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Girls Rock Lawrence: A Place To Rock and Respect

Above image: Girls Rock Lawrence 2016 showcase | Photo: Oh! Snap! Photography

There’s nothing like the exhilaration that comes from playing a rock show — the catharsis of pouring out your emotions on a stage, the collective energy and accomplishment shared within a band, the deafening roars of an enthusiastic crowd. But there’s also nothing like the sinking feeling that comes when somebody tells you how good you are... for a girl.

Though changing, music is still a male-dominated industry. The talent of a non-male musician is often preceded and marginalized by a gender classification. But for the next generation of girls, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, there is a light.

Girls Rock Lawrence provides a safe, communal space for youth with an interest in music. A member of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance — an organization that began 10 years ago in Portland, Oregon, and houses more than 80 camps across the globe — Girls Rock Lawrence holds its third annual summer camp in Kansas on Monday, June 26 through Friday, June 30, with a public showcase on Saturday, July 1.

“Rock music is a thrill like no other that hits you on a deep sensory level,” said Kelly Nightengale, Girls Rock Instructor Team coordinator. “To recognize it as a transformative force in a cultural revolution for gender equality was our dream.”

With co-founders Monica George, Sally Sanko and Angie Schoenherr, Nightengale helped bring about the first camp in the summer of 2015.

“Thinking back to the first camp, many campers winced when first amplified, but by the end of the week, witnessing their power on a stage is a glory,” she said. “They hold themselves with power, believe in what they’re doing, and carry the swagger that you typically see from male musicians who get to move through the world without the threat of being shamed.”

Over the course of five days, youth from ages 12 to 18 will receive instrument instruction and mentorship from volunteer female musicians. They’ll form a band, write original songs, and perform them together — all in a non-competitive environment. They’ll also have opportunities to participate in music-oriented workshops (such as the songwriting process, band merch and punk rock aerobics) and social issues, including community activism and trans-inclusive intersectional feminism.

By the time Saturday rolls around, Nightengale and her fellow organizers hope that their students will gain more than just a musical education. They hope to present the students with tools for empowerment and self-confidence, to help establish a sense of solidarity, to reach a place where gender and culture do not dictate a person’s identity, and to champion equality and social justice.

“Some of [the students] have advocated for educational justice in their schools. Some have raised money for organizations that work for health equity. They are capable and righteous, and these are things they’re doing on their own,” Nightengale said. “I think we’re helping youth see that they deserve better, and they should fight to lift up the voices of others around them to also expect better.”

Girls Rock Lawrence Summer Camp 2017 takes place from June 26 to 30 at the Lied Center of Kansas, and concludes with a public showcase performance at Liberty Hall on Saturday, July 1. The camp is open to individuals between ages 12 and 18 who identify as female, trans or gender nonconforming. No previous musical experience is required. Enrollment for the camp is now closed, but 2018 enrollment will be announced via the organization's website and Facebook page.

— Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. She advocates for and helps spotlight music in the area, writes web content for 90.9 The Bridge, and plays drums and bass in bands. She’ll also be helping teach bass at the Girls Rock Lawrence summer camp next week.