By Myki Angeline
Providing safe and supportive spaces for young women to flourish in the music community is an important element to conquering the ongoing stigma cis-females, trans women, and non binary confront when pursing a career in this industry. Sarah Bandy understood this importance from the beginning when she co-founded Girls Rock Charleston back in 2013, expanding her efforts to organizing and volunteering at Girls Rock Camps around the country for the past several years. Plus, Bandy serves on the Nominations Committee of the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance.
Currently Sarah Bandy is the Executive Director at YEAH!, a nonprofit charitable organization in Nashville which stands for Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanities. Her desire, experience, and ability to help others help themselves is astounding and yet she carves out time for self-care and personal accomplishments. Bandy shares with the WiMN a few wins in her career with these music organizations and what she has in store for 2020!
WiMN: YEAH! is going on 18 years strong – congratulations! How many camps have you facilitated so far, and what has been an unexpected success story you can share?
SB: I’ve been lucky to be a part of six years of camps here with YEAH!, as well as helping co-found Girls Rock Charleston (now Charleston Youth Action Project) and getting to volunteer with Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, Girls Rock Austin, and a little bit with Girls Rock Jacksonville. I was on the Nominations Committee of the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance and got to know the best people in the world by being a part of that organization. Kelley Anderson co-founded the camp in 2003 alongside Anna Fitzgerald and Courtney Sharpe, and it’s grown and shifted so much because of their incredible vision. YEAH!’s Rock Camps (and all of our programming, including Ladies Rock Camp and Rock Block) are facilitated by Hailey Rowe-Mabee who has been a part of YEAH! even longer than I have as a camper, then volunteer, and now Program Director for all we do. Southern Girls Rock Camp was the second-ever Rock Camp – and now there are hundreds, all over the world!
WiMN: Organizations like YEAH! and Southern Girls Rock Camp or so vital for young women, trans women, and non-binary youth in today’s world where they often are confronted by outdated, gender-conforming ideologies. What has been your biggest challenge with the parents, and what helped them overcome their emotional hurdle?
SB: I think that personal liberation is being able to write your own story and collective liberation is working with and for others so that everyone can tell theirs. The real work comes in meeting people where they are and shining a light when and how you can, even though we are far from perfect. It’s definitely heartbreaking to talk to parents that don’t value the multi-faceted person their child is, but we hope that the positive, difficult, real conversations that mentors get to have with kids at camp can help youth transcend that feeling of invisibility and harness their own power. We’ve had more than a few campers pulled from camp over the years because of the subject matter that comes up, especially at the camps I’ve worked with in the South, but that’s where the work of centering youth becomes even more important. Providing leadership opportunities and creative pathways to youth of all gender expressions inherently builds their personal power. There are hundreds of mentors at Rock Camps all over the world that work towards that goal in and out of the camp environment. The work we’re doing isn’t a band-aid – it’s aimed to destroy bigotry and build confidence from the inside out until there’s no other option for parents but to see that each young person is multi-faceted and deserves the chance to live authentically in the world. Detroit-based writer, doula, and feminist adrienne maree brown says “Pace is subjective, it really is, but I hear tomorrow calling and I am in love with that sound.” We owe it to ourselves and to the next generations to keep hearing tomorrow and walking towards it every chance we get.
WiMN: How has working with YEAH! and Southern Girls Rock Camp changed your life?
SB: An integral canon of Rock Camp in action is destroying the “cool” of making music. We collectively reject the self-defeating idea that we can’t start until we’re already good at something. We see the radical power in supporting those around us, the revolutionary act of being tender and open to the experiences of others, and then choose to create something together that couldn’t exist without all of us playing our individual parts. We recognize that our journey only becomes real when it’s walked alongside others, and that showing up for other people is lifelong work. Being able to see the transformative power of collaboration through the youth at Rock Camp has changed me completely – I am more hopeful, hop more willingly into hard conversations, listen better, use my imagination more, feel more at home in my body, am more present, and have a kinder inner voice. I really don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t volunteered at my first camp in 2008!
WiMN: Assuming you have a life outside of the camps, what keeps you occupied when you aren’t impacting the lives of others?
SB: I love playing music on my harp with my partner Tommy, moving and meditating at yoga class, reading and drawing, being a DJ at our local volunteer station WXNA, traveling anywhere and everywhere, and most recently, trying to hone my film review writing skills!
WiMN: Do you provide the YEAH! and Southern Girls Rock Camp alumni with opportunities for growth? Can you share a story of a participant who pursued music because of their experience with your organization?
SB: Hailey Rowe-Mabee runs the program we call Rock Block, which is the next step for alumni who want to play in a band more consistently than a few weeks a year. It’s held at the all-ages DIY venue Drkmttr here in Nashville, which is an incredible resource for folks of all ages. We get to partner up with them to have Rock Block and all-ages shows and events, and the campers attend tons of shows there on their own too. It’s a really important part of the culture here and provides a crucial space for youth to see and play music.
Those Darlins, comprised of camper Jessi Zazu, founder Kelley, Nikki, and long-time volunteer Linwood, toured all over the world and released tons of music. Jessi’s legacy shines on through the work of nonprofit Jessi Zazu, Inc. (find out more and get involved at jessizazu.org!). Sophie Allison, AKA Soccer Mommy, pursued music after Rock Camp and headlines shows all over the country. And some current campers have an awesome project called Piggy Bank that I got to see at Free Youth Fest and I absolutely can’t wait to see them again.
WiMN: What is next for Sarah Bandy in 2020?
SB: I just released Moroccan Myth Gems, a tape of field recordings I made in Morocco, and all proceeds go to Les Enfants de L’Atlas. I want to play more shows with my partner, finish my baking zine, hang out with hilarious, dynamic, amazing kids, and put out another tape of original music this year!