Punk rock music blares from a scrappy classroom inside the Phoenix Center for the Arts; inside isn’t a pierced, tatted-up group of Kurt Cobain-looking rockers, but rather, a group of adolescent girls.
On February 27, Girls Rock! Phoenix hosted its first official rock and roll camp. Girls Rock is a nonprofit organization geared toward encouraging and teaching rock music, a primarily male-dominated musical genre, to young girls.
The organization started in Portland, Oregon in 2007, but quickly expanded all over the world — now hitting Phoenix.
The Phoenix organization is the brainchild of Sarah Ventre, president of the nonprofit's local chapter.
“I lived in [Washington] D.C. and volunteered at a Girl’s Rock camp there,” Ventre says. “I kept thinking I wished it was something I has as a kid. I grew up in Phoenix and it seemed like a really amazing thing to bring to the Valley.”
So in October 2014, Ventre did just that, recruiting musicians to put together a camp. The idea was to provide a safe space for girls in the area to ignore gender norms and just jam.
“It was the convergence of so many things meaningful to me,” Ventre says. “It was building a community with other women, it was being in a place where music is celebrated, it was being in a space where girls are told to be loud, to take up space and try new things. All of those things are really hard for girls to do in society. We’re told to make ourselves smaller, to be quiet. We’re taught to apologize.”
She began the organization with a general idea, but she says she was surprised by the amount of support they got from the community. Raising money and awareness through events and partnerships with businesses like Zia Records, Girls Rock began to garner a fair amount of spotlight.
And as that spotlight hit them, musicians from all over the Valley donated guitars, drum sets, keyboards, bass guitars, amps, money, and, for 35 volunteers, time.
Amy Lou Wendt was one of the volunteers dancing around during songs and guiding girls through constructing song lyrics.
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“With the blooming population in Phoenix, there’s such a massive group of young women,” Wendt says. “Historically, women don’t have a place in music unless it’s ‘the girlfriend’ or ‘the girl dancing in the background.’”
As a child, she always wanted to play drums, Wendt says she felt pressured to play more feminine music, so she took up the flute. These days, Wendt plays the banjo.
She says she jumped at the chance to bring the opportunities she never had to girls in the Valley area.
And Wendt wasn’t alone. The Phoenix chapter held a minicamp this past Saturday, February 27. Inside the Phoenix Center for the Arts, loaded up with instruments, there was a sort of zeal practically radiating from the building.
Girls broke up into their own bands. Each went into a songwriting workshops, and based on what they wanted to play, they split up into separate lessons where they learned the ins and outs of their instruments. By the end of the day, each band had a punk rock name and a song to play to the camp.
Chela Mischke and Kristi Wimmer were two of the instructors working with the kids on bass guitar. Like many of the volunteers and organizers in the building, rock music was one of those things they gathered around. For them it was a coming together, a sort of way to find a voice in a society that so often stifled them.
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“It’s scary to go up on stage, but it’s a lot of fun and it builds confidence,” Wimmer says. "That’s what it did for me.”
For them and Ventre, bringing the program to the Valley specifically was even more important. Ventre says the closest rock camp to Phoenix is as far as Southern California or even Las Vegas. Because the Valley is so spread out, she said, finding that expression is even harder.
Ventre says the day camp was only the start for them. She plans on holding events throughout the year and, more significantly, Girls Rock will be holding its first weeklong camp starting this summer. The organization's website is the best place for more information.
“I think the Valley has started to come into it’s own as a sort of cool place where there’s lots of cool people doing cool things,” Wimmer says. “This is one of them, trying to get girls involved in playing music.”