Girls Rock Camp Houston 2010 Showcase Walter's on Washington August 15, 2010
Sunday evening, Walter's on Washington was the most packed we'd seen it in months, as proud parents crowded the stage to see the transformations undergone by their pre-teen daughters during last week's inaugural Girls Rock Camp Houston.
The air conditioning in the venue was shot, and the lights were turned almost completely off, but the flash of dozens of cameras was enough to light the stage as six all-girl bands took turns performing original music they'd written and rehearsed during the camp. In some cases, the girls were as young as eight years old. And none looked even remotely terrified to be onstage.
Aftermath missed the first band, dot dot dot - the show started promptly at 5 p.m., as advertised - but we did make it in time to catch Wishful Moon, who wore Ziggy Stardust-style make-up and seemed totally natural onstage.
At the camp, the music classes are accompanied by lessons in self-assertiveness, self-acceptance and an embracement of creativity and individuality. Singer Magdelena acted like an old pro as she introduced her band and each member took a moment to show off. Bassist Isabella played a riff from "Smoke on the Water" and one of the keyboardists (the band has two) gave homage to Beethoven.
Parents crowded the stage with huge posters cheering on the bands and no one seemed to mind the chest-sucking lack of AC. In fact, almost all the parents stayed for all the bands - no one left after seeing their own kid.
Shades of Brown (above) played a riotous song called "Kids Want Control" which got loud cheers from the audience. One of the lines was "Kids want to rock and roll." It made Aftermath feel warm and fuzzy inside. Those girls were dressed in matching red kilts and crazy accessories, like some portmanteau of early Britney Spears meets the Sex Pistols.
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The bands came up with their own names during camp, and as Red Diamond Pistols took the stage (isn't that name awesome?) MC Ty Mahany, a longtime fixture on the music scene, talked about how important the camp would be for future generations of Houston music lovers.
"Before this, the closest thing we had to Girls Rock Camp was the band Groceries," he joked. Matt Brownlie of the defunct band was in the audience.
Electric Pearl played a song that seemed to be inspired by surf guitar and by this time Aftermath had moved to the side of the stage where the sight of the girls on stage all but gave us goosebumps. Something was in the air, some kind of palpable hopefulness that struck us to the core.
"It surpassed all of our expectations," GRCH director Anna Garza said after the show. "The girls really pulled it together. Everyone was tearing up. You know when you make the guys cry you've really done something."
Garza said her favorite moment of the camp was a rock wall climbing exercise meant to teach the girls self-esteem: "It was interesting, just seeing them build that confidence."
She said the campers also enjoyed the guitar-smashing workshop, where they got to learn about the history of instrument smashing and why it always seems that male musicians are smashing guitars. The guitars the girls got to smash were papier-mâché piñatas with a certain Disney star on the front.
"They were really excited to smash Hannah Montana."
Even when you consider that most of these girls had only been playing their instrument for one week, all of the songs performed were stellar. Even without that caveat, some of the better songs were reminiscent of the low-fi early '90s sound that seems to be making a comeback - we immediately thought of Kill Rock Stars band Heavens to Betsy and Guided By Voices' stripped-down aesthetic.
Involvement in the camp came from some unexpected sources too. Each girl was assisted in setting up and breaking down her gear on stage by a female roadie, one of who was an employee names Rachel from Guitar Center.
Garza told us that rachel had read our story in May about the GRCH fundraising effort and approached her employer about helping with the event. That's how Guitar Center came to donate schwag for the campers' goodie bags and the three autographed guitars auctioned off two months ago.
When Rachel came to the camp to drop off some merchandise, she was so moved by the process of the girls learning to play music that she ended up staying to help out for the rest of the week, and also served as a roadie at Sunday's show.
Garza said her goals for next year's camp are to expand registration - this year was limited to 45 girls -- and to expand the program for older girls who might be interested in more technical aspects of performing and recording music.
After the final band, The Cons, took the stage, all the girls returned once more to perform a song that they had written together in the first half hour of the first day of Girls Rock Camp. Garza loved the song so much it became the camp's anthem, and the girls would sing it every day before they went home.
The title? "Don't Be Afraid to Be Weird."
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Personal Bias: Extreme. We were raised on Hole and Bikini Kill.
The Crowd: About half parents and kids and half genuine Houston music scenesters.
Overheard: "You did great! Let's go get some ice cream."
Random Notebook Dump: When Aftermath first heard the band Shades of Brown introduced, we thought their name was James Brown.