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Girls Rock in Vegas

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Ashley Lybarger sat behind a drum set for the first time only last week. She is participating in Girls Rock Vegas, a Las Vegas summer camp that provides young girls with rock music instruction, promotes self expression and provides support.
Photo: Deanna Rilling

“You rock!” shout 13 female voices.

Taking over three classrooms at Rose Warren Elementary School last week, three all-girl bands picked up their instruments and got to writing original music. Perhaps the next Ani DiFranco, Me'Shell Ndegéocello, Liz Phair or Cindy Blackman could be in the room.

The potential is endless, the experience nil. They’re all between the ages of 9 and 17 and most have never played a single note before.

Las Estrellas Musicales, from left, Angelica Baustista, Jessica Arroyo-Moreno, Jamilet Arroyo-Moreno, Valeria Sotelo, are one of the girl bands at Girls Rock Vegas, a Las Vegas summer camp that provides young girls with rock music instruction, promotes self expression and provides support.

“It’s been a series of small miracles,” says camp director and fifth grade teacher Heather Rampton. From finding a location to establishing funding for the start-up non-profit, the Girls Rock Vegas camp has been about a year in the making. With a staff made up entirely of volunteers, the camp became a reality last week.

“I saw the Girls Rock documentary in the theater,” Rampton says. “After seeing the film, I wished we had something like that in Vegas.”

A graduate of the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts, Rampton studied percussion and has been involved in music since she was young. In addition, she is joined by two other LVA alums and Clark County School District teachers, Candice Chun and Melissa Fabbi. The rest of the camp’s counselors are also licensed teachers, professional musicians, artists and a lawyer (who doubled as a roadie for the camp)—all of whom have donated money in addition to their time.

The Shooting Starz, an all-girl band at Girls Rock Vegas, are from left: MykKayla Hall, Rosa Ruiz, Kaitlyn May, Victoria Santos and Casey Van Hoos. The Las Vegas summer camp provides young girls with rock music instruction, promotes self expression and provides support.

The camp is about more than just teaching a group of girls to play a song or two. “We hope to give them an outlet for self-expression,” Rampton says. “We wanted to build a community of support. I think it’s different when boys are there—they feel secondary. We didn’t want them to worry about, ‘Will the boys like me?’”

Rampton has noticed girls’ self-confidence dramatically plummet between third and fifth grade as a result of images in the media and peer pressure. By creating an environment free from adolescent worries, the young women can focus on the task at hand: rocking out.

"The Flaming Skulls of Death," an all-girl band at Girls Rock Vegas, are Candace Chun (an instructor at the camp), Jessie Lea, Ashley Lybarger, Tahirra Jackson and Nona Fuller. The Las Vegas summer camp provides young girls with rock music instruction, promotes self expression and provides support.

Thirteen girls from around the Valley signed up for the camp. Divided into groups based on levels of musical ability and experience, the campers then came up with band names, wrote original songs, created logos, practiced and performed their first gig.

All in five days.

“Our band’s name is the Flaming Skulls of Death!” laughs camper Nona F. “Our song is so happy, we wanted to have a dark name. It took two days to write and it’s a really positive song.” Nona began playing guitar about a year ago with her father’s help and continued learning on her own. “It’d be cool if it was a month,” says Nona of the camp. “I like to express myself through music and it’s an escape from everything else.”

Girls Rock Vegas

Casey V., singer for the five-day-old band Shooting Starz, enjoyed writing poems at home before coming to Girls Rock. “I wrote the first part and our band wrote the second,” she says of her band’s song. “I like to write and want to be an author someday.”

Picking up an instrument for the first time was Ashley L. who “just decided” playing the drums was something she’s like to try when she showed up on the first day. Shooting Starz’ bassist Kaitlyn M. was also new to music. “I’m borrowing [a bass] for camp, but I might ask my parents for one,” she says, adding that she hopes to continue to learn how to play.

For the Girls Rock camp, Daisy Rock Guitars donated two guitars, two amps and a bass for the girls while House of Guitars in Salt Lake City gave the camp a discount on accessories. Additional instruments were purchased with donations or borrowed from local musicians. All of the girls attending received financial aid and paid on a sliding scale to cover additional cost of operations. To culminate the camp experience, the bands performed a free showcase at Sam Ash Music on Saturday.

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“Our goal is to reach 100 girls by the end of next year,” says Rampton. Next summer, she hopes to extend the Girls Rock camp to at least two sessions. They’re also teaming up with the After-School All Stars to try and create a Girls Rock program two or three days per week in the fall. Rampton would also like to form a Ladies Rock Camp for women in the future. So step aside boys. Looks like it’s your time to be groupies and scream for the new breed of rockstars from the foot of the stage.

For more information and to make a donation, e-mail girlsrockvegas@gmail.com.

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