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Girls Rock! Lawrence Empowers Local Youth

Girls! Rock Lawrence campers claim the Granada’s stage on the last day of the week-long program to showcase their music. (David Castablanco/ KJHK)

Local music has always been the heart of Mass. St., and on June 29th a much younger group of musicians than the usual lineups took the stage at the Granada.

Girls Rock! Lawrence (GRL) is a week-long summer camp for girls and trans youth ages 12 to 18 to form bands, write original songs and perform at the end of the week. A city chapter of the national Girls Rock movement, this 2019 was GRL’s 5th straight year. According to Gear Loan and Crew Organizer Sally Birmingham, GRL started with a few friends — Monica George, Angie Schoenherr and Sally Sanko — who visited the equivalent Girls Rock camp in Columbia, MO to volunteer.

“Monica and Angie being female musicians, and Sally being a long time activist, they were all inspired to start a camp in Lawrence,” Birmingham says. “A main goal being to help generate more representation of female, queer, trans — of color and of various classes — folks in the local music scene. It has been predominantly white males represented on stages.”

The campers spend their days in instrument instruction, band practice, as well as attending workshops that are related to music/songwriting skills, social justice issues and confidence building.  Campers also see local performers on-site during lunchtime and are provided mental health care they can visit at any point throughout the week.

Senior Sabine Rishell attended Girls Rock Chicago way back in 2011. Currently double majoring in Art History and Painting as well as a DJ at KJHK, she attended this year’s GRL as a tabling volunteer for student radio station.

KU senior Sabine Rishell (left) performing at Girls Rock! Chicago in 2011. (Courtesy Photo)

“It was a blast from the past.  It reminded me of that hot Chicago summer, which feels like a life-time ago,” Rishell reminisces. “I’m no longer interested in playing music, but Girls Rock certainly helped instill a level of confidence that has helped me in my other ventures.”

According to Alex Tesla Kimball Williams, a drums instructor and organization leader within GRL, the main takeaway from the camp is the growth-centered environment it creates — free of cishet-men & hierarchical learning structures.

“The campers get a lot out of being trusted,” Williams says. “They don’t need to ask to use the restroom, for example, or to take a break. They don’t have to prove anything to us to be worthy of basic respect.”

That 2011 summer in Chicago, Rishell’s parents sent her to live with her cousins that summer so she could learn how to play the electric bass.

“[It] was everything 13 year-old me wanted to do,” Rishell says. “It was also extremely cool to be trusted enough to take the train to my classes everyday. To me, Girls Rock represents my first step into being independent.”

Birmingham notes the importance of community support, and encourages those who are interested to follow GRL on Instagram or Facebook for events throughout the year as well as their annual call-out for camp volunteers.