 years! oob: Maybe you should capitalize on that, go in front of the press in your shoes and your shirt with holes and let Armani or someone take pity on you. Misty: Tell the PR department that! They’re like “Girl, we have got to get you some shoes!” oob: How old are the campers? Misty: The campers are grades 6-12, but we’ve had all ages calling up asking, “Why don’t you do a camp for us?” Nothing was meant to be exclusionary, but, like I said before, I thought this was the age when you most need to be encouraged. oob: Where are the majority of your girls from geographically? Misty: Of course there are more Portland girls.but we’ve got girls from Africa, Massachusetts, Texas, and Missouri. There’s been interest from South America, Germany, and England. I’m pretty sure that part was because of the internet. I’m just as in awe as everybody else. It doesn’t seem real. oob: How are you feeling right now? Misty: I am so grateful for everything that’s happened in less than a year. It’s really not entirely me anymore but it hasn’t grown out from under me. Maintaining the vision, quality control, that’s what it’s been all about. It’s been hard to maintain that. We have 100 volunteers, and so everyone has their own ideas of what they’d like to do, how they’d like the camp to be run, and ultimately the threat there is that it turns into something classist or racist or elitist. oob: Are you worried that, even in such an empowering space, it might be difficult for girls to overcome their fear of rejection? Misty: No, no. I have a lot of experience teaching. I love kids and I prefer hanging out with them. I’m more concerned overcoming my shyness with the press than with girls. I really feel that this will be such an amazing space for them. I don’t see anybody being a wallflower. There are 100 campers. They’re gonna have instruction every day on their chosen instrument. In the afternoons they will have sessions on self-defense, `zine publication/distribution, sound tech, and lyric writing. After that they have either a panel or a performance to attend. The panels will include women in the music industry, whether from independent labels, corporate rock, just all kinds. They’re gonna talk and perform and give out CDs or whatever. After that there will be practice sessions for the girls who want to play in the showcase. About the middle of the week we’re going to split them up into bands to perform in the showcase. I am not teaching any of the workshops. The women teaching are for the most part local musicians, idolized in this community. STS from Cadallaca is drumming, Leah Hinchcliff, Rachel Blumberg, Janet [Weiss, drummer, Sleater-Kinney] is probably coming in to do a tuning workshop. Nomy Lamm is doing a panel on size oppression. For the self– defense classes I didn’t get Home Alive, but there’s this great local selfdefense group called Open Hand. Staci Cotter runs this non-profit herself, so she’s coming in and doing the self-defense classes. oob: Will you do it again next year? Misty: Oh yeah, I will continue. I’m losing money this year, actually, and I just found out from my landlord that our. building is going to be sold and so we have to move in a week. So the time that I had set aside for myself to wind down from the camp will be spent packing up and moving. As far as the next camp goes, ideally we would like to get a lot of sponsorship. It’s all contingent on if we get the funding. Expenses come from everywhere. There’s just so many expenses-insurance, instruments, honorariums, and accommodations have cost the most. And we don’t even have one single bass! That’s what’s keeping me up at night. It takes such a commitment. I’ve gotta go proof the t-shirts, make sure everyone will get fed, figure out who’s gonna go pick people up from the airport, and take care of roadie training, because we have a lot of people who want to volunteer and help but they have to be trained. At this point, with one week to go, you would think that things would fall into place. But I find myself doing triage every day, and people back out, and it’s crazy! I don’t want these girls to have any hint of how hard this was. I am so reluctant to make projections. I’m proved wrong every day. Every day I’m just blown away by it being taken to a new level. My expectations did not go beyond getting written up in the school paper. I just want them to want to make their own music. Britney Spears is not my reality or the reality for so many people. This is not really a viable option for girls. The girls that are coming here are all sizes and backgrounds, some are disabled. We’re not MTV material. That shouldn’t mean that they can’t make noise and get together and play and change the world. This camp is about confidence and options and a curiosity about their own voices. It’s the best challenge in the world! The Girls Rock Camp was held August 20-27th at Portland State University. You can find out more about GRC (and maybe become a sponsor of next year’s camp!) at the official website: www. girlsrockcamp. org. The desire to see girls fulfill their potential as fully functioning human beings is enough to motivate anybody to go out and make a change for the better Log on and get inspired. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my guitar lesson. * The actual cost per camper comes to roughly $300, which is in no way reflected by the registration fee of $20.