Allison Hanna had wanted to play guitar since sixth grade, but when she started a rock band in high school she says the music scene “wasn’t very welcoming.”
“I don’t mean that in a malicious way,” says the Ferndale-based musician, now a grown woman. “A lot of the time teenage boys don’t necessarily know what to do with teenage girls, so it’s hard to be included when there’s this perceived fundamental difference.”
Earlier this year Hanna participated in the inaugural year of a new organization aimed at making it easier for young women to tap into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Girls Rock Detroit is the local chapter of a loosely affiliated international group known as the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, which presents band camps that promote self-esteem and empowerment for young women while also teaching them to play rock music together.
GRD held its first weeklong camp this August. The organization is holding a fundraiser concert for upcoming projects Saturday at PJ’s Lager House, featuring Hanna’s band, the Gator, among other local groups.
Detroit-based musician Willa Adamo cofounded GRD with fellow local performers Melissa Coppola and Ros Hartigan after spending several years volunteering at Chicago’s Girls Rock camp and others around the country. Adamo says she and her co-founders felt it was “necessary” for Detroit to have its own.
“We’re trying to create well-rounded female musicians who feel empowered to take a hold of their art and music and what they’re doing, and really power it forward themselves without needing anyone else,” Adamo says.
An all-volunteer staff of over 50 worked with 25 campers at this year’s camp. In addition to basic musical instruction, campers attended workshops on songwriting and how to take care of their gear, promote their own shows and make their own CDs. The camp culminated with a showcase performance at the Detroit Institute of Music Education , featuring all the campers’ newly formed bands playing original compositions.
“At the beginning of the week we have these girls who won’t want to talk to anyone else and won’t even want to touch their instruments because they’re so scared,” Adamo says. “By the end of the week we have these girls who are proud and ready to show the work they’ve done to their family and friends.”
Elise McCoy is the head of recruitment and admissions at DIME. She will perform at this weekend’s fundraiser with her own band, My Pal Val.
“It’s just really inspiring to see that young girls from Detroit now have an opportunity to access rock music, and they now have an opportunity to do that here,” McCoy says. “It’s just not something that’s available in schools or too many other outlets for kids.”
A lengthy waitlist of campers didn’t make it into this year’s camp, so GRD organizers are considering two separate weeks of camp next summer. Hanna says 2016 programming will depend on the outcome of small fundraising efforts like Saturday’s event.
“We aren’t looking to raise seven or eight figures,” she says. “We’re a lot leaner and meaner than that and we can get a lot done for a reasonable amount of fundraising.”
Girls Rock Detroit benefit
with the Gator, My Pal Val, the Vulnerable and Kate Peterson
9 p.m. Saturday
PJ’s Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit