- by Jenifer Prather, Friday, August 3rd, 2007
The beginning of this summer was filled with anticipation and excitement. This is the first summer that I, my husband and step-daughter would spend separated from our immediate relatives. It may not sound like a big deal to most, but to us it was a very crucial time in our all of our lives. You see, any other summer we would be living in Jacksonville, Ark., no less than 10 miles away from either of our parents. The detail of our family’s location is important for two reasons - we are a close knit family, and we have a 13-year-old daughter that spends summers and major holidays with us, so we depend on our family to help watch our daughter when we are at work.
This summer we did not have immediate access to family or friends, so my husband Paul and I started entertaining ideas of how our daughter Alex would spend her summer while visiting us in Memphis. Through various friends at work we were introduced to a publication that detailed every possible summer camp available in the Memphis community. After exhausting ourselves with all available options, we finally decided to choose a camp whose name had a twist to it - The Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp (SGRRC). The hours were excellent, the program sounded positive and the cost was reasonable. Full of excitement we signed the papers, paid the fee and enrolled our daughter. Since then we have never looked back.
The camp was exactly one week long and ran from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Initially Alex was not too happy about the hours; in fact her exact words were “this is not different than school”, but she took a leap of faith and decided to give the camp a try. It was through this camp that our entire family had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. Alex walked away making new friends and gaining a wealth of knowledge.
Saturday after camp, family and friends were invited to attend the SGRRC Showcase that highlighted bands formed in camp. Each band was given the opportunity to play a song on stage. “It was an exciting experience and a chance for the girls to know what it feels like to be onstage,” Alex says. “Some of the girls were shaky and nervous and others were perfectly calm. I wasn’t bothered by the fact of getting on stage because I knew what I was supposed to do.” The event was exciting for the girls and their parents, family and friends.
What follows is an interview with the founder and director of the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, Kelley Anderson, without whom this possibility for inner growth and development would not have been possible.
Why did you want to form the SGRRC?
When I was growing up and learning to play music, I had very few girlfriends to play music with. That can be an isolating experience. During your pre-teens and teens, you want to be accepted by people of your own gender.
By virtue of there being more young women playing music and it being more common, I think some of the stigma of being a “female musician” will go away and that girls can learn to work together and build connections with one another through music. It can be a great way to connect with other people but can also be very personally satisfying and theraputic. I’ve heard a lot of females tell me why they quit playing or never picked it up, and I want other young women to realize how much enjoyment and fulfillment you can get out of playing music.
What all work was involved in forming the summer camp?
The program began as a project of the student feminist organization at Middle Tennessee State University. I was eighteen when I started the camp so it took a lot of growing up, and even now in the camp’s fifth year, I still feel like we’re in the middle of a huge learning curve. It took a lot of communication with many different people to introduce the idea and get feedback, as well as a lot of community organizing and fundraising. Luckily there’s a great music community in Middle Tennessee that helped get the program off the ground a lot of volunteers who help throughout the year.
I had promoted my band and knew quite a few people, so I had a vague idea of how to market an idea and get people excited about something. I also felt so strongly about it that I was telling everyone I met about it, even people at the grocery store. It was a passion that consumed me so I didn’t notice a lot of it as “work” but in hindsight, and after having to repeat the same model each year and improve upon the design, it takes a lot out of you.
Forming the camp involves organizing a lot of people and matching volunteers with suitable tasks. It takes excellent people and time management skills. It also requires good office skills and being very organized. Being a musician, these were not natural traits or anything I was really used to, but I felt so strongly about the mission of the camp that I acquired some of these skills along the way. But what has really strengthened the camp is the addition of two directors, Anna Fitzgerald and Courtney Sharpe. Much like a band of musicians, the three of us collaborate and try to match up with the camp tasks that best fit our skill set. Courtney has never played an instrument but she corresponds with campers and parents. She has excellent time management skills and Anna is the most organized person I’ve ever met. Combined, the three of us make one great director!
What are you trying to offer girls that they cannot obtain at another summer camp?
The mission of the camp is female empowerment and collaboration. There are many negative images of women in the media and our general culture, and to have a camp that explicitly says “you rock!” to young women over and over is one way to combat these ideas.
What is the highlight of the camp?
The highlight of the week is by far the showcase, where bands formed during camp week perform for an audience of hundreds of people. Seeing the campers work together all week and overcome challenges is the most rewarding part.
Was this your first summer to offer the camp in Memphis?
How did you arrange to have the camp at the Gibson Guitar Factory?
One of our sponsors suggested the idea and contacted Nashid Madyun. We met with him and talked about the possibility of having camp at the factory and he was very into the idea. Part of Gibson’s mission is music education and they saw where the potential of a girls rock camp fits into that.
Why did you want to bring the camp to Memphis?
We have campers attend the Murfreesboro week of camp who come from Memphis and many other parts of the state. We had been looking to expand the camp to offer not only different dates but a different location to accomodate more girls and help expand the mission of the camp to reach more young women. The musical history of Memphis combined with the strength of the music and business communities made it a perfect fit for SGRRC.
What is your personal history with Memphis?
My main connection with Memphis is through organizing the camp. Beginning last November, I’ve spent almost every other weekend traveling to and staying in Memphis to get the camp off the ground. In some ways it was challenging to start a camp in another city because not living there, I was not aware of many of the available resources, but it has been a great adventure. After meeting with people during the day, I would go out to a lot of shows to get a feel for the music community and generally see what was going on. I learned a lot and met a lot of great people just from doing camp publicity. The people at Sun Studios have been a great resource as well as Makeshift Music and the Memphis Roller Derby.
Where are you originally from? Tell us some of your background information.
I’m originally from South Carolina. I’ve been playing guitar for over ten years. I went to high school at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts & Humanities and studied jazz guitar. I moved to Murfreesboro to study recording because I wanted to learn how to record my own albums. I thought that in moving to an area with a bigger music scene, there would be more women musicians than there were in South Carolina, but I was disappointed. The music scene was proportionally the same and almost always guys on stage and girls in the audience.
I currently play bass in an old-time country band called Those Darlins. It’s the first all-female group I’ve ever played with and it was girls I met through the camp. We all liked and wanted to play Carter Family songs so we got together and it seemed very natural to begin playing out as a band. We’ve played in Memphis several times partly as camp promotion and it’s been well-received. We are planning to tour soon and this will be the first band I’ve ever toured with!
I’ve played in a lot of bands since high school, but this band is particularly important to me because I didn’t realize how much time I had spent not playing music. Trying to graduate from school and run the camp, I ended up taking two years off from music almost completely. In order to empower others, you also have to empower yourself and stay true to who you are and what you do, so I’m very happy to be playing again.
What is the most important thing you want the Memphis Community to know about this camp?
Not only is music education important, but educating and empowering girls is something I strongly feel will create positive social change. Even if campers never play music again, they leave the camp with a sense of entitlement that carries over into other aspects of their lives, whether it’s as business owners, politicians or interpersonally. Collaboration among girls is not only going to change the face of music, but I believe it will change the world. And of course, I think every parent should send their daughter to rock camp!
What is the most important thing you would like Memphis Parents to know about the camp?
The camp builds character, in a very hands on, do-it-yourself kind of way. Campers do not need any previous experience but there are also many challenging opportunities available, such as the chance to write, rehearse, and perform with a group of musicians. So much of the camp is what the girls bring to the table and that’s why each year is special.
Will the camp be offered in Memphis next summer, and if so will there be any changes to the format?
We are planning to offer the camp in Memphis next summer and the biggest change is that the camp is going to be larger to accomodate more campers. This year was a test pilot to see how putting on the program in another city would go, and we got such great feedback and interest from the community that we feel very welcome, and can’t wait to return for next year’s camp. We are also seeking a larger facility that is set up to cater to a more educational and youth-friendly environment, such as a school or church.
What is the most important thing you need from the Memphis community to make the camp a bigger success than it already was this year?
Initiative. We need local Memphis supporters to fundraise and take initiatives that will help the camp grow. We need sustainable support from Memphis in the form of tabling on behalf of SGRRC at events, organizing fundraising events, and generally helping publicize the camp by telling your friends and family.
What is your average attendance at the camp?
The camp in Murfreesboro has about 80 campers enrolled, and the first year of Memphis hosted 40 campers, but we anticipate having a larger space next summer. Most Memphis campers are local because it is a day-camp, but by local I mean different neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs such as Bartlett and Southaven. In Murfreesboro, we get campers from Nashville, but most come from small towns in Middle Tennessee. The campers in Murfreesboro have come back year after year so there is a varied age range and a lot of 16 and 17 year olds. I noticed in Memphis that a lot of the campers were closer to the 10 to 13 range, and that’s exciting! I hope they will create a tradition of SGRRC Memphis by coming back each year to reunite with camp friends.
Would you be willing to do a joint venture with any of the local Memphis businesses for next summer’s camp?
Absolutely. We are always looking for ways to partner with other organizations to strengthen the program. We are open to ideas on ways for SGRRC to become more established in Memphis and a partnership could go a long way toward that goal.
If local Memphians wanted to contribute to the camp what is the most important item you could use?
A space to hold camp in Memphis. Without donated space, we cannot afford to produce the camp. We’re also very interested in weekend workshops and after school programs that vary on the theme of SGRRC, so there are many different opportunities to partner with local organizations who are doing similar work if they’re interested in hosting one of our programs. For example, it may not need to be a full week to offer a special drum clinic or songwriting workshop during the Fall or Spring.
The other one is money. It may seem obvious, but financial contributions really are the most useful and flexible way to contribute to the camp. Our goal is to have a permanent home base to operate out of and until then, there isn’t anywhere to store large donations like instruments. Having this permanent space will help strengthen all programs of YEAH (the parent nonprofit) and even the SGRRC in Memphis because the resources and donations can be used over and over by many different programs.
We work year-round to produce one week (now two) of camp and there are overhead expenses associated with that. Currently all three directors get compensation on a part-time basis during the summer, but we invest in it all year. It would be great to be able to hire a secretary to return phone calls and help in the office, but that is currently not a possibility. There are just so many ways that additional funding would help us raise the bar and become a more efficient and professional organization. So far, it has been the strength of the program, the mission, and the sweat and tears of many people that has made the camp successful, but I would like to see it grow and become a more sustainable organization.
Is the camp run on a grant? Could you explain how the grant is renewed and the application process?
The Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp is a program of Youth Empowerment Through Arts & Humanities (YEAH), a nonprofit formed to help stabilize and support the camp, with enough flexibility to offer additional arts programs for boys and girls in the future. We’ve never applied for grants because YEAH received federal nonprofit 501(c)3 just a few months ago! This means we are now eligible for grants and that contributions are tax deductible. We’re very excited about this new development and its potential to help sustain the program in the future. I plan to apply for the organization’s first grant this August.