|NATIONAL | summer 2006
Women play it loud at Ladies Rock Camp.
|Above: "Lady" rocker Cindy Thompson of Portland, Photo: Nikki Costa
“Drums are supposed to be loud!” It’s the first day
of Ladies Rock Camp,
and the three of us in the beginning
drum class are tapping timidly at our
snare drums. Our instructor, Shawna,
is trying to dissuade us from this un-rock-’n’-roll approach. “Go ahead
and hit them!” she tells us. “Hard!”
Ladies Rock Camp (LRC) is the
grown-up version of, and a fundraiser
for, the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls
(www.girlsrockcamp.org), a 5-year-old
Portland-based nonprofit that seeks to
enhance girls’ self-esteem through
music. The girls attend for a full week
each summer, but we ladies—38
women ranging in age from 24 to
61—had only a weekend in May to live
out our rock-star fantasies.
After two hours of instrument instruction
on Friday, it was time for band formation. Around the room
hung signs naming musical genres:
Indie Rock. Punk. Hip-Hop/Soul.
We gravitated toward our genre of
choice, then coalesced into bands.
That is, everyone else did. As the
lonely volunteer under the “Country”
sign, I hoped fellow campers
would know I was thinking of indie
country-rocker Neko Case, not
chart-topper Faith Hill. Finally,
along came one kindred spirit, an aspiring
bassist and fellow journalist,
who suggested adding the prefix “alt-”
to the sign. Then others found us: a
pharmacist (guitar), database engineer
(lead vocals) and software development
engineer (guitar and drums).
We called ourselves Dry County, and
together wrote two songs with as
many country images as we could
muster: pickup trucks, whiskey, porches, mamas, dogs and railroad tracks.
“The story of women in rock ’n’
roll is a story of struggle,” singer-songwriter
and Portland State University professor Sarah Dougher
told us at a Saturday workshop. Witness,
she said, Big Mama Thornton’s
saucy, swinging 1953 version of Hound Dog,” then compare it to
the rhythmically simpler, decidedly
more vanilla rendition that made
Elvis a household name three years
later. “To say Elvis ‘stole’
Big Mama Thornton’s
song is not correct,” said
Dougher. To say Big
Mama Thornton was the
victim of racism and sexism
in the music industry
During the rest of the
weekend, we practiced until our voices cracked
and our arms ached.
(“This blister,” said Becca, our bass player, holding her pointer finger aloft, “is a badge of honor!”)
No matter that most of us
had never picked up our
instruments before Friday: On Sunday afternoon,
Dry County and
nine other camper bands performed original songs
before a packed crowd at
the Portland club Nocturnal.
and merchandise sales,
camp tuition and camper donations, the weekend raised some
$10,000 for the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp
At the showcase, I met family members of my fellow campers. “Your wife rocks,” I told several. “Your mom rocks,” I told others.
Whether we returned home as guitar
aficionados or simply women who
had learned to make some noise, that
night we were rock stars, every one.