Not to get all metaphysical right off the bat, but can we agree that music has unique healing properties among the various arts? And can we agree that we all — particularly kids — could use some musical healing right about now? Everybody still here? Good.
To that end, the folks behind Orlando Girls Rock Camp are back with an in-person camp this week — after a year of Zoom camp in 2020 — and while they're focused as ever on the mission of providing girls, trans girls and non-binary kids — many of whom have participated several years running — with the tools and training savvy they need to be our next generation of rock stars, this time around they're also focused on healing and just being present for each other.
The theme of this year's camp is Re/Connections (love the subtle nod to West Coast DIY institution Re/Search) and that's the intent behind everything they'll be doing. Reconnecting, readjusting and reaffirming a love of music — and playing said music — after a year mostly spent in isolation.
"We just want to be a safe, healing, nurturing place. Come here and have fun with us, it will be freaking amazing," says Ginny Wisdom, OGRC Director of Volunteer Services.
Orlando Girls Rock Camp is a nonprofit organization with a committed — and fully vaccinated for COVID-19 — staff of volunteers that draws from all areas of local expertise. "It's a diverse mix; we have teachers, counselors, artists, some of the parents of the campers," says Kristin Howard, OGRC Director of Marketing and the drummer in local band Hot Hands.
The commitment of the Girls Rock Camp volunteers was tested last year, when they decided to hold the camp virtually, learning the advantages and pitfalls of Zoom in real time alongside the campers.
They made it work by virtue of tenacity, passion for their work, patient and eager students and innovative personal touches that transcended the digital divide, from daily playlists (courtesy of Howard, also known by her DJ alter ego "Machine Gun" Kristin) to camp counselors personally delivering instruments to campers — "One camper had the front of their house decorated like it was a party, collages and banners, and it was just me, delivering a guitar," remembers Wisdom — to regular mailouts of supplies and sundry treats.
"It meant a lot to us to be able to gather. No matter what way it was or what capacity, we just wanted to be there," says Wisdom. "We're all about adapting."
The original plan for this year was to hold camp in two different sessions, for pre-teens and teens, as a hybrid virtual and in-person model. But, as we all well know, in 2021 plans change and then change again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. So by the time that you have this issue in your hands, Orlando Girls Rock Camp will be halfway over.
Camp goes from Monday, July 5, through Friday, July 9, at the Broadway Methodist Church downtown. There are, as of this writing, nearly 20 campers participating across an age range of 8-18. Admission to the camp is based on a sliding scale, free-$150, so as not to create economic hurdles. "We're a non-profit, we don't want to exclude anyone from this experience," says Wisdom.
Campers start off the week by choosing their instrument of choice from the guitar/bass/drums/vocals toolkit, with no prior musical knowledge needed — then divide up into ad hoc bands for the duration.
Individual instrument instruction gradually becomes band practice, and these new bands choose a cover song to perfect during their week, adding their own spin — new lyrics, riffs, etc. — and get it ready to play for the camp finale showcase.
"An original song in five days is a lot to ask," says Howard. "This takes the pressure off a bit for everyone since we weren't even sure we'd be able to do a face-to-face camp. So we're having them do covers, but changing the song into their own thing."
This is no one-off summer hobby, though, make no mistake. "These bands are real," says Wisdom. "Some of them have stayed together since they started at camp years back. They keep practicing between camps."
Camp activities will also include instruction on gear and instruments, DIY ethics, patch-sewing (!), lessons on yoga/mindfulness, and personal autonomy and consent. The campers take meals communally, and work on a culminating zine communally over the course of the week.
Girls Rock organizers, for the first time, ask that you don't go to this year's showcase. Wait, hear us out! They want you to watch it, but they'd prefer you watch it via their livestream simulcast on Saturday, July 10. (Details are still being hammered out; c'mon, rock & roll thrives on some creative chaos.) The showcase, where campers show off their live chops, will happen at Ten10 Brewery.
"It's going to be a lot more low-key ... This year we're going to limit capacity to like four people per camper," says Wisdom. "But we're trying to work out a way to broadcast it into the larger Ten10 space so anyone can come watch that."
For the moment, though, it's a headrush of last-minute preparation and eager anticipation. Girls Rock Camp is a labor of love for the all-volunteer staff. "I'm not saying we're scrambling, because we're not disorganized, but there's always a billion last-minute things to do. ... But we're ready! We can do this at the drop of a hat," says Wisdom.
This year promises to be part family reunion, part educational crash course, and all testament to the cleansing joy and healing power of performing music with your friends just for kicks — be it on an arena stage, a front porch, the Front Porch Festival, a sweltering garage, Uncle Lou's, a Zoom screen or, yes, Ten10 Brewery this very weekend.
Follow Orlando Girls Rock on Facebook at facebook.com/orlandogirlsrockcamp or on Instagram, @orlandogirlsrockcamp.