The girls of summer

Women musicians pass the torch by bringing rock camp to Boston

(Jodi Hilton for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2010

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As music-obsessed girls growing up in Salem and Syracuse, N.Y., during the ’70s and ’80s, respectively, Mary Lou Lord and Hilken Mancini had two options: Hang around boys in bands, or learn to play the part of the chick singer in one (tambourine optional).

“It was harder to find friends who were into it as passionately as I was,’’ recalls Lord, a Berklee-trained singer and guitarist who, before recording and releasing several albums on both independent and major labels, got her professional start busking in and around Boston’s subway stations. “There just weren’t that many role models. It was all about, ‘Oh, let’s go support our boyfriends’ bands.’ I wanted to play.’’

Mancini remembers the isolation she felt as a girl who just wanted to rock out. “We had to sit in our own bedrooms with our cheap amps. I felt so alone,’’ says Mancini, a singer-songwriter and guitarist who eventually wound up playing with the Boston indie-pop outfit Fuzzy, which was signed to Atlantic Records.

“In the early ’90s, I had not that many peers,’’ says Mancini, who attended the Boston Conservatory before dropping out so Fuzzy could go on tour with Dinosaur Jr. “We had some female heroes, definitely, but they were more of an anomaly. You would go to a local record store and there would be this boys’ club [of male musicians working there], and they were all playing together. So you felt like you couldn’t really break into it. It was easy to get discouraged.’’

This year, Mancini and Lord decided to do something to combat the experiences they had as female rockers bumping up against invisibility or indifference. With the help of another friend, Nora Allen-Wiles, the women have launched Girls Rock Camp Boston, an instructional rock ’n’ roll day camp for girls and young women (ages 8 to 16) that’s aimed at celebrating the notion that girls can do anything — and, of course, making some noise in the process.

The nonprofit camp, which runs Aug. 2-7 at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain, is modeled after the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., which hosted its first camp nine years ago and has since expanded into dozens of chapters around the country. Tuition for the week is $350 (and financial aid is available).

Girls will learn, among other things, how to play an instrument, start a band, write and perform an original song together, and many other practical skills essential to aspiring rock stars (everything from T-shirt design to self-defense).

“This is giving me a chance to pass the torch of music,’’ says Lord, 45, who will serve as the Boston camp’s music director. “I feel like I was given a gift, and that’s what music is — a gift. What better than to share it with people just starting out? It is important that something like this exists for young women, because nothing like this existed when I was a kid.’’

In fact, despite their separate but shared experiences as female musicians working in a male-dominated business, Lord and Mancini had never met until last winter, when the former found the latter online while looking for a rock-themed camp for her 11-year-old daughter, Annabelle. She knew Mancini had taught “Punk Rock Aerobics’’ at the Portland camp for four years (Hilken cofounded and co-wrote a book on the exercise regimen).

There was, Lord notes, another (unrelated) rock camp for girls a couple of hours away in Western Massachusetts, but nothing closer to home. So she got in touch with Mancini about starting a chapter here in Boston. Mancini in turn reached out to Allen-Wiles, a Somerville native and camp volunteer she had met in Portland. They had chatted a few years prior about someday launching a local version of the girls rock camp. This time when Mancini called, Allen-Wiles told her she was back living in Somerville. Someday had finally come.

“It was meant to be,’’ Mancini says during a conversation one recent afternoon at her rehearsal space, where she and her co-conspirators (plus Lord’s daughter and two friends) have gathered to talk about what the Boston camp might mean to future female generations.

“I just turned 40 this year and thought, these Marshall amps that I have — I’m not playing through them all the time,’’ says Mancini. “Why not share them with younger women and let them know there’s a place where they can go and learn and grow? Where there might be a drum kit or 15 guitars, and seven women showing them how to play? To be able to see women doing this really hits home.’’

It certainly hit home for Allen-Wiles, who describes her college internship at the Portland camp as an experience that “totally changed my life.’’

“I don’t play any music but I’ve always wanted to,’’ says Allen-Wiles, 23, who will serve as the Boston chapter’s administrative director and camper coordinator. “I didn’t really find a supportive place to do it. Just being in that company of women and being encouraged in that environment — I ended up picking up the drums a little bit when I was there.’’

Growing up in a musical household also rubs off. Annabelle Lord-Patey, Lord’s daughter with Raging Teens singer-guitarist Kevin Patey, has dabbled in cello, piano, saxophone, and guitar. “I sort of like them all,’’ says Annabelle, who will be participating in her first girls rock camp this summer — with her mom as an instructor. She ponders the prospect. “She can be embarrassing sometimes,’’ Annabelle says, “but overall she’s pretty cool.’’

Annabelle’s friend, Meghan Huntoon, also 11, wants to hone her guitar and bass-playing skills at the camp, while their pal, 10-year-old Andrea Nunez, is considering a switch from flute to the drums. Meanwhile, Annabelle says she’d like “to learn how to work in a band, and play with other people.’’

That’s something her mom can relate to. “I was a solo performer, and one of the things I feel like I missed out on was having a band and having that camaraderie,’’ Lord says. “When I was having a little bit of success and I was on the road, there was no one to celebrate it with me. Granted, there was a lot less baggage than being in a band, which is a lot like a four-way marriage. So there was nothing to slow me down; but at the same time it was a lonely journey.’’

Even as a male musician who’s been in bands for much of his adult life, Kevin Patey knows what that journey can look and feel like from an outsider’s perspective. “Having been married to a female musician and playing in a band with one [Raging Teens lead guitarist Amy Griffin] for years, I’ve seen the hurdles they’ve had to overcome because it’s been such a boys’ club for so long,’’ says Patey. “Amy always said she hated getting attention because she was a girl who played guitar. She said, ‘I just want to be a guitar player.’ You know how many times I heard the line, ‘Hey, she plays pretty good for a girl?’ ’’

Patey shakes his head. “I played in a band with a phenomenal female guitar player who tore it up over most of the guys,’’ he says. “To me, no female should feel like they can’t be on par, if not better, than any guy.’’


At: Spontaneous Celebrations, 45 Danforth St., Jamaica Plain, Aug. 2-7. Open to girls ages 8-16. Info and registration:

A fund-raiser for the camp, featuring food, drinks, music, raffle prizes, and more, will be held at Video Underground, 385 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, June 28. 617-522-4949, www.thevideo

Another benefit, for the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, will be held at T.T. the Bear’s,

10 Brookline St., Cambridge, July 25. 617-492-BEAR.