by Hilary Stohs-Krause
The volunteer list reads like a Who’s Who? of Omaha musicians: Orenda Fink. Steffani Drootin. Jenn Bernard. Jenna Morrison. The benefit concert features older favorites like The Good Life and current Omaha “It” band Conduits.
These veterans are uniting not to promote themselves, but instead to train tomorrow’s leaders through a weeklong camp this summer called Omaha Girls Rock.
“I’ve been in the music business for the last 16 years, and it is still dominated by men,” says L.A. transplant Drootin, bassist for The Good Life. She attributed part of this to young girls lacking confidence. “And being kind of also trained to think that they’re supposed to be princesses, and all things pretty, and sweet, and not rocking and tough and strong, you know?
“People don’t encourage strength in young girls very often.”
Even after almost two decades in the industry, Drootin says she still faces sexism.
“I was in Guitar Center the other day, and the guy tried to show me how to work an amp that I’ve worked with for the last 10 years,” she says with a laugh. “There’s a lot of that still.”
But Omaha Girls Rock is hoping to help change that. The non-profit has spots for 30 girls at the camp, which runs July 11-15 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Campers are broken into bands at the beginning of camp, and they’ll participate in workshops ranging from confidence building to self-defense to songwriting.
On July 16, the girls will perform original songs they wrote during camp at a showcase at the Slowdown.
To help fund the week’s activities, Omaha Girls Rock is hosting a benefit show Sunday at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. at 9 p.m., featuring The Good Life, Conduits, Honeybee & Hers and Fortnight. All the bands have at least one member helping with the camp.
Fortnight’s Jenn Bernard is the camp manager. The high school counselor has worked with leadership camps in Omaha for more than a decade.
“So I have the camp experience, and some music experience, and the week off,” she says, referring to her two-month summer break, “so it just kind of works out.”
Years ago, Drootin’s brother and his wife told her about a girls rock camp in Portland.
“I checked it out online and just thought it was amazing,” she says. “I was moving to Los Angeles at the time, but had been living in Omaha, and I thought, ‘Gosh, this would be such an amazing thing in Omaha … it’s the perfect place for it.
“And two babies later, I’ve finally gotten some time together and the courage to actually do it.”
The reason she wanted to do the camp in Omaha instead of Los Angeles or a different city is because of the sense of community.
“It’s like a magnet. It’s a really special place," Drootin says. "There’s something magical about Omaha."
But at the same time, men still dominate the city’s music scene, she adds.
“And I love all of the men that I play with musically in Omaha,” she says. “They’re amazing. Nothing against them. But Omaha could use some more ladies playing music.”
Along with teaching young girls confidence, Drootin says building a DIY mentality is a major theme of the camp.
“That’s really important to me, because that’s where I came from,” she says. “I really started from the bottom up, silk-screening our own shirts that we bought at thrift stores, booking our own shows … learning about the music industry by doing it ourselves.”
And DIY really describes the process of creating the camp — volunteer Jessica Mogis held a clothing exchange to raise funds. Another volunteer did a bake sale. Another is donating the proceeds from a yard sale. And Sirens salon in Omaha is hosting a cut-a-thon the same day of the show.
In the end, Bernard and Drootin say they want the camp to be a success and for the girls who participate to feel like their lives have been enriched.
“I’ve been thinking about how I feel like it’s important for them to know that you can do something that you love, and it can be an enriching part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing that you do,” Bernard says. “One of the reasons I’m excited about having the camp at UNO is because they’ll be able to see that you can go to college and play music, or you can not go to college and play music.
“There’s just so many different options in life, and regardless of what option in life you choose, you can have music be a part of it — as little or as big a part of it as you want. And I think they’ll learn that from the women who are volunteering at the camp.”
The first year is the hardest, Drootin says, but she’s hopeful the camp will have an impact.
“I hope that the girls leave the camp wanting to come back, and changed, with more confidence,” she says. “But it would be a success no matter what if everyone came out of it having the best time and just feeling inspired.
“I want these girls who’ve never played an instrument to come out of this camp and want to be starting their future.”
The Good Life
Honeybee & Hers
Hilary Stohs-Krause's fondest wish is to own her own Tardis … or a Viper spaceplane. For more on Nebraska ladies making music, tune into the "X-Rated: Women in Music" radio show every Thursday from 1:05-3 p.m. CST at 89.3FM KZUM in Lincoln or streaming live at kzum.org. Find it on Facebook at facebook.com/xmusicnebraska. Or, if Tumblr is more your style, check out xmusic.tumblr.com.