Next week, Speedy Ortiz will kick off a very cool fundraising tour in support of Girls Rock Camp Foundation, the organization that provides confidence, support and encouragement (and, oh yeah, affordable music education) to young women around the globe. Attendees at the Boston show at the Middle East Downstairs on Wednesday, December 9, will get a special treat: a performance by some of the bands from Girls Rock Campaign Boston, the local chapter of this international foundation.
We caught up with Girls Rock Campaign Boston Executive Director Nora Allen-Wiles before the show to learn more about this rad organization and the work they’re doing to empower girls in our community through song.
Scout Cambridge (SC): Can you give us a little bit of background on Girls Rock Campaign Boston for those who aren’t familiar with the organization?
Nora Allen-Wiles (NAW): Wow, there’s so much, right?
SC: I know, it’s a loaded question.
NAW: I think what we really strive to have people know is that we’re not just a music organization, and we’re not specifically interested in having girls turn into pop stars or talent show winners or any of that. That’s really not what our mission is about. Our mission is completely about encouraging girls to take risks and try new things—showing them that they should seek out and deserve to have supportive peers and mentors all around them. And that they should be supporting each other through all creative endeavors and in all things throughout life.
Music is really just the vehicle—and of course, it’s super fun, music is really important to all of us—but it’s just a vehicle that we use to have girls take on this challenge. It seems pretty impossible to learn an instrument in one week and perform live and write a song and all the stuff that they do. We encourage them to go for it, and have nobody ever tell them that they can’t do it or that it’s not going to be possible.
SC: It’s incredible that they’re able to accomplish so much in just one week!
NAW: Yeah, so the summer sessions, we have two week-long summer sessions and they’re separate—a different set of girls for each session. There’s no musical experience required for girls to attend, so many of them have never played their instrument before coming in. They choose between bass, drum, keyboard, guitar or vocals, and then in one week, they spend about two hours every morning in group instrument instruction led by volunteers who are musicians themselves. They form a band on the first day with other girls in their age group based on the genre that they’re interested in playing. They have instrument instruction in the morning and work on their song in the afternoon all week.
We have all sorts of different workshops that happen throughout the week also—music-based ones in songwriting and DJ workshops. We also have a “feminism is for everyone” workshop and a media literacy one. We’re really trying to hit all the points of our mission within our workshops. We do a zine making workshop to teach girls about alternative media and also do silkscreening and a bunch of other different things throughout the week.
SC: I think everyone’s really excited about this show with Speedy Ortiz, how did that collaboration come about?
NAW: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy! We actually reached out to a local female booker that we know, Sonam from Fast Apple Booking, because she’s always been interested in getting involved with our organization but it’s never worked with her schedule. We asked if she’d be able to book a showcase for the girls in our after-school program and she was like, “Well, believe it or not, on the day that you guys are interested, Speedy Ortiz will be in town, and I can totally hook you guys up on the show.” Speedy Ortiz’s whole tour now is benefitting a foundation that goes to raise money to support Girls Rock Camps within the Alliance.
SC: The girls must be so stoked to get a chance to play with Speedy Ortiz, Downtown Boys and Ursula.
NAW: It’s an awesome thing for them to be doing, and it’s a great experience for the girls that are in GRCB to be able to not only be on the Middle East stage but to be supported by these other bands in Boston. Some of the girls don’t know who they are yet [laughs] but we have club today, and we’ll talk to them a little bit more about it. That’s also kind of a fun thing, too, that these girls get to experience. Even in volunteering, these pretty famous women come in, and the girls are like, “I have no idea who that is.” It breaks down that kind of intangible celebrity thing. But no, they’re definitely excited to be playing with other bands and meeting other female musicians and musicians who support female musicians.
SC: You mentioned the Alliance—can you tell me a bit about that?
NAW: The original Rock Camp was in Portland, Oregon, it started in 2000. It was a huge success, and it attracted a lot of women to come out and volunteer or run workshops from all over the country. The whole message of camps everywhere—rock organizations of this kind—is not to hold too close what you’ve done. It’s really to share and empower other people to start either playing music or start their own organization. They really empowered women who came to volunteer who were interested in bringing it back to their communities to use them as a source of support. There are now, I believe, 60 Girls Rock Camp organizations worldwide. They’re all over the United States, they’re also in South America and Europe and one just started in Tokyo.
We are all part of a networking and support alliance, and they have a conference annually that a representative from almost every organization goes to. If you’re starting a new program or are interested in new ways of fighting the patriarchy—whatever it is, there’s all different workshops that are in the same vein as the sessions, supporting each other and building each other up and making sure that everybody can be successful in what they’re taking on.
SC: Unrelated to the show, but I saw that Girls Rock Campaign Boston is looking for a permanent home, right?
NAW: Yeah, we love using the community spaces that we use, but at the same time, it’s very difficult for us to do as much programming as we would like to do because we’re always shuffling back and forth. We’re looking for a space that’s big enough to hold our year-round programming as well as our offices. Longterm dream, we’d love to have a space where we could hold our summer programs also, but since they’re so big we’re more focused on just being able to access a space year round. Right now we have our club, which we can only have 15 girls in. We’d love to have more than that. We’d also love to be able to do lessons, hold different workshops and completely expand what our programming could entail.
Can’t make it out to see the Girls Rock Campaign Boston bands at the Middle East Downstairs on 12/9? You’ll get another chance with their holiday rock n’ roll social at Atwood’s Tavern on December 13.