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Girls Rock: a week of empowerment and reverb



Lindsay Manfredi, a tattooed rock musician in her early thirties, sits on the floor of room 104 in Park Tudor's Middle School, a guitar in her lap. Three girls, ranging in age from 11 to 13, huddle around her, singing "And [boys] pick their nose/ while we try on new clothes." The lyrics come from the song "Fearless," an original creation by Twilight Zone, the band the girls formed this week.

It's day four of Girls Rock! Indianapolis, a weeklong music camp organized by Manfredi and her bandmates in the local rock band Neon Love Life — Sharon Rickson, Tasha Blackman and Ashley Plummer. 40 camp participants — many of them with no prior musical experience — have split up into 10 bands. Everything the girls do this week is leading up to a showcase at the Earth House Sunday, when the bands will perform the songs they wrote during the week.

Manfredi, Twilight Zone's coach, is leading "quiet" practice, helping the girls with songwriting. When "loud" practice begins, Twilight Zone will grab instruments and start rocking.

Girls are spread throughout the middle school, accompanied by with their adult mentors. Some huddled in hallways trying to perfect a lyric, others in classrooms learning to rock.

Upstairs, The Glass Grenades' two teenage bassists receive instruction from Rickson. They are practicing a metal song they wrote called "The Monster Within." A few rooms over, The Popcorn Rockers, comprised of four eight and nine-year-olds, get a lesson on stage presence from their coaches.

Once "loud" practice begins, the building is awash with fuzzy guitar. It vibrates through the walls, echoes through the corridors. Park Tudor has been overrun by an army of 12-year-old Corin Tuckers.

A week of rock

When the camp began Monday, the girls were intimidated, according to Manfredi. But by Wednesday they were best friends.

Each day started with a dance party which also had an educational purpose, as campers listened to and learned about bands like Sleater-Kinney, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Go-Go's. Mornings were filled with age-specific instrument and songwriting instruction as well as supplementary workshops devoted to body image, self-defense and zine-making.

In the zine-making class the campers explored the positives and negatives of being a girl. "You could see they were stereotyping or demographing themselves into 'this is how a girl should act and be' and 'this is how a boy should act and be,'" founder Tasha Blackman said. "If you are confident in yourself you can be and act anyway you want."

At lunchtime local female musicians performed and answered questions. Mandy Marie Luke, accompanied by her Cool Hand Lukes band mate Mo Foster, was blown away by the experience. "I was really shocked at how on it the girls were," she said.

Luke expected the campers to be concerned about their band names, style, their appearances. Instead they asked questions about her life and career. "They asked really cool questions that affected them. It was cool to go back and see myself at their age."

During her time at the camp, Luke got to see the campers in action, including a group of girls pounding away on several drum sets. As the week progressed the girls got more confident and comfortable with their instruments.

On the last day, campers made T-shirts with the band logos they designed earlier in the week. And then it was practice, practice, practice before Sunday's public performance.

Tapping into a movement

The Girls Rock movement launched in Portland in 2001 with the premise of teaching self-esteem and empowerment through music education. The organization's day camps are devoted to introducing young girls to DIY culture, social justice, and self-empowerment in a non-competitive atmosphere, according to Girls Rock! Indianapolis founder Sharon Rickson. (The Indianapolis outpost added an exclamation to the national organization's unpunctuated name.)

Rickson learned about Girls Rock while talking to a female musician from Nashville who performed at Radio Radio. Her interest piqued, Rickson made arrangements to help with a Seattle-based Girls Rock, then brought her experiences home to Indianapolis.

The women spent countless hours organizing meetings and searching for locations for the camp and concert, including a trip this March to a Girls Rock conference in San Francisco.

Once they the founders laid the groundwork, the Indianapolis community stepped up and helped. Volunteers designed web sites, logos and performed on benefit shows to raise awareness and funding for the camp, which fell on the week of August 22.

"Music is our tool to teach things girls respond to in an all-female environment," Rickson said. "It's about camaraderie and young women relating to each other. It's about young women cheering each other on and being noncompetitive. It's about teambuilding, body issues — self esteem, self-image. Women and young girls aren't geared towards music. If they are it's the flute or the violin. It's not given to them as easily as for boys."

Showcasing a community

"I'm really nervous," Athena Sipe, 14, says as she prepares for the performance at the Earth House with her band Rashin City. Sipe was one of the few girls who came to the camp with musical experience. She was pleasantly surprised that she wasn't the oldest camper, but then disappointed to learn she wouldn't be playing drums, her chosen instrument. But she quickly embraced her new challenge. The week's other lessons weren't lost on her either.

"We learned how to work together," she says. "We also learned how to deal with self esteem and our images of ourselves. We learned a lot of the images they show on TV of celebrities aren't that real...You are beautiful just the way you are."

The Girls Rock! showcase is a sell-out, with the girls performing before a packed, sweltering room. Family, friends, and members of the Indianapolis music community have come out to support the program. People stand along the walls in rows three deep. Forty campers sit on the floor in front of the stage and watch their new friends perform.

The girls are decked out in makeup and flashy clothing, and look ready to provide Madonna with fashion tips. They are confident, composed and act like seasoned veterans on stage. Some girls toss guitar picks into the crowd. Some lead singers share their mic with their guitarists. The campers hit all the classic rock motifs and poses. And their songs — written during the camp — are thought-out, addressing their own concerns and ranging in style from pop to punk to metal.

Amanda Nelson drove from Michigan so her daughter, Lilly, could attend the camp. After only one week, she was already seeing the impact Girls Rock! had. "She never wanted to sing in front of me before but now she is belting it out," she says, looking on. "Her confidence [has been] really built up."

"I think [Girls Rock!] is very important not just because they sing and dance but it builds their character—gives them self esteem which is important especially for young girls in today's society," Jamie Sanders, a father of one of the campers, says.

Attendees from the local music community are inspired by the camp as well. Mandy Marie Luke jokes that she wishes she could take the classes. The musicians in Red Light Driver contemplate a Boys Rock! camp.

"We were talking after the show about how cool it would have been to have something like this when we were young," Derek Osgood, the band's lead vocalist, says. "I think boys need more outlets than just sports and video games."

"I was amazed at how the girls just stood up and did it," Plummer says afterwards. "I've been playing in bands for four years and I still get nervous before I go onstage. You put a mic in front of me and I freeze. You put a mic in front of these girls and they are like, "Hello Indianapolis. What's up?' I was floored by how awesome they did."

"As a community, we must support one another," Manfredi adds. "That is the only way we go places. Whether it's a band, a local restaurant, or local is what makes things happen. I'm so proud to be a part of Indianapolis. This project brought a community together."


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