Linda Bassick works alongside a group of highly inspirational individuals to diminish social prejudices based on gender. Their involvement takes shape in the form of Girls Rock Vermont, which is the Burlington segment of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance. This is an organization that empowers young women around the world to create music, to play it loudly, and to never compromise their creative dominance based on their feminine exteriors.
Linda, could you begin by explaining Girls Rock Vermont to me?
Girls Rock Vermont is a summer day camp for girls aged 8-18, and our idea is to empower young girls through teaching them how to be rock n’ roll stars. So basically we take them at the beginning of the week when they may or may not have any musical experience, and we put them together in bands and give them instruments that are electric and loud. Then they come up with a band name, write a song, and at the end of the week they perform at Higher Ground in the Showcase Lounge. It’s really amazing what can happen in a week.
Is this an entirely volunteer run organization?
It is, and that participation is growing, which is great. During our last session this past August we had about 60 girls attending camp, which was crazy, and because of this growth we would love to have a third session. At this point we don’t have the volunteer capacity to make that possible, because we usually need about 20-25 volunteers to run a camp week, but it is definitely something we are hopeful to see in the near future. We’re also building the board in a nice way, with a bunch of new members that are really invested in the program, and that’s something very exciting for us founding members.
How do music instructions happen? Is there a different volunteer for each instrument?
Yeah, usually the way we do it is that we’ll have two instructors in each group, and actually this year we’re adding an electric ukulele program. So we’ll have two guitar instructors, two bass instructors, two drum instructors, two piano instructors, and two ukulele instructors.
Besides the work that takes place within the different bands, what other activities do you do with the girls on a daily basis?
When the girls first come to camp we have a little meeting and we write a camp song, every year we write a new one. We do song-writing workshops, vocal workshops, and we also do workshops on feminism. We’re definitely slipping feminism in there, and just showing the girls their strength, and giving them the space to be loud and make mistakes. I think often times girls are told to be quiet and to not have any complaints, so it’s really a riot to hear the songs that they’re writing by the end of the week; they’re very feminist-themed.
Are individual projects allowed, or is everybody encouraged to work within a band?
No, we don’t have anybody working alone. We like grouping them together because it teaches them how to work in a band. You know, some of them are little divas, so they have to learn how to collaborate and how to compromise.
Do you assign bands according to age?
It is based on age, I try to keep it that way to the best of my ability, but it can’t always go that way if all my bass players are older and so on. But having someone older or younger in your band isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, because it’s yet another way for the campers to learn about interacting with people who are different than themselves.
Can you tell me about the Girls Rock Camp Alliance as a whole?
Yes, we are part of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, which has more than 70 camps all over the world, and every year that number is growing. We’re going to a conference in Philadelphia at the end of March, and it’s always amazing to meet people from places like Finland, Iceland, Ireland and England, who are all doing this too, and who are all on the same page about it. It’s a pretty powerful thing.
Is there any male involvement with the program? It seems like men supporting women could be of equal importance to women supporting women with this cause.
Yes, that is important to us, and there are definitely men who are involved too. What we try to do is have women in positions of power and lead positions, just to sort of set that example. Our campers don’t have a lot of female role models, so we find it’s important to have women, or female identifying people, in the instrument instruction and band coaching positions. But we do have men helping us with the gear or helping us in other ways; there’s many ways men have been supportive.
Being exposed to so much female empowerment and feministic values, do you feel that the campers ever get a bit of a generalized bitterness towards men?
I think that they sort of do in a way, which is why I think it’s really good that we have a few men around. I try to hire a band or performer to come to the camp and perform for the girls at the end of each day, and I can remember one year that I managed to book all female acts all the way until Thursday, and then I had Swale come in, which is one girl and three guys, and the campers were like, “Wait a minute! What’s this? Why?” (Laughs) So I had to talk to them and tell them that we’re not against guys, and also explain how lucky they were to have seen so many all-female projects, because it’s actually quite rare. But it was great because of Amanda, who’s the front woman from Swale, she was just amazing and she had great things to say to the girls. She was telling them not to be afraid to get up on stage and make some noise, because we certainly don’t have a shortage of guys making noise that’s not any good. For some reason girls tend to feel like they have to be perfect before they get on stage, and she was just telling them to get up there and make some noise and have fun. And that’s sort of the over arching message that we want to get through to them.
Do you see a noticeable difference in the campers’ comfortability on stage at the end of the week compared to the beginning?
Oh absolutely, I’m always amazed at what happens by the end of the week. The first day is always tough because they’re all in a position they’ve never been in before, they’re around people they don’t know, playing instruments that they don’t know, and it’s very overwhelming. But then after a couple days you’ll hear them saying that it’s they best thing they’ve ever done. It’s usually Wednesday that I start getting emails from parents saying that the dinner conversations have changed, and their child seems so engaged and so happy. It’s a very cool thing. And they’re always thanking me, but it’s not me, it’s the camp; it’s the program.
Do you think that a lot of the campers continue to play music throughout the year?
I definitely think so. Since we are a volunteer-run organization we have a ton of gear around, so a couple years ago we decided to start loaning out instruments to the campers for the school year. It’s been amazing. This year we actually loaned out five drum sets, and all sorts of guitars, basses, and amps; so I’m pretty sure they’re being played, which is awesome.
Are there any programs affiliated with Girls Rock that run throughout the year?
Yes, we’re starting in a couple of weeks at the King Street Youth Center, where we’re going to be doing an eight-week after school program with a group of girls. We’ve been trying for a few years to get this program running, and it’s finally happening this month, so we’re really excited about that. We’ll be working with a group of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade girls, bringing in instruments, teaching them songs, and also informing them about some of these feminist ideals.
Throughout the conversation that I was able to share with Bassick, she demystified any uncertainty that music is in fact a male-oriented industry. However, despite a newfound awareness of the inequality, I found myself in possession of hopefulness for a future equilibrium. Girls are meant to rock, and we will do just that.
To learn more about Girls Rock Vermont visit their website at: