This Summer Rock Camp Inspires Innovation Through Music
By Laura Pochodylo
When you think summer camp, you’re probably thinking s’mores, canoeing, and crafts, not guitars, drums, and music theory.
Summer camp in Music City looks a little different thanks to Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Humanities (YEAH), a nonprofit that runs a variety of music-based educational programs including Rock Camp.
YEAH was founded in 2006 amidst the growing success of its Southern Girls Rock Camp program, which is one of their multiple musical camp offerings today. Other varieties of Rock Camp include their Tennessee Teens Rock Camp, Rock Block, and Ladies Rock Camp.
The week-long Southern Girls Rock Camp and Tennessee Teens Rock Camp focus on teaching developing musicians everything they need to know about their chosen instruments and being in a band, which doesn’t stop at just music. In addition to music theory and performance training, campers attend workshops on podcasting, making merchandise and guitar pedals, booking and promotion, and more. The camps also encourage open expression and activism.
“Rock Camps aim to build a world with and for youth where multi-layered oppressions are examined and dismantled through music-making and interpersonal connections,” says Sarah Bandy, YEAH’s executive director. “At the heart of that is the idea that more voices make a better, more nuanced conversation, and centering that is imperative for the movement.”
You don’t have to be a rockstar to attend Rock Camp, but you’ll certainly leave feeling like one. The camp, which pairs any aspiring talent with accomplished mentors from the Nashville community, welcomes all levels of experience.
“I think the biggest misconception is that you have to be an ultimate shredder in order to be a part of any program at YEAH,” Bandy says. “That’s not true!”
“There is no such thing as being too much of a beginner or too shy,” YEAH’s Programming Director Hailey Rowe explains. “There is always a place for every single person in the band. Camp is such a warm and supportive environment that you won’t feel weird being a beginner at all, and almost half of our campers at all programs usually are.”
Rowe speaks from experience, having been a camper before becoming a volunteer and ultimately YEAH’s programming director.
“I went to camp for three years, and in that time, I really changed a lot. Year one, I was an incredibly shy girl who didn’t feel confident until [the last day of camp],” Rowe reflects.
“By year three, I was one of the oldest kids and most advanced. I would have never thought my camp experience, which was life changing, would take me to where I am now with YEAH.”
Rowe’s past experience as a camper continues to inform her work relating to campers today, helping her understand how to make the experience great for campers from their perspective. And she’s not alone: More than 20 percent of YEAH’s Rock Camp volunteers were once campers.
The community built around the camp is what makes it happen each year. Volunteer mentors lend their time, and YEAH works hard to fundraise for camp costs and scholarships to ease financial barriers to participating. More than 40 percent of participating youth come on scholarship to camp, and YEAH provided more than $13,000 in scholarship funds last year.
“Our programs only work because of each person that believes in it and brings their time, energy, and knowledge to the work,” Bandy says.
While Rock Camp is fun, learning the ins and outs of becoming a musician can be frustrating and intimidating. But that’s where the family-like community comes in handy.
“I’m constantly surprised by the commitment from the mentors that make the program work and the bravery of the campers,” Bandy says. “Every year, I’m blown away by the way that they take chances and support each other through difficult conversations and musical growth.”
Bandy, Rowe, and the rest of the YEAH staff and volunteers are gearing up for multiple camp sessions in July and looking forward to their favorite parts of camp.
“I’m always excited to meet new campers and watch Rock Camp spread its magic on unsuspecting future rockers and activists,” Rowe says.
“So far, we have a ton of new kids, and it’s really special to see that we’ll have so many people to empower who haven’t been here yet.”
Lead photo courtesy of YEAH