Inside the assembly room of the Oakland School of the Arts, on the backside of the Fox Theater, dropped earplugs litter the floor. On one wall, a sheet of butcher paper reads out a list of camp agreements: “Respect; I’m sorry–You rock!; move up, move up (if you’re usually outspoken, challenge yourself to listen [and] if you’re usually quiet, challenge yourself to speak); right to pass; everyone belongs here; HAVE FUN!”

The agreements are part of what makes the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, or BAGRC for short, a special experience for the youth who attend. The organization is part of a wide network of girls’ rock camps all over the world that exist to promote empowerment through music of self-identified girls, women, transgender, and non-binary individuals. From Sweden to Japan, Brazil, Dubai, Canada, and elsewhere, the network of rock camps serves over 5000 youths.

During week-long sessions at BAGRC, girls from ages 8 to 18 learn instruments of their choice, form bands, and write original songs together, which they perform for friends and family at the end of the week at The New Parish at 579 18th Street. The sessions started on June 16 and ended on Saturday, July 26.

Each week, 50 to 60 volunteers, along with a handful of paid staff, organize, teach, and coach about 75 campers through music lessons and band practices. Camp also includes workshops such as dance, music “herstory,” self-defense, image and identity, and screening printing their newly-created band logos.

Band: Powerpuff Girls on Unicorns

Band: Powerpuff Girls on Unicorns

Not only do the kids at camp learn about music, but also how to respect each other’s differences, including differences of gender, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, and experience with instruments. The mentors and volunteers participate in anti-oppression training preceding camp to ensure that all youths and adults feel safe and supported at camp.

Izzy Maturana, a 17-year-old intern, has been coming to camp for 8 years: the first four as a camper, the last four as an intern. She started out learning guitar, but over the course of her time at camp has picked up bass, vocals, and drums, too. “It gave me a space to learn more music and inspired me to do music outside of camp.”

Izzy and another intern have formed their own band, called Party Bus, that plays around Oakland and Berkeley, such as 924 Gilman, one of the few Bay Area venues for audiences and bands under age 21. Izzy describes camp as “an environment where you’re surrounded with music and musicians constantly” that acts as “a supporting environment or women and girls.”

This is not just true for campers and interns; the volunteers at BAGRC attend for similar reasons. They often return year after year to teach and mentor youth. Voula O’Grady, the Development Coordinator for BAGRC, describes camp as a unique space for everyone involved, where a culture is created of openness, liberation, and freedom. At camp, she notes, “There is no right answer. You decide what’s right.”

Photo courtesy of Bay Area Girls Rock Camp

Band: The Unknown

While most come from cities nearby—Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond—there are campers who travel longer distances to attend, such as from Menlo Park, Stockton, and Modesto. The camp has a policy that no one will be turned away from camp due to lack of funds, thus, over 50% of the campers receive scholarships. Last year, around 90% of the youths attending the after-school program were provided with financial aid.

The camp survives off of the generosity of donors and is trying to close the short-term financial gap with a fundraising campaign titled, “100 dollars, 100 days, 100 donors.” The medium- to long-term goals of the organization are to find a permanent space in Oakland where administration offices and camp can exist side-by-side, along with a used equipment store for rentals, and practice space for campers to continue to play with their bands.

Across the assembly hall from the camp agreements, past the stage which contains mics, guitars, basses, drums, and keyboards, is a wall for “Shout Outs” where campers can write anonymous positive notes to friends, volunteer teachers and coaches, as well as to themselves. The wall remains silent and blank on the cautious first day of camp, but by the end of the week, it is layered with colored post-its and marker drawings. As the week comes to an end, the girls feel empowered to express themselves both on the wall and in their music.

For more information about attending camp or volunteering, you can visit the BAGRC website. If you can’t wait until next year’s summer program, there is the Girls Rock After School Program (GRASP) which begins in January and runs for 10 weeks. For more information on Girls Rock! camps in general, check out the 2008 documentary following  4 youths at the flagship camp in Portland, Oregon.

Photo Courtesy of Bay Area Girls Rock Camp

Band: Queenz

About The Author

Katie is the Music Editor at OL. She's a music geek, culture junkie, massive A's fan, and Oakland native. When she was six, she stood for five minutes with a felt pennant stuck under Chris Mullin’s armpit. Check out her Oakland music listings at www.oakampd.com, follow on twitter/instagram as @craziesthawk, or contact at katies@oaklandlocal.com

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