On July 29th the Champaign-Urbana chapter of the Girls Rock! Camp Alliance (GRCA) held its camp showcase and festival fund-raiser at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana. Four bands made up of campers played in the 1 p.m. showcase, and nine female/femme-lead groups followed between 2 and 11 p.m. for very appreciative audiences.
The campers of Girls Rock! Fest kicked off the benefit festival, playing one song apiece: The Sapphires played “Indigo Waves,” The Bruised Hearts followed with “Another One Falls Apart,” The Nebulas (the oldest band of the four) played “You and the Stars,” and The Rockout Girls (the youngest by age) closed with “Party in the U.S.A.” Each was a mix of cover tunes, collaborative lyrics, and original riffs by the young musicians. The four bands formed at the beginning of the one-week camp, with members typically grouped by age, and began writing and rehearsing with mentorship. Between the showcase and the rest of the festival, I caught up with one of the Girls Rock! C-U board members, Carrie Chandler, who was happy to tell me all about it.
Campers have a team of mentors throughout camp, many of whom are trained in music education or have extensive industry experience: Band Managers cover logistics, which can run the gamut from transportation to setup to making the band’s own merch. Coaches facilitate rehearsals; their Girl Power! Coaches focus on empowerment and authentic expression. Possibly the most surprising feature of camp to me was that no musical experience is required of campers and that they’re grouped by age instead of skill level. Chandler assured me that the camp does not accept pre-formed bands, nor does it prioritize members who already have experience. Through its music education programs, the GR!CU strives to educate girls, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming folks about the musical, technical, and creative aspects of musicianship. Their initiatives promote self-expression and creation among groups of young people whom they believe are less likely to have access to things like musical equipment and technical instruction. As a part of their mission: “We believe that rock music can be a crucial tool in allowing young women to respond to preconceived notions of what they can do and what they can become.” (For the full mission statement, please visit the website.)
Even before they took the stage to perform, hearing and watching the bands do their sound checks really captured the ethos of camp. Equal to giving the bands a chance to rehearse during the week and then perform in public — always important — is teaching them the ropes of how a band works. Stage setup, sound balance, and managing equipment take time and planning, and the campers were not sitting back to let their counselors and mentors do all the work. They had deliberately chosen and designed every aspect of their performances themselves, from their names and their genres to their performing styles, lyrics, and band t-shirts. With minimal guidance — mostly prompts from their sound engineer and a few quick conferrals with managers — they set up as quickly as experienced touring bands. The confidence, energy, and go-for-broke joy of performing that GRCA strives to give its young campers filled the parking lot. The lead singer of The Rockout Girls had no second thoughts about getting the microphone right in her face and shouting “What’s up Urbana!?!” to riotous cheers.
Nectar (DIY indie punk from Champaign) kept up the energy following the camp showcase. Fronted by songwriter Kamila Glowacki, they brought 90s power-punk flavor to the party. Then, the heat of the afternoon mellowed things. Members of The Chickadee Sermon (comfort folk from Champaign) and Hannah Rose and the Sweet Nothings (New Orleans-style early swing & hot jazz from Bloomington-Normal) played into the full heat of the day. Between them, the two groups traded chill day-drinking tunes that made anyone listening content while drifting from the tables to the bar, to the merch booth, to the Maize taco truck, and back.
Things picked up as the sun started to go down. Haki N Dem (American R&B, Neo Soul) inspired a few more dancers to get up and take the floor, while Venus Overdrive (Banana & Eclectic Alt-rock, Champaign), The Randys (Indie Alt-rock, Southern Illinois), Emily How and the Whys (Chicago) and Sweetmelk (DIY Punk, Champaign) swung the festival firmly back into “rock” territory. The festival bands brought a mix of covers, their classic originals, and new work: sounds from Sweetmelk’s new single “What Do I Do?” notably made an appearance. Despite their distinctive styles, all of the festival groups share strong collaboration between members. No one was just “along for the ride.” The late-night crowd that held out to hear Patty PerShayla & the Mayhaps close down the festival was not disappointed. In addition to a handful of covers and original songs from their album Cheap Diction (2021), they included freshly-pressed songs from their newest release Perpetual Motion Machine (August 1, 2023). You can also view a performance by them on a website built by our music editor at ElevatorAGoGo.Com.
For a 2nd annual festival, Girls Rock! Fest seems to have outdone itself. I can only hope that it’s a harbinger of great things — more campers, more bands, and generally more empowerment for those young people who are beginning to realize how musically capable they are.