A Camp for Girl Rock-n-Rollers

Jun 26, 2015

The band Chaotic Inquisition polishes its original song "Dive to the Heart" during Girls Rock Des Moines.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

 The six members of the band known as Chaotic Inquisition are in rehearsal.

They are polishing an original tune for a studio recording session and a concert, which will conclude the two weeks of Girls Rock Des Moines. The camp aims to build confidence in young women ages ten-to-16, and to encourage more of them to pursue music. The founder and executive director of the camp, Rae Fehring, says she was struck by an observation she made while lingering in a store testing instruments.

 “I was in a guitar shop for some 2 ½ hours," she says. "I watched the kids come in and out for their lessons. I didn’t see any girls. None. I was just so surprised.”

Fehring was inspired after watching a documentary about the first Girls Rock camp in Portland, Ore. She brought the concept to Des Moines in 2013. She’s trying to get more girls strumming electric guitars, plucking basses and pounding drums.

The founder and executive director of Girls Rock Des Moines, Rae Fehring.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

“I’ve seen campers who can’t even comfortably hold their instruments the first week," she says. They're awkward, gangly and not sure what to do with it. At the end of two weeks, they’re killing it in a concert in front of people. It’s amazing.”

The lead singer of the group Exodus of Adolescence,14-year-old Kira Stiefvater, is in her first year at Girls Rock.

“I thought it would expand my horizon in the music field," she says. "I thought if I was in a band, that would help me. I’ve always wanted to be in a band.”

Kira’s band mate, 14-year-old guitarist and bass player Isabell Robinson, has attended all three Des Moines camps.

Members of the band Exodus of Adolescence prepare to rehearse.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

“There’s no judgment, there’s no drama, and you’re with people who are doing the exact same thing as you," she says. "It’s really awesome. It’s easy to bounce ideas off of each other, too.”

This supportive environment is evident in a so-called shout-out board, a collection of post-it notes bearing encouraging messages to campers. One reads, “Siera can rock the ukulele after just one day.” Another, “Mila: Never let the shine in your eyes fade.” This positive spirit can also be heard in the pep talk delivered by Fehring during the Chaotic Inquisition’s rehearsal.

“Remember what we talked about yesterday, about being super hard on yourself?" Fehring says. "You have no reason to do that. It sounds fantastic. I am telling you, as a guitar player, I am watching your hands, you are doing it just right.”

The shout-out board at Girls Rock Des Moines
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The lyricist for the song the band is practicing is 12-year-old Stella Logsdon. She’s also the group’s lead vocalist. She says it’s a challenge to be a young songwriter.

“I think the hardest part is just finding something to write about," she says. "We’re 10 or 12 and we all have different experiences. We don’t know anything about love or real struggles or anything.”

What she does know about is the message delivered at Girls Rock camp. Girls are capable of anything as long as they stay true to themselves. This theme is at the heart of the song she and her band mates have written, “Dive to the Heart.”

Stella and 42 other young women have been living a dream the past two weeks. They’ve been killing it in rock-n-roll bands.