Sunday, October 05, 2014

Girls Rock NC and the Power of Music

This past weekend I went on a short and much needed adventure to nearby Carroboro, a small town less than three hours from Wilmington. K, D, and I had tickets to the Girls Rock NC 10th Anniversary show, which I'd been looking forward to for months. What is Girls Rock NC? From their website
Girls Rock North Carolina is a non-profit organization in central North Carolina that empowers girls and women -- through creative expression -- to become confident and engaged members of our communities. We accomplish this by focusing on the"three Cs": creativity, confidence, and collaboration.
GRNC's biggest program is Summer Rock Camp for Girls, a one week summer program in which girls form bands, write original music with their peers, attend workshops, and perform their songs for a community at a concert at the end of the week.  
In other words: the coolest thing ever invented for teenaged girls. Learning about Girls Rock NC and seeing so many of the young attendees at the show Saturday night was probably the first and only time I've ever wished I could be 14 years old again. And that's saying a lot. 

The day was great from beginning to end. We stayed with some friends of K and D, who were kind and generous and made us a delicious breakfast the next morning before we headed back to Wilmington. We rocked out during the Saturday afternoon showcase performance, featuring girls who were camp alumni. We ate at a small bar near Cat's Cradle, where the concert was being held, and convinced Sally to drive over from Winston-Salem to meet us for dinner. Sally, like the majority of my MFA friends, left Wilmington post-graduation, so it was wonderful to see her and catch up. And then K and D and I went to the show, and I'm really not sure how to put that particular experience into words, but I will try. 

We saw three bands, mostly because we didn't want to give up our spot at the very front of the stage to see what was happening on the smaller stage in another room. This ended up working well - there was about thirty minutes in between bands, which was just enough time to get another beer, use the restroom, and gush about how great the performance we just saw had been. Mount Moriah was fun and lovely, and Ex Hex completely owned the stage.  And the final show of the night was none other than The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna's new band. Needless to say, it was the performance the crowd was most excited to see. 

If you don't know who Kathleen Hanna is or why she's important, I highly recommend the documentary The Punk Singer, which you can watch right this very second on Netflix Instant. Basically, she's sort of the mother of the riot grrl movement, a feminist icon who paved the way for female performers by not giving a fuck. She's powerful, unapologetic, talented, and really, really fun. I first fell in love with her in college, and to this day Le Tigre is one of my top three favorite bands. The Julie Ruin has a similar sound - fun, energetic, and full of the same pro-women messages. Plus did I mention we were right up front for most of their set? Simply amazing. 

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was the crowd. It was about 75% teenaged girls, girls who'd been to rock camp, girls who were just discovering feminism for the first time, girls who had only begun to glimpse their own power and potential. Watching them scream for the bands on stage, sing along and dance to the music, hug one another in sheer joy and excitement, made me so goddamn happy, and reminded me that music can change a person's life. I remembered when I was that age, discovering Ani DiFrance for the first time, and how her lyrics and her story helped me take my first steps toward feminism. Listening to Ani's songs opened my mind to options I didn't even know I had. Watching as that moment I knew so well unfolded for a new generation was more than powerful. It was a privilege. 

At one point, between songs, Kathleen Hanna spoke directly to the girls. "I know a lot of you wish you were alive in the 90s, that you feel like you missed out on something. But you need to understand that back then, it wasn't so great. No one listened to me, no one believed in me, no one paid attention to what I was doing. You're lucky to be alive now. You're lucky that this is your time." I'm paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. It was a great message, for the girls and for me. 

Another great message I heard and loved was part of an awesome Girls Rock tradition. Someone yells out, "Hey girls, what's your instrument?" And the girls shout back, loud and proud: "It's my voice!" 

It's my voice. Damn straight it is. 

(And if you think Girls Rock is as awesome as I do, please consider donating to the cause. It's definitely worth a few dollars.)