Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls

From the Awkward Turtles Facebook page.

Kara, I thought I would post part of this story I did that got killed, mainly cause I would hate for no one to hear this Kathleen quote and these crazy-moving comments by the campers!

I’m sure most of our readers know about Willie Mae, but for those who don’t, it’s about as 90s-Ideal as it gets, but the girls’ bands are so Now.

I talked to members of the Awkward Turtles and Le Saffire and then listened to their stuff online and they are great! Seriously, add them to your iTunes!

I tried to talk two of my honorary teen goddaughters into coming to the city for a week and going to the camp, but they both have summer jobs. Next year.

Okay, here’s some reportin’:

Photo by Jeff Harrow. Pictured: Annika Scilipote, Soreya Scilipote, Charlotte Harrow, Sonya Harrow

The Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a one-week summer day camp for girls 8-18 who love rock ‘n roll, is celebrating its five-year anniversary. This year the camp will be bigger than ever, serving 170 campers instead of the original 66, and it has just opened a year-round music and mentoring center for women and girls in Clinton Hill.

“I’ve been a Girl Scout troop leader and Willie Mae is a great alternative,” says Ginger Bennett, a camp volunteer and the mother of two girls who have attended the camp for the past four years. “The fame thing is really low-key at the camp. Like one day MTV is there at lunch and nobody even seems to care. It’s just, Oh, there’s MTV. At the camp, nobody is a star and yet everybody is a star.”

On a typical camp day, visiting artists like Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls come to inspire the girls in between their music classes and workshops.

“They had bands perform for us while we were eating,” recalls Kristal Beane, 14, bass player in the Awkward Turtles. “So we could jump around and scream in the cafeteria during lunch. I didn’t want camp to end.”

At the end of the week, the girls play a big show at a real NYC rock club, and some continue performing as professional musicians in the city.

The camp-created band Saffire has since played Lincoln Center’s “Out of Doors” concert series, and they got to introduce Kaki King at one event and to be introduced by Kathleen Hanna at another. When they performed at BAM on Halloween, they dressed up as — who else? — The Ramones.

“When you’re there [at camp] you feel like you’re home,” says Annika Scilipote, 12, who writes most of Saffire’s music. “If you’re good or bad at an instrument no one really cares,” says her sister and band-mate, Soreya, 14. “Everyone supports whatever you want to do.” In fact, many of the girls arrive at camp never having picked up an instrument.

Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of pop band Le Tigre (whose hit “Deceptacon” is a camper favorite) and of the hugely influential punk-rock band Bikini Kill, says of Willie Mae, “The first time I went there I thought it was a dream my friends and I had come true. A lot of what we wanted to do in Riot Grrrl was getting more girls to play music. But we never realized that. Willie Mae actually set up the structure and fulfilled the promise.”

So, why should parents want their kids to learn electric guitar and T-shirt printmaking rather than badminton and canoeing?

“We hear all the time that the girls have their best school year ever after coming to rock camp,” says Karla Schickele, the camp’s executive director, who notes that the final application deadline is May 17th. “The girls get such a boost in confidence from writing and performing their own music. That carries through the whole rest of the year.”

“The camp is amazing,” confirms fifteen-year-old Midwood student Aziza Akhmatova, the Awkward Turtles’ guitar player. The Belle Harbor 15-year-old says the best song her camp band has written is called “B41,” after the NYC bus:

“It’s about being a teenage girl and having a terrible day. She misses the bus and this happens and that happens, but at the end she gets to hang out with her friends. And then everything is cool.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls

  1. Dawn.

    Willie Mae sounds like a little slice of heaven. If I have kids, and I have a grrrl, I would most definitely send her to Willie Mae to get schooled on being awesome.

  2. Pingback: “Riot Grrrl” as 2011 Musical Genre | 90sWoman.com

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