The air in Headliners Music Hall was thick and warm. The summer heat was dancing its way into the presence of the Girls Rock Louisville showcase. What was once a two-day camp in 2014, has now become a week-long camp to empower girls and gender non-conforming youth by immersing themselves in the exploration of music in a supportive and creative environment.
Before the start of the show, I went to the bar to order a beer. While I was waiting for the bartender, a middle-aged man standing next to me introduced himself and asked if I had a kid in one of the bands. I awkwardly said no, but mentioned I had friends who did. I was there to support a community that actively encourages the kind of self-confidence in young girls that I had so desperately needed when I was their age.
My current Instagram handle is rockrgrl7, which dates back to days of teenage angst and AOL Instant Messenger. The name came from the feminist magazine ROCKRGRL, based out of California and was the first print magazine for female musicians. It ceased publication in 2005, but to this day remains crucial to my identity and my love of music. Although I don’t play an instrument, I tend to hide in the shadows of those who do. A behind the scenes aficionado who grew up worshiping at the altar of Courtney Love.
Once my beer was in hand, I walked through the crowd to get close to the stage. I stood surrounded by girls in tutus and capes, articles of clothing in every color of the rainbow. I imagined these girls had been playing dress up the night before at a sleepover at Cyndi Lauper’s house. But that night was no longer a world of make-believe. This was the world where girls believed in themselves, where they didn’t need to be told they could be anything when they grow up because they didn’t know they couldn’t. The amount of confidence soaring within that space was directly proportional to the amount of glitter and face paint adorned on the faces of these burgeoning rock stars.
Before the show started, a few members of the camp staff came on stage to greet the audience and acknowledge all the volunteers and donations that made all this possible. I was surprised to learn the camp was run by over 40 volunteers. With only 40 slots available to attend the camp, this volunteer to camper ratio implies how much heart resides in this program. The passion never stopped glowing from the faces of those on the stage and in the crowd.
There were nine bands altogether, each performing a song they had written during their week at camp. Bands with names like Star Kats, Llama Pajama and Pencil Shavings ruled the staged. For most girls, this week was the first time they had picked up an instrument. Each band had their own manager, as well as their own t-shirts they had learned to silk screen at camp. The positive energy was radiant and contagious. I felt goosebumps of hope.
I watched their strength and took notes. I watched the daughter of a friend grab hold of the microphone with the ferocity of Kathleen Hanna, and take the crowd by the throat with the swagger of her lungs. It was really something, to be a witness to her moxie.
I was jealous of these girls. They were confident and unafraid to be themselves. They had the vivacity of Patti Smith and Courtney Love. They were here to be loud and make some noise. Here, there were no differences. The girls wildly cheered each other on throughout the evening, as each band performed. Their enthusiasm bouncing off the walls and radiating with the kind of support that was nowhere to be found when I was their age.
At times, it can feel like an impossible thing to believe in yourself. Especially for the girls who know they are different, but don’t know why. For the girls who refuse to accept that being ‘normal’ is a means to an end. These girls were my kindred spirits. The kind who demand the world to recognize that there is no normal. The kind who find strength in their voice and aren’t afraid to use it. There was water in my eyes on more than one occasion that evening. But I held back and watched as these girls played their instruments as though they were their own shields of strength.
The end of the concert concluded with all the bands coming back to the stage for one last song, a riot grrl anthem turned up to eleven. These girls came to take up space, let us hear their voices. As if there were any doubt, their place is in the revolution. Be who you are, girls, and don’t be afraid to be loud about it. Go make some noise in the world. I’ll be right behind you.