Girls Rock! Rochester says it is dedicated to using music as a vehicle for personal growth and positive change for girls, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. Through its members, music and involvement with teachers, it provides a safe, healthy positive venue and has done so since 2012.
One of its champions, boosters and instructors is singer and songwriter Amanda Ashley, who works with the various workshops and programs GRR sponsors around town and around the year, including the group’s summer camp.
Ashley sat down with the Rochester Beacon for a chat on GRR, how it supports disenfranchised youth, and how music is proving to be the answer.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Why is this female-centric and who is it for?
AMANDA ASHLEY: Women are still very underrepresented in our music community and in the music industry as a whole. It is our mission to break all barriers, stigmas and gentrification, and to provide the tools, confidence and education for our female and LGBTQ+ youth to rise and gain more of a presence in those roles which are typically male-dominated.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What was lacking that GRR provides?
ASHLEY: Our program instructs how to be sustainable and DIY in the music industry from booking, marketing, promotion, running sound, hauling gear and knowing how to set up sound for a performance, to designing our own band logos, screen printing our own shirts, button-making and selling our own merch at shows.
We also focus on instilling the importance of being a good community player: Proper etiquette at shows with more than one band on a bill, supporting our music peers by attending others’ performances, attending open mics, sharing and joint promoting on social media. We can’t demand respect if we don’t dish it out, and it’s pretty basic in terms of being a genuine human.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What are you trying to accomplish overall?
ASHLEY: On behalf of women, I’d like to see us support one another a little more, and I really hope that all I’m putting out there brings us a little closer together. I think because there are so few of us, that we are often compared or pinned against one another for “Who’s better, or who has a better voice than the other, who’s prettier, younger/older, etc.” Our greatest competition should always be ourselves first, not one another. Together we are stronger, and we can overall make a greater impact. We also have a lot to learn from and teach one another. It all begins with letting down our guard, and accepting the beauty of our differences.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What obstacles do you face, do your students face?
ASHLEY: I believe women often have to go the extra mile to prove that they are more than a set of boobs. In relation to my own career, I’ve had my share of experiences with sexism between male venue owners and even some of my male musician peers. I think many people (more so in the past) believed first that the reason I was getting so many gigs was because of the pair I display above and the fact that I’m a girl. Nevermind the countless hours I pour into writing, my website, reaching out to venues, DIY promotion, going out to countless open mics and all the work I do on foot to meet and talk to guests at my shows. It’s a full-time job, everything I do, and I taught myself how to do it because no one else would do it for me, and because there was nothing I wanted to do more than play music. The work doesn’t end at booking a show or showing up to play a show. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s something that men can benefit from learning also.
Even hauling in and out my own gear to shows; the gasps I get for carrying my own equipment and the amount of drunk men seizing the opportunity to put their hands all over my hard-earned expensive belongings without asking because “you’re a girl and shouldn’t be carrying that.” In reality that’s only part of my work that constitutes what I am doing as a job. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone has the wrong intentions, and some are just trying to be kind, but in reality, it is less likely those very same people would have reacted or done the same had I been a dude.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How’d it all get started for Girls Rock? And why?
ASHLEY: By Kaci Smith and began as a small summer camp designed to empower young girls and LGBTQ+ youth ages 8 to 17 to rise in our music community.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What was your initial involvement?
ASHLEY: I served as a volunteer for the organization as an instrument instructor and workshop leader summer of 2013 to summer of 2021, and this past November was elected as the new program director as our founder is making her transition out.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So what’s next?
ASHLEY: We now look forward to summer 2022, (when) we return to four weeks of full in-person summer camp at the Unitarian Church. From day one to day five our campers will learn an instrument, form a band, compose a song, make a logo, press and screen print their own merch, and perform their song at a showcase at Flour City Station on day 6. Their workshops will embody confidence building, performance tips and techniques, marketing and promotion, songwriting, and learning about past iconic women and LGBTQ+ pioneers in music and history.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How many have graduated or gone through the program?
ASHLEY: We average about 50 campers per camp week in the summer.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What do you offer in the program that isn’t musical?
ASHLEY: On occasion we host a movie night, music trivia, and have upcoming plans for a Guest Speaker series, a Toddler Dance Party and Punk Rock Aerobics. The majority of our programming is musically and artistically driven. We offer everything from creative writing workshops to group instrument lessons, rhythm and drum workshops, a monthly open jam and songwriter rounds.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How has it helped you as a teacher? As a student?
ASHLEY: We are forever both teacher and student. Every day I learn something new from the people I teach and the incredibly talented and compassionate members of our staff. It’s a beautiful journey, and our potential is limitless.
Here’s a comprehensive list of live shows in and around Rochester: Get Your Gig On