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At the Girls Rock 'N' Roll Retreat, campers play loud

At the Girls Rock 'N' Roll Retreat, campers play loud

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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - The Bubble Slap Babes were moments away from their debut as they screamed the lyrics to their tune "Liar" backstage and a standing-room-only crowd filled the theater. Pink and heart-shaped guitars stood propped in the limelight.

These teens and five other all-girl bands had logged hours of rehearsal time for their first five minutes of rock 'n' roll fame: a couple of two- to three-minute songs performed July 13 in front of about 200 relatives and friends. They were ready to toss some sass with their fuchsia hair, layers of purple eye shadow and tie-dye threads. Naturally, they were a little nervous too.

"I have three butterflies in my stomach right now," said guitarist Kandace Akervik, 15, as she raced through a hallway to join her bandmates.

Like nearly half of the other girls headlining the show, Akervik had her first lesson in rock just five days earlier when the Girls Rock 'n' Roll Retreat, or GRRR, kicked off at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley.

The camp, put on by Women in Music Minnesota, is modeled after programs in cities from Seattle to London that specialize in boosting "girl power." Most hold self-esteem and self-defense classes between jam sessions.

"The reason why we're separating them from the boys isn't to gender-fy music," said Brenda King, a local musician whose day job is working backstage at local concerts. "But, you know, there's a lot of wanting to look cute for the boys and 'Are my feet too big?' "

At this camp, they can let worries like these go for a week, she said.

The inspiration for the retreat was the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., started in 2001. New York's Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls debuted four summers later. This year, some 400 girls have registered for those two camps, which are part of the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance that Portland's staffers founded.

"I'm hoping to be at their meetings next year," said Jenny Case, music director of last week's Minneapolis camp. "I'm sure that they've got some fantastic ideas with what more we can do with body image (clinics)."

The Twin Cities camp registered 35 aspiring rock stars ages 9 to 17, divided into six bands based on age, instrument and experience. Tuition was $350, a rate lowered for students who qualified for financial aid, and girls were responsible for either bringing their own instrument or renting one.

Having filled guitar and lead singing slots two months ago, GRRR turned 15 girls away. Recruiting drummers and bass players was a tougher feat, said Case, who counted stereotypes of women being the singers as a reason.

"I want those girls playing electric guitar, bass and drums, and get them rocking out," she said, pumping her fist. "I just compare all of the woman musicians and most of them are singers - to me, singing was second to playing an instrument."

With pink dye running through strands of her blond hair and speech peppered with yells of "rock out, "yeah" and "woo-hoo," it's hard to imagine Case, 31, as the "quiet sister" she says she was as a teenager. Still, memories of her shy, awkward "Wonder Years" didn't stop her or the other teachers - dubbed "band managers" at this camp - from getting students to show their wilder sides.

On day one, Gwen Mitchell, a yoga teacher and musician from Chicago asked girls - some so tiny that their feet dangled from their chairs - to give attitude while strumming and perfecting finger positions.

Each got three shots at revealing their inner rock star. Some squinted, others tossed their hair, and a couple were too shy yet to let loose. What did they think of it all?

"The first time, kind of stupid," said Hailey Jacobsen, 14. "The third time it was like, 'Yeah man."'

By the end of the hour they received an assignment. Mitchell asked them to strike a chord, hit a move, flash a look or do anything that would force her to say, "Oh, that's so sinister."

Down the hallway, the bands' vocalists filled the room with a different tune. They practiced scales a capella, like a choir prepping to sing Bach. That is, until ending with a collective scream: "Woo!"

Next came band practice.

Girls at GRRR couldn't yell loud enough, and sprinted barefoot past Perpich's lockers and photo displays. Sammi Trammel, a quiet 10-year-old with an easy smile, wasn't shy about zipping through the theater in a pair of rad lime-green high-tops while she took a break from her bass. She was a member of Avilias, a name her bandmates picked because it was "almost 'saliva' spelled backwards."

Chomping on gum appeared to be fine by band managers, too. Blowing bubbles became a trademark move for the five Bubble Slap Babes by day three. But were they truly sinister? Not quite yet.

Besides requiring students to sign in and out each day and refusing to let those with experience play cover songs, staffers and volunteers had few rules to enforce.

"Rules? No, chuck the rules," said Karen Gustafson, the camp's director and a psychologist. "We're not trying to cramp their style."

Style for lots of the campers meant fingerless fishnet gloves and huge sunglasses that could have made even a circa-1973 Elton John a bit envious. It also meant stepping out and trying new things. Not a problem for 14-year-old Brittany Robinson, one of the Bubble Slap Babe guitarists.

"If I have to do something alone I will," she said with a shrug. "I'm weird."

"You're not weird, you're different," said bandmate and singer Abi Hart.

"And different is good," drummer Lauren Kopka chimed in.

Other bands at the camp included Half Demon Doll, 2 Few Anonymous and Sugar n' Spice. The band with the youngest campers picked the name Chocolate Metal 58, or CM58. They were as "sweet as chocolate by day and hard as metal by night." They tagged "58" to the end because it was the sum of their ages.

Singing over the amplified bass and guitars was a tough gig for these young rockers at the finale concert. But when joining for a chorus, their lyrics rang clear and had the crowd rolling.

"We're bad girls on the run, getting into lots of dirty fun. We're bittersweet, bittersweet …," they sang.

Technical difficulties brought the Bubble Slap Babes' act to a halt just after they had sprung into the spotlight. When the keyboard went dead, all the Babes could do was keep their cool onstage. The pause lasted a minute.

Then, "boom." A chord blew out of the speakers.

The house roared, laughter followed and the girls played their two songs: one metal, the other soft rock. They exited stage left with a final shout out: "Thanks Minneapolis."

Now that was so sinister.

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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