They Put the Amp in Camp


At the Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon, girls ages 8-18 learn to make noise and rock out. We headed up to Portland to see the camp in action: 1) for fun, 2) because it’s totally inspiring (see Today Show videos) and 3) because we’re about to start work on an awesome Rock Camp book, which will come out next spring to coincide with Girls Rock!, a documentary about the camp.

The book’s designer, Jake Gardner, and I arrived at Rock Camp HQ on the eve of 2007’s last summer session. Over the course of the coming week, 90 girls (with varying degrees of musical experience) would form bands–with names like last year’s “What Do U Want from Me” (pictured below), and “The Queen Lightning Cobras.” By the end of the week, they’d perform in a music showcase in front of 600 people.

photo credit: What Do U Want From Me, Shayla Hayson

On Monday morning, the girls poured in from surprisingly far-flung places: Two girls flew in from Sweden, one from Denmark, and others from all over the country. There was a lot of dyed hair and striped socks in the mix. You’d imagine that adolescent girls forced to choose their bands within one hour of meeting each other would be stressful. But the Rock Camp staffers handled it with ease, leading the girls through lots of relaxed and funny get-to-know-your-potential-future-bandmate games. Ultimately the girls gravitated toward their musical tastes –signs posted on the walls read emo, punk, folk, indie, hip hop, etc.–and formed their bands from there.

Two campers spinning for the first time.

After band formation, the girls went to “Rock Block” for musical instruction from professional female musicians. Rock Camp is an amazing place, and has attracted a wide range of indie rock workshop leaders such as Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney and Beth Ditto of The Gossip. At this session, Ditto led vocalists in a warm-up in which each girl shared a dance move with the group (below).


Check it out: If you don’t have a guitar, you can use one from Rock Camp. I like the pink Daisy guitar in back.


By the end of “Rock Block,” Jake and I both decided we wanted to play drums.


With a half day left in Portland, we took a tip from the Rock Camp’s illustrator and zine-making workshop leader, Nicole Georges, and visited the Independent Press Resource Center (IPRC). The IRPC is right next to two of my other favorite Portland places: Powell’s and upstairs from Reading Frenzy. When we arrived at the IPRC, they were right in the middle of a Print Gocco demonstration.

A friendly intern showed us the library of over 4,000 zines and access to letterpresses (a privilege of membership).


Nothing beats finding yourself between a Rock Camp and a zine place.

Christina Amini

Christina Amini

Publishing Director for art books and gift products at Chronicle Books. You can follow her at @christinaamini.

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  • fefe August 17, 2007 at 8:34 am

    for a second, i wish i was under 18 and american!
    can’t wait to see the documentary!


  • Amelia August 18, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Wow, that’s so awesome – I can’t wait for both the book and the documentary to come out!


  • perry August 19, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    How fun Christina. I can’t wait to see the book. Did you check out the video on their Web site? Great clips of their performances.


  • Suzanne August 20, 2007 at 12:27 am

    They are covering all the basis of the creative process. I can’t wait to see their work and feel even more jealous.


  • Ben Lamorte August 20, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Yep, I love it – I think a sex-change and a time-warp would be the only hurdle for me, but assuming that can happen, I’m heading straight for the camp. It’s funny to think that “rock” music feels like going back to our roots in today’s hi-tech environment. The idea of learning electric guitar instead of blasting it through digital MP3 player seems as idyllic to me as writing a novel with a feather-pen by Walden Pond! Thanks for posting and including the images as well.


  • Katie August 21, 2007 at 1:39 am

    I loved this entry. Who knew that this existed? In a world where art education is nearly extinct it is amazingly refreshing to learn that things like this are happening… Thank you for that.


  • Christina Amini August 21, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Hi Perry,

    Yeah, I love the videos on the Rock Camp’s site:
    And just this weekend, it was featured on Nightline:


  • Lindsay August 21, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    This is way cool.. the only thoughts I have are, how can we make this accessible to more girls and women?

    Would the camp consider going to where the kids are too? It would be great to bring this to cities and rural places.. such that kids who might not be able to afford the full cost of camp or who have parents that would not let them go to a sleep-over camp could also benefit from such a life-altering and empowering experience.

    I also wouldn’t mind such a camp for adults.. there are many moments I regret never learning to play an instrument.. and what better way to learn than in the midst of other aspiring female rockers?

    I am looking forward to living vicariously through the girls in the upcoming movie. Thanks for sharing this story!


  • Christina Amini August 21, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Hi Lindsay,

    That’s exactly the idea of the upcoming book: to bring the glory of the camp to girls everywhere. The Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp for Girls is also part of a Girls Rock Alliance, which boasts seven camps all over the world. (There’s even one in Sweden!) They are really interested in accessibility, so they offer financial assistance to young girls who need it most and arrange homestays for girls who don’t live in Portland.

    And, it’s not too late. You, too, could rock out at Ladies Rock Camp (which helps to support the Girls Rock Camp):


  • Eric September 1, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Hey are you guys selling any guitars? if you are can you e-mail me thank you.


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