Sam Stahlmann began taking lessons from St. Louis Park resident Jenny Case as an 11-year-old, and now helps Case lead an effort to introduce girls and women to playing rock ‘n’ roll.
Case founded She Rock She Rock about a decade ago, about two years after she began providing lessons to Stahlmann.
Case founded She Rock She Rock, then called Girls Rock n Roll Retreat or GRRR, after learning about the Girls Rock Camp Alliance and similar programs in places like Portland, Oregon, and Sweden. When Case announced she planned to conduct a camp session in 2007 at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Stahlmann was the first girl to sign up.
“One thing I really loved with lessons from her is we got to write my own songs and record them at her studio,” Stahlmann said. “I was always into songwriting and I wanted more than anything to be in an all-girl band. One day she told me she was doing a girls rock ‘n’ roll retreat, and I got really excited about it and told my parents about it.”
Stahlmann’s parents registered her for the camp, an experience she said changed her life significantly.
“I was kind of the weirdo at my school,” Stahlmann said. “I had my few friends, but it was the first time I felt really comfortable in a room of 50 people, and I just remember feeling so excited seeing all these amazing women instructors absolutely killing it on their instruments.”
Of her experiences, Stahlmann said, “It’s given me the confidence to go into the world and be the weirdo that I am and embrace that.”
At the camp, she found the bandmates she sought. They initially went by the name Half Demon Doll but decided to change it to Cadence & the Wolf to avoid the perception that they were a metal band, Stahlmann said. A biography for the band on First Avenue’s web page notes the four-piece band won a Rock Meets the Runway contest at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City’s Times Square the year after they met at the rock camp.
“We’ve been a band for 10 years now, which is kind of crazy,” Stahlmann said. “We don’t play a lot of shows, but we still practice a decent amount and we still somehow get along.”
All of the band members became teachers at She Rock She Rock, and Stahlmann credits the band’s longevity to the values they learned while teaching.
“We teach campers to listen to everyone and try everyone’s ideas and speak up if you’re feeling upset, and we really value all of that and practice that in our own band,” Stahlmann said.
Since its foundation, She Rock She Rock has grown to offer two girls rock camp sessions at Laura Jeffrey Academy in St. Paul and two in the west metro. The western camps have been at the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins. The camps will move with the school to Eden Prairie this year.
She Rock She Rock also offers a ladies rock camp for women “18-118,” Case said. She estimated that the average age of participants is in the 50s and said the camp includes many women who are empty-nesters or who have been putting off music their whole lives and want to give it a try. She Rock She Rock also offers classes for girls and women during the school year at Lake Harriet House of Music in Minneapolis.
Girls and women can perform on stage 2-5 p.m. the first Sunday of every other month at The Depot Coffee House in Hopkins. Case described the experience as “live band karaoke.” The next session, June 4, will feature performances by participants in a women’s classic rock workshop.
More than rock
Case said the Girls Rock Camp Alliance formed out of the Riot Grrrl movement, which The British Library describes as an international underground feminist movement that emerged from West Coast American alternative and punk scenes in the 1990s.
Girls rock camps give girls and women a voice and also provide social justice activism and media literacy, Case said.
“We just break down a lot of stereotypes and get them to start thinking critically about the way everything is in society,” Case said. “In addition to media literacy, we’re going to have some civic and news literacy as well, probably branching a little bit more into women in politics and how they’re viewed.”
Views at She Rock She Rock camps tend to be progressive, Case said. She noted that a young girl wrote a song called “Forty-four Presidents and None of Them are Girls” while another song last year had the title “Dump That Trump.”
“The girls write all the music themselves in their bands,” Case said. “It’s all original music. A lot of times they have a lot to say.”
Stahlmann said, “We just really want them to use their platform to use their voice and tell whatever story they want to tell with whatever means they want to tell it.”
Many girls return to become junior counselors at rock camps and then become paid interns, Case said. A youth advisory board encourages members to gain leadership skills.
Changing the music scene
Part of the inspiration for She Rock She Rock is that women who play instruments are underrepresented in pop and rock music, Case said. Many girls have not considered becoming a drummer, a sound engineer or engaging in other work in the rock music industry.
“It’s not on their radar because they don’t see it represented in the media at all,” Case said.
Stahlmann said more women are part of the local music scene than in the past but that there are still relatively few female role models in the rock industry to inspire girls.
“I think it’s just not on their radar because they don’t see other women playing guitar, playing bass, playing drums,” Stahlmann said. “When you do enter it and do pick up a guitar, it can be extremely intimidating and you can face a huge amount of sexism.”
She recalled hearing comments when she went to perform at shows about whether she intended to sing karaoke or whether her amplifier belonged to a boyfriend. She recalled asking a man a question about amplifiers and being told that the girlfriends of band members were not supposed to be in the location.
“Just things like that pop up, and it can be really tough to stick it out in the music scene,” Stahlmann said.
However, she said she can fall back on the encouragement of the She Rock She Rock community.
“That’s been really extremely huge to know that I’m not in it alone,” Stahlmann said.
Not all rock camp participants become musicians, but Case said many of them have gone on to major in women’s studies in college.
“If they walk out of camp and they keep playing music, that’s great, but if they walk out of camp and don’t keep playing music but all of a sudden they have discovered their sense of agency and run for city council or become CEO of an organization, that is what we want them to believe and empower them that they can be anything they want and be educated with a new set of eyes, too,” Case said.
Stahlmann added that She Rock She Rock allows participants to share their opinions and talk about topics that are important to them.
“That’s what we’re all about is giving them a place to be themselves and to share anything on their minds, whether it’s cupcakes or unicorns or gender identity or politics or anything,” Stahlmann said.
The leaders of Girls Rock n Roll Retreat decided to go with the name She Rock She Rock to be inclusive of women as well as girls.
Additionally, the organization recently created an inclusion statement that says, “While She Rock She Rock was founded to serve girls and women, we celebrate the diversity of gender identity and expression. She Rock She Rock embraces and supports program participants, teachers and staff who identify as female, gender non-conforming, genderqueer and trans. We also acknowledge this is an evolving and shifting conversation, and we strive to grow and evolve with the conversation.”
The change arose because Laura Jeffrey Academy required She Rock She Rock to do so to continue offering camps at the St. Paul charter school, but Case said She Rock She Rock leaders had been having a conversation on the issue already.
“It was their policy that got us to make the leap, and we’re really excited about it,” Case said.
To learn more about the organization, visit sherocksherock.org.
Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]