As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong
Girl Rock Asheville’s mission and vision can be summed up in one word: empowerment. From their website, “Girls Rock Asheville (GRAVL) envisions a future where girls, women, trans people, and gender-nonconforming people are encouraged to take up creative space unapologetically.” Girls Rock Asheville is a non-profit camp that empowers kids ages 8-14 who identify as girls, trans, and non-binary of all musical abilities and backgrounds through music education.
Girls Rock Asheville believes in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since 2014, GRAVL has partnered with entities such as Guitar Gabby & The TxLips Band that support its mission to expose young campers to the business behind the music industry. They inspire campers to explore their power, the power of music, and beyond. Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Executive Director Lily James about their programs and how they continue to open the doors to creativity, self-confidence, and self-expression for the Asheville music community.
How did Girls Rock Asheville Begin?
Girls Rock Asheville was founded in 2014 when a group of local artists identified a need for more significant support for girls and LGBTQ+ kids in Asheville who wanted to play music. Led by founder Erin Kinard, a group of women and queer volunteers organized the first camp. It was only three days long and operated out of the Mothlight, a former venue in town. Girls Rock has been growing and evolving ever since!
What can the volunteers or campers expect when they arrive at Girls Rock?
When you arrive at Girls Rock camp, expect us to hand you a blank name badge and a tube of glitter glue, and we’ll tell you that you can pick any name to go by. Expect us to develop collective group agreements rather than having grown-ups write down a list of rules. We’ll get to know each other during workshops, instrument instruction time, and lunch, but campers will spend part of the day with their band. They’ve got all week to write and rehearse an original song to be performed at the showcase.
How do you help campers who have had no musical training or experience?
Campers with no past musical training have always made up a large part of our camp. While we’ve got a crew of fantastic instrument instructors who are there to teach the basics (chords, tunings, strum patterns, pedal effects), the point of Girls Rock isn’t to produce polished young instrumentalists. Our work has always been about letting campers speak their truths through their music, growing their self-esteem by creating something original, and holding space for them to be unobstructed in their experimentation. I think a lot of formal music education is rooted in whiteness, wealth, and Western ways of playing, and that’s just not a reality for all campers or volunteers.
What are band practice and instrument instruction like for the campers?
Band practice and instrument instruction are camper-led activities. During band practice, campers are busy writing verses and practicing playing together. Usually, the counselors don’t need to intervene during practice; they just take voice memo recordings during the band’s run-throughs. During instrument instruction, campers tell the instructor what they want to learn to express themselves on their instrument better. For some, that’s getting their guitar into an open tuning; for others, it may look like collaborating on a drum fill for the song their band is working on.
What ages can join Girls Rock Asheville?
Girls Rock campers are 8-14 years old. AMPS, our junior counselors, are 14-18. And volunteer roles are open to anyone 18+.
How many girls and female-identifying bands have been formed in GRAVL who have made music a full-time passion?
I don’t know that any camper bands formed during GRAVL have kept playing music together full time, but many full-time musicians volunteer time with us! Our goal is to continue exposing campers to the various facets of the music industry in hopes of inspiring campers to multiple careers in life, whether that be in the music industry or not.
So campers go through a week of camp, and then on their final day, they showcase what they have learned to their friends, family, and the Asheville community. What happens at a GRAVL showcase?
So, the showcase happens at the end of the week. Camper bands perform their songs at a local venue to an audience of their parents, friends, and Asheville community members. We provide the campers’ community space to come out and give them the love they deserve after a week of programming, self-development, and relationship-building. I cannot stress enough how magical and awe-inspiring Girls Rock showcases are. It’s a super rewarding way to tie up the camp week.
How have you noticed campers grow and become more comfortable expressing themselves through music?
YES! If you’ve been to a Girls Rock camp (any Girls Rock Camp), you know the difference just one week of camp can make on a camper’s confidence. It’s obvious when a young person is proud of the music they’re making, and that self-assuredness seeps into other areas of their life, too. It’s gratifying to watch a camper emerge from their shell as they get more comfortable expressing themselves musically.
Can you think of a moment where GRAVL has changed the lives of the BIPOC campers who have attended?
Yes! One year we had a camper who wrote: “My favorite parts of Girls Rock Asheville Camp are band chill time where we hang out with our band, instrument instruction where we learn our instrument, and band practice where we work with our band.” I’ve got to shout out this one camper band from our 2019 programming, Josie and the Pussyhats. Two Black campers stepped up as leaders in that band and wrote an incredible song about classism called “Poor, Poor Rich Girl.” That song was like the jam of the whole camp that summer. It was so moving to watch those two campers become creatively energized as they watched all their peers and counselors get down to their music.
At GRAVL, we understand how powerful representation is when it comes to having visibility in musical spaces. We strive to support volunteers whose identities reflect those of the campers. For BIPOC campers, transgender campers, disabled campers, and campers who are all of the above, we do our best to create a camp culture where they are safe to be vulnerable while surrounded by adults who deeply care for them and deal with the same struggles they do.
Why is inclusivity so important to Girls Rock Asheville?
I think Girls Rock would be pointless if it weren’t inclusive. Our work to disrupt the status quo would be baseless. GRAVL was founded by folks who were tired of fighting tooth and nail to be included. They knew that to be included was just the minimum. Real life-changing Girls Rock moments happen when campers and volunteers are welcomed.
Let’s talk about your Gear Lending Library.
The Gear Lending Library honestly solves two problems in one. A lot of our campers don’t own their instruments and therefore don’t get to play music most of the year. I’m proud we can loan them instruments for free! Plus, it’s a weight off our shoulders when we don’t have to deal with storing all that gear. We’ve accumulated something like nine drum kits, 25+ guitars and basses, dozens of amps, and all the miscellaneous art supplies and admin stuff; it’d be a shame for it all to collect dust 11 months out of the year.
Aside from programs to inspire and encourage girls and female-identifying young people to find a voice creatively through music, what programs do you offer to empower young people to find self-acceptance and self-empowerment?
We dream of offering many programs for the folks in our community, but summer camp is our main program right now. Other than that, GRAVL hosts events periodically during the off-season, like Open Mic Nights, benefit concerts, and DIY zine-making days, all geared to inspire female-identifying artists to find their voice and continue pursuing personal success.
How can someone become a volunteer or a camper at Girls Rock Camp Asheville? What do you look for in the volunteers and campers?
Someone can become a volunteer by signing up on our website. We do background checks and hold volunteer training before anyone starts working with the campers. Someone doesn’t have to be a trained musician to volunteer with Girls Rock Asheville; we’re looking for someone who can be supportively hands-off. You’ve got to be able to sit back and let the campers take the lead when it comes to their songwriting processes. We even ask volunteers to resist the urge to give campers a ton of praise during their band practice. We just aren’t there to give our approval; we’re there to equip the young folks with whatever they need to express what they want to convey.
Who were some of the female-fronted bands that have come to perform at GRAVEL to volunteer?
GRAVL has been lucky enough to host many fantastic local bands like Rooster, Gummy, Tina and Her Pony, Laura Blackley, Guitar Gabby & The TxLips, VIA, and Lavender Blue.
In what ways would you love to see Girls Rock Asheville evolve and expand in programs being offered in the near future?
I have so many dreams of how Girls Rock Asheville can grow soon! One big goal right now is to offer an after-school program that can run throughout the whole school year. We’d also like to be able to offer more weeks of summer camp. On top of all the ways we can expand our youth programming, I want Girls Rock to have more content for adults and teens in Asheville.