By Faith Duarte
At first glance, nothing appears out of the ordinary walking up to the Limelight July 22. From the outside, one hears a band wrap up a final sound check as attendees wander in and out of the venue before the show, seeking familiar faces. Until, once inside, one notices that the band about to play and audience demographic is atypical of most other shows at the St. Mary’s strip staple: a band that can’t be any older than early high school, children and parents making their way to the front of the stage for a decent view of their siblings and daughters.
Finally, a glance at the marquee outside: This is the showcase of the first ever San Antonio Girls Rock Camp.
Over the course of the camp, which took place July 17-21 at Douglass Elementary School, the students learn the basics of their chosen instruments, form a band, create original material and finally perform for their camp mates and families in a culmination of the camp.
For co-founders Tiffany Farias-Sokoloski, Echo Diaz and Megan McLeod, the goal is to enable the girls to use the skills learned at the camp in their future endeavors, musical or otherwise. It demonstrates music as a vehicle of expression, and provides the campers with and communication skills they can use outside the camp.
“Our main goal is to use music as a tool, so that way girls can use that to express themselves artistically, and to feel confident and know that if they want to try something different, they can,” Farias-Sokoloski says before the showcase. “We’re using music as a way to teach that lesson.”
The local chapter is part of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a nonprofit organization with more than 90 rock camps worldwide. Diaz says she realized that San Antonio was one of the few major cities in Texas that didn’t have a camp, and after volunteering at one in Austin, decided to organize one here.
The 14 participants, ages 11-14, had a range of musical experiences, from some who had previously played in bands of their own, to some who had participated in their school choir and open mic nights, to complete novices picking up an instrument for the first time.
“The really cool thing is that even the girls that did have experience that they were bringing to the camp in one particular instrument, they wound up being the ones to try something different,” Farias-Sokoloski says. “It was really neat, it was really cool to see.”
“In five days they learn how to form a band, write a song—or songs,” Diaz says, emphasizing the plurality.
The three bands performing that afternoon, Beginning of Everything, Dirty Rotten Eggs and Dream Place, each performed at least one original song and one cover.
McLeod adds, “We just expected one song (from each band), but they ran with it.”
Additionally, the camp curriculum also included workshops in DIY screen-printing, body positivity, gender and diversity, history of women in rock ‘n’ roll, and—perhaps the most essential—healthy relationships and communication.
During the camp, the founders noted the communication workshop helped the campers work through their ideas organically and amongst themselves.
“To see how they were each going to bring their instrument to create that original song, and it was beautiful,” Farias-Sokoloski says.
Ultimately, the camp presented a welcome challenge for the students that helped them bond like they had known each other for years. Backstage after their set, members of Dream Place detailed how they were able to arrange their instruments and lyrics into material like a band that had been together for longer than a week. They also intend to continue as a band long after the camp.
“Performing with these people, at the start we didn’t know each other, but throughout the whole week, we cooperated with each other,” says bassist Lilly Tijerina, 13, backstage after their set. “And we made a difference, to show people, us, as young people, what girls can really do.”
According to McLeod, female empowerment, encouragement and sense of community were the most important principles of the camp.
“I think that was palpable throughout being at the camp,” she says. “That sense of having each other’s backs, and wanting to get up on stage and be bold, and rock out together. That feeling that you get from that, just really takes them forward.”
The camp teaches students that one can be both individual and successful, and feel empowered by other like-minded girls, Diaz says.
“I really wanted them to take away that if they really want to do something, they can do it, and they don’t need to seek approval,” Farias-Sokoloski says. If that’s what they want to do, and that’s what going to make them happy, then they can do it.”
Diaz and Farias-Sokoloski, who have played in projects of their own and with each other, wanted to demonstrate to the students that anything is possible, and saw that ambition materialize within the bands.
“Echo and I, throughout the week, we tried to share bits and pieces of why we put this together, and also model for them that if you’re going to make it work, if you have that dream—whatever it is, to start a rock camp, to start a band—it’s going to happen,” Farias-Sokoloski says.
For Diaz, the camp is a labor of love.
“Each day I felt a moment of Zen, and a feeling of gratitude when I’d see these girls really be happy with what they could achieve, and all of us getting together as volunteers and putting our hearts into this,” she says. “Each day was a small gift for me.”
Farias-Sokoloski’s voice breaks and her eyes well as she recalls how her year for planning an idea that was initially an abstraction finally came to fruition, from fundraising to showcase.
“Planning all year for something, and constantly being in a state of planning, and then being in that moment and having that space and time to reflect and realize, ‘This is happening, and it wasn’t here before,” she says. “To do this with my friends, who believe in it too, it just means a lot, so that was definitely a really important thing for me.”
More information on the camp is available at sarockcamp.org.