Written and photographed by Beau Gustafson
“Ready to rock? Ready to roll?” the lead singer yells out to the crowd, “Gimme a beat!” “1-2-3-4!” the drummer echoes as she hits her sticks together, and the music begins. The crowd erupts into dancing, clapping, and cheering. You can feel the power of the moment as the girls play their hearts out to the standing-room-only crowd at Workplay’s main stage. The girls beam with awe and wonder as parents and friends cheer with pride.
The show had come together just five days after these girls met. Some of them had never even played an instrument before, much less written and composed music to play in front of an audience. How does that work, exactly? The answer is Girls Rock Birmingham, an organization dedicated to empowering young girls to engender a sense of confidence, creativity, and self expression that is now in its second year. A group of more than 30 volunteers—many who are professional musicians and performers—are dedicated to the mission of providing a positive and safe space for these girls to let their talents shine. They want to encourage, teach, and foster a sense that they can do anything if they work together.
“Once I saw the difference this created in girls’ lives, I knew I was committed to keeping this alive in Birmingham,” Shelly Ann Edge, director and one of the founders of Girls Rock Birmingham, says of the international movement. “Girls come in and they are timid, unsure of themselves. Some of them have never picked up an instrument or sung in front of people. By the last day, not only are they best friends, but they have created something that they get to share in front of a big crowd. They really come out of their shells!
“We have a great board of directors, a great support team of volunteers, and a talented group of musicians that all give their time to help these girls. They learn some self-defense, yoga, how to silk screen their own posters and T-shirts, and have workshops on how to write lyrics and music and how to deal with stage fright. It is really an amazing process.”
Each of five bands—Believers at Best, The London Sapphires, the Gnarly Pandas, the Night Lights, and the Black Cats—helped write their own lyrics and come up with the music. With the help of their teachers over five days, they put a band together, designed their look and costumes, learned their parts, and had rock star photos made.
Before opening night, a palpable tension was heavy in the air. As they were putting costumes on and getting their hair and makeup done, band leaders were trying to channel the fear and excitement toward playing the show. “Everybody gets scared before they go on stage,” one leader says. “All that means is that you are about to do something really cool. Be yourselves, have a good time, and just play. Turn that fear into something good. Be strong and brave!”
As each group walked out on stage, their music told it like it is to a room full of screaming fans. They were powerful, they were empowered by rock and roll, and for that night, they were rock stars.