"This year's song better not be lame," yells Carly Pittman, a preternaturally self-assured 12-year-old with a sandy blond bob and a feisty attitude. The organizers of Girls Rock NC are finishing the theme song for this year's band camp. One of the most spirited campers, Pittman demands that this year's song must rule.
"It's a really great way to express yourself," says Pittman, who's back for her third year of camp. Her new band, One Two Many, has been in existence for about 96 hours. "And here you don't get judged on what music you like or what clothes you wear."
Now in its sixth year, Girls Rock NC gives Triangle girls between the ages of 7 and 17 a crash course in rock 'n' roll. During the weeklong program, girls fresh out of first grade learn the basics of playing an instrument, writing songs, making a zine and working together as a team. The goal, the organizers agree, is to help girls realize their creative potential while giving them the role models and self-confidence to set out on an equal footing with their male peers, even in a male-dominated realm like rock music.
The first Girls Rock camp opened in Portland, Ore., in 2001 and has since spread to more than 20 worldwide locations. Girls Rock has grown steadily in this state since 2003, even spawning an associated Women's Rock camp and inspiring a coed rock program by area drummer Matt Vooris.
"When we started six years ago, we had 29 girls," says Amelia Shull, executive director of Girls Rock NC. "Now we have 100. And new chapters are opening up all the time, but we've been doing it here in North Carolina as long as anyone."
Today, on the last day of the Chatham County camp, the girls take the stage for their final rehearsal. At one point, a tiny guitarist hits her knees in a rock-star pose, wielding a bass guitar as big as she is, gleefully hammering out a stream of open-fret thunder. Her bandmates shred and bash along.
"Every good rock song has a freak-out," says Shull, laughing, referring to the song structure taught at Girls Rock—verse, chorus and, of course, that freak-out. "It's become our calling card."
Girls Rock NC presents a showcase of this summer's bands at the Cat's Cradle Saturday, July 18, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.