Rock Camp SLC: A New Generation of Bowie and Boy George
As a self-proclaimed “front-row concert goer,” Hillary McDaniel was “the kind of person that gets there at noon and tailgates all day. I’m a music fan first and foremost,” she says. In 2016, McDaniel found herself pursuing music by attending a summer camp in Los Angeles held by Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a nonprofit organization that funds camps all over the US. “The music industry in general is very male-gender dominated. It really spoke to my heart and kind of changed my relationship with music,” she says.
When McDaniel returned to SLC that summer, she worked with her friends and future co-founders Talia Keys, Amy Stocks and Shell Danis to form what would become Rock Camp SLC—a day camp that provides a social and musical safe space for girls and LGBTQ+ kids. They called around to borrow instruments and created a program that year under the name Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls. By the summer of 2017, they were a registered nonprofit and held multiple programs each summer.
“We’ve got kids who are like, eight and nine years old and writing songs about dogs and cats, and we’ve got 16 year olds writing songs about ‘keep your laws off my body,’ things like that,”
With the help of orgs such as Girls Rock Camp Alliance and Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, Rock Camp has gone on to broaden its reach to include all members of the LGBTQ+ community. McDaniel says they “try to create this environment where there’s just so much freedom to express themselves however they feel like they need to.” Further, she described the importance of releasing pressure for kids to have their gender completely configured at such a young age. “If that means you want to start your day with he/him pronouns, and by lunchtime you’re using they/them and you want to use she/her later—all of that is valid.”
As each camp spans the course of a week, McDaniel describes a typical day at camp as starting with a morning assembly to pump everybody up. The kids are given time to learn from volunteer instrument instructors and attend workshops that cover everything from songwriting to community care and mental health. Campers are also treated to a Tiny Lunch Concert; “We get a local band that’s [a] female-, trans- or nonbinary-fronted band to come and play,” McDaniel says.
Later, campers head to band practice where they’re paired in groups similar in age and interests. “We’ve got kids who are like, eight and nine years old and writing songs about dogs and cats, and we’ve got 16 year olds writing songs about ‘keep your laws off my body,’ things like that,” says McDaniel. Even when the age groups vary further, she says, “these kids still find ways to come together and find things in common.”
During band practice, campers can connect, talk about their passions and are tasked with writing a song to perform at a local venue for the end-of-the-week show that is open to the public. In addition to showgoers of these concerts, McDaniel says volunteers are the biggest need they have right now. “So many people who come to camp as volunteers are really healing some of [their own] childhood wounds that they had while maybe feeling left out, isolated or picked on,” she says. “They’re able to show up as a volunteer in these spaces and see a kid who’s sitting alone and go and be that adult that they wish they’d had when they were a kid.”
“The music industry in general is very male-gender dominated. It really spoke to my heart and kind of changed my relationship with music,”
Rock Camp SLC prides itself on being financially accessible for any camper, and they rely on volunteers to maintain this. This year there will be two programs, the first from June 12–17 and the second July 17–22. They’ll both be located at East Hollywood High School. Whether through teaching music theory, handing out juice boxes, performing for the kids or attending their shows, there’s a place for everyone at Rock Camp SLC. Visit @rockcampslc on socials or rockcampslc.org for more information on how to help or get involved.