Singer-songwriter, pianist and Women’s International Music Network ambassador Jenna Paona attended the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls Ladies Rock Camp in Los Angeles April 1 – 3, and wrote a wonderful recap on her experience and what you can expect if you attend. Note that the program is available in several states nationwide, so you don’t have to be in L.A. to attend!

By Jenna Paone

Campers performing the camp song “We Rock L.A.” at the showcase run-through. Credit: Beth Schore/Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles

It’s school vacation week, so the classrooms at the Immaculate Conception School in Downtown L.A. should be quiet. Gone are the usual teachers and students, but in their absence, a group of women has taken up residence, filling the hallways with something louder and rowdier than even the most rambunctious fourth-graders: the unmistakable sound of rock and roll.

This collection of 30-odd women, most with little to no musical background, have come from the far corners of L.A. to channel their inner rock goddesses at Ladies Rock Camp. A sister program of the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles and the larger Girls Rock Camp Alliance, this intensive weekend is designed to give adult campers aged 18 and up a comprehensive rock star experience. Over the course of three packed days, the women learn to play instruments, form bands, write songs, and even perform their new original material live at a local club as part of the capstone showcase.

The campers come from a slew of different backgrounds. They are teachers, graphic designers, television executives; they are white and black and Indian and Asian; straight and not. It is an environment of shared acceptance and support, where all are encouraged to express themselves artistically. Their reasons for participating are as diverse as their stories: some have come to build confidence, some to learn a new skill, but all have come to rock out and have fun.

And it is fun, thanks to the tireless enthusiasm and creativity of the Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls executive board and its veritable army of volunteers. Founders Mona Tavakoli and Becky Gebhardt, both of indie folk-rock band Raining Jane, have made it their mission to empower girls and women through musical education, and have had no trouble convincing others to join them.

There is nearly a one-to-one ratio of volunteers to campers, ensuring individualized attention during instrument instruction, band rehearsals, and enrichment workshops. The volunteers include Tavakoli and Gebhardt’s Raining Jane bandmates, local female musicians and music industry professionals, and even former campers.

Tavakoli jokes that the Rock Camp family expands exponentially with each new session. “I don’t want to overuse the word community,” she says, “but we nurture it, and it keeps growing,” she said.

Campers, too, keep coming back for more, including a mother-daughter trio who has participated for three years straight. The experience, mother Mimi explains, gives her a chance to let her hair down and connect with her daughters as a friend and peer. “This week,” she says, “I’m not ‘the mom.’ I’m just me.”

Mimi isn’t the only one to undergo a transformation over the course of the weekend. By the time the curtain opens on Sunday night’s showcase, there is a visible change in many of the women. Campers who seemed shy and timid on Friday leap across the stage wielding guitars and microphones. They dance and bang on drums and make a lot of big, loud noise. They have confidence, charisma, swagger.

It’s that transformation that is the real magic of Rock Camp. The world of music, and outside world in general, is still, as Betty Jean Newsome wrote and James Brown took credit for, a man’s world, but within this self-described “safe and brave space,” women take center stage.

Campers take a bow after their showcase at the Satellite. Credit: Kim Gouveia/Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles
Campers take a bow after their showcase at the Satellite. Credit: Kim Gouveia/Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles

Yes, by attending Rock Camp, a woman might learn to play the bass, but more importantly, she’s reminded that it’s ok for her to take risks and try new things, especially things that traditionally belong to the old boys’ club. She may write a song, but more importantly, she’s reminded that she has a voice, and every right to express that voice. She may get up on stage in front of a crowd and sing, but most important of all, she is reminded that she is courageous and powerful and capable of greatness.

That, of course, is what Tavakoli, Gebhardt, and the Rock Camp family intended all along. “Really, it’s ‘How-To-Be-Rad-At-Life-Camp,’” Tavakoli admits, smiling, “but music is our medium.”