Queens of rock

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Behind the door of a sound-dampened room, the five members of Wicked Edge smooth the rough edges of their first song. They’ve been a band for less than 48 hours, and they are nonchalant but sharply focused. They hone in on the song they’ve written to perform at the High Noon Saloon the next day, on instruments two of them had never touched before they met one day earlier.

“It’s got balls. No, it doesn’t have balls. It’s got ovaries.”

In between practice takes of their brand-new single “Turn Away,” vocalist Sarah Whitt jumps up and down, unable to contain her excitement. The 36-year-old displays the animation of a rocker half her age, absolutely delighted to unleash her words and voice to the universe. Unapologetic.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is a lot of fun,” she says. “It’s sort of like this reckless abandon thing, and I thought it’d be really neat.”

Campers rank the top three instruments they would like to learn, and they are guaranteed one of those top picks. Photo by Lukas Keapproth

Whitt and her bandmates are at day two of the first Ladies Rock Camp Madison, a grown-up, weekend edition of Girls Rock Camp Madison. Open to women ages 19 and older with a desire to rock, the camp is designed to give neophyte rockers the opportunity to try something new.

With the instruction and direction of an enthusiastic group of local female musicians, the campers take instrument lessons, form a band, write an original song and perform it live for their friends and families at the High Noon Saloon, a 400-capacity venue on Madison’s east side. Along the way, they make new friends and build self-confidence.

“Music, a lot of the time when you think about it, it’s really male-driven,” says Danielle Brittany, a local singer-songwriter and LRCM instructor. “This allows women to be women, be around women and empower each other and bring out the confidence in us. It’s awesome to see women bring out their inner diva.”

Ladies Rock Camp may be all about women rocking out, but it all started with a little girl who wanted to drum.

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In 2007, Wisconsinite Halle Pollay tried to send her daughter, Sarah Corbin, who was then 9, to Girls Rock! Chicago. To her dismay, the camp was full and Corbin was put on the waitlist. The following year, Pollay sent in another application. Waitlisted again. She tried a third time, to no avail.

Undiscouraged, Pollay started thinking outside the box and inside the borders of her state.

“My whole family has a musical background,” Pollay says. “And I’m a musician and songwriter, so I thought, ‘Why am I not doing this here?’”

Pollay contacted the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance and began organizing her own Girls Rock Camp in the Madison area. The first week-long camp was held the summer of 2009 in Viroqua at Pollay’s home.  Thirteen girls ages 9 to 13 applied, and all were accepted. They formed three bands with the help of five instructors and 10 volunteers. Deemed a success by all those involved, Pollay and friends had gotten the Girls Rock Camp Madison drumbeat rolling. Little did she know, others had the same desire.

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Beth Kille is no stranger to the Madison music scene. She was the frontwoman for the energetic Midwestern rock band Clear Blue Betty for six years and three albums, and received a Wisconsin Area Music Industry award in 2008, along with seven Madison Area Music Awards. Kille spent a brief stint in Houston between 2008 and 2009, working on her solo career, and then returned to Madison, recorded a six-song EP and won four more MAMA awards. Then she stopped to take a breath or two.

Soon after, Kille realized breathing would have to wait. She had an idea to start a Girls Rock Camp, which she mentioned to Scott Meskin, lead guitarist in Madison-based Bonobo Secret Handshake (Kille’s husband plays percussion in the band). Kille and Meskin contacted the national Girls Rock Camp Alliance, who told them there was already a Girls Rock Camp in Madison. They were surprised — pleasantly surprised. Soon Kille joined forces with Pollay, a move Pollay says cemented GRCM’s future success.

“She’s a force of nature in music in this town,” Pollay says. “Between the two of us — my skills from the administrative side and her skills from the musical side — have made the camp, really, I think one of the best in the country.”

Pollay and her daughter Sarah played major roles in the creation of Girls Rock Camp Madison. Photo by Lukas Keapproth

Pollay and Kille garnered the attention and support of friends, family and businesses. Pollay attended the GRCA meeting in San Francisco, and was asked to teach at Girls Rock! Chicago (since Pollay was now teaching, they got Corbin off the waitlist). Kille contacted High Noon Saloon owner/manager Cathy Dethmers about holding the end-of-the-week showcase at her venue. It was the first time Dethmers had heard of Girls Rock Camp, but she says the partnership was a no-brainer.

“Now that music programs are being cut so drastically in schools, it’s even more important that there is some other kind of musical outlet for kids,” Dethmers says. “Especially for girls, who I think a lot of times — by their families or peers — aren’t necessarily directed toward more rock instruments.”

The second Madison-area Girls Rock Camp was held in June 2010 in a former music store. The rented space was the perfect place for girls to let loose — a large, empty retail floor with 10 soundproof practice rooms.

It was a huge success with 32 girls, seven bands, about 25 instructors and more than 10 volunteers. Pollay and Kille were thrilled — the camp had potential for phenomenal growth.

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