A-list: Girls Rock! camp bolsters confidence, showcases top local bands

Local bands take the stage at Trumpet Blossom on Feb. 25 at 6:45 p.m. to raise money for Girls Rock! Iowa City, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that teaches female, gender non-conforming and trans kids ages 8-16 how to rock and roll.

In addition to the benefit’s seven-band lineup, representatives of Girls Rock! Iowa City will provide information about the organization. Trumpet Blossom will offer regular food and drink service during the event.

Girls Rock!, according to its Facebook page, is “a community organization dedicated to fostering girls’ creative expression and self-esteem through musical expression.” The primary focus of Girls Rock! is a week-long summer camp.

Photo by Gretchen Cleve
Photo by Gretchen Cleve

Girls Rock! Fundraiser

Trumpet Blossom Cafe — Saturday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. (doors)

Campers learn musical basics and a little rock history, form a band and work on DIY projects like screen-printing logos and making ’zines and flyers for their band. Each band composes an original song, which they perform at a showcase at the end of the week. The final day of camp is spent in the recording studio, where campers lay down their new tracks.

Campers also take part in activities that aren’t directly related to creating a band, but instead are designed to build confidence and encourage critical thinking about girls’ role in society.

“We do a lot of non-musical exercises aimed at empowerment; in the past we’ve had yoga, self-defense, bystander intervention, the history of women in music and portrayal of women in advertising and the media,” Merit Bickner, Iowa City camp founder (and personal family friend of this author) said. “We talk to the kids at camp about the imbalanced distribution of power and how we’re working to reclaim it.”

Piper Kriz, a 10-year-old camper, said, “I think it’s important because girls usually are left out in a lot of things like sports and all that, and people think that girls can’t do it. And I think that it’s nice to have a camp just for girls, and that girls can express their feelings.”

The Iowa City camp was founded in 2012, and is one of many similar programs that have sprung up in cities worldwide. The Girls Rock Camp Alliance, also a 501(c)(3) non-profit, links 87 member camps on five continents, including Girls Rock! Iowa City. The alliance was founded in 2007, under the leadership of Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon.

“As the first girls rock camp, Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls became a source of inspiration for other initiatives around the world,” according to the alliance website. Bickner was inspired by the five years she spent volunteering at Girls Rock! Chicago, another member of the alliance.

Before punk rock exploded in the late 1970s, women and girls in music were mostly relegated to the role of singer, if included at all, among major rock and pop acts. Female instrumentalists are still under-represented today among headlining bands, but from the lineup at the Trumpet Blossom show, you wouldn’t know it.

The night will feature mostly female performers ranging from pianist-singer-songwriter Hadiza to punk rockers Cone Trauma and the dreamwave, poppy Hot Tang. Also on the lineup are lo-fi experimental folksinger Loaf, who describes her music as “heartfelt, confessional and sometimes catchy,” and Iowa City indie rock singer and acoustic guitarist Bri.

Bri cites Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches as a powerful female influence on her songwriting, and fans can likely expect a cover of at least one of Dawson’s tunes during Bri’s set.

“I really like how genuine she is with all of her lyrics. Her guitar playing is very simple, but it’s the lyrics that are the most important part of her songs, and I try to make that the focus of my stuff as well,” Bri said.

Local musician Kate Kane will perform with her pop-punk queercore band Starry Nights. Kane books shows at Trumpet Blossom and was the primary organizer of the fundraiser.

“[Girls Rock! Iowa City] is important because it’s empowering to girls and demonstrates to them that playing music isn’t just for boys,” Kane said in an email.

Sarah Mannix of Iowa City will perform at the benefit with her lo-fi rock band Younger. “We all agreed that we really loved working with Girls Rock! in the past and wished that there would have been a program like it when we were growing up,” Mannix said of her all-female bandmates and the group’s choice to do this benefit. “We really like working with kids in a creative setting and seeing them work as a group and find their voice.”

Tuition for the camp is based on a sliding scale — about 30 percent of campers attended for free in 2016. No musical experience is necessary to attend the camp, and most of the kids are beginners. Each camper picks an instrument to study for the week.

This summer will be Kriz’s fourth visit to Girls Rock! Iowa City’s camp. In years past she has learned to play the piano, drums and bass. This year she’s looking forward to picking up the guitar, and said the camp provides an educational environment she can’t get anywhere else.

“I prefer to hang out with cool, rockin’ girls and have fun instead of just having a music lesson and that’s it,” she said.

In addition to the camp, Girls Rock! hosts Saturday morning workshops at United Action for Youth that range from journaling to self-defense.

Girls Rock! has also collaborated with other local organizations including Iowa Women’s Music Festival, Iowa Youth Writing Project and Public Space One on productions and education that further the goal of female empowerment.

“I learned how to play the bass and I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff; some stuff wasn’t even related to music but it was really important, like standing up for your friends,” said Penelope Wilmoth, 10, a camper.

Wilmoth said that camp was amazing and she would definitely do it again because she enjoys playing in a band.

“It makes me feel kinda like I’m part of a team, and it makes me feel really special and cool,” Wilmoth said.

For the event on Feb. 25, attendees can pay at the door with a $5 minimum donation or a $10 suggested donation.

Can’t make it but want to support Girls Rock! Iowa City? Make a donation here.

Interested in volunteering? Girls Rock! needs counselors, band coaches and instrument instructors for the June 26-July 2 camp. To volunteer, sign a kid up for camp or for more information, check out

Eleanore Taft is from Iowa City and too busy to tell you about herself. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 215.

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