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Cover Story

Girls Rock!


Rae Fleming is a local mother and musician who brought Girls Rock! to Des Moines.

Rae Fleming is a local mother and musician who brought Girls Rock! to Des Moines.

Rae Fehring is one of the most effervescent people you’ll ever meet. The titular voice behind local act Rae and the Honeybees, Fehring has seemingly boundless energy, an addictively positive attitude and a smile that makes you feel like you’ve done something right with your life every time you see it.

“I’m a mom,” she said during a meandering conversation at Mars Café. “I think that any way that I can positively impact the experience of girl-hood, based in part in my experiences growing up, is something I need to do.”

So really, if the Girls Rock! Band Camp was going to happen in Des Moines, it pretty much had to be Fehring who got the ball rolling.

Girls Rock! was born in the granola-fed wilds of western Oregon at the beginning of the 21st century. Aimed at junior and high school-aged girls, the camp’s stated mission is to “build girls’ self-esteem through music creation and performance.” The program quickly grew from a Portland-area day camp into a 501(c)3 nonprofit that expanded to include after-school programs through the creation of its Girls Rock Institute.

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The idea behind Girls Rock! is simple: When a 10- to 16-year-old girl signs up, she chooses from a list of band instruments that she might like to play: lead and rhythm guitar, drums, keys, bass and vocals. During the course of the day camp, girls are then divided up into bands, and each band practices together, writes an original song and finishes the camp by performing its song in front of a live audience.

Previous musical experience isn’t required. Girls of all musical levels and abilities are welcome, with new musicians learning from more experienced ones. Everyone learns and practices together. In addition to the music, girls are given a wide range of classes and seminars that vary from camp to camp, and include everything from music history and band promotion and booking, to less music-centric classes like women in history and basic self-defense. Each camp coordinator chooses the curriculum to fit what she wants the camp experience to be, which can make for some highly unique chances for young girls to interact and grow with one another.

Like any good idea, the concept of Girls Rock! spread and grew. Two new camps opened in 2003, three more in 2006, five in 2009 and seven in 2011. Today there are dozens of Girls Rock! camps throughout the U.S. and in far-flung locales like France, Iceland and Amsterdam.

When Fehring envisioned Girls Rock! Des Moines in her head, she saw a positive experience for young girls like her own daughter. She saw a chance to bring girls together and show them the power and joy of just being who they are.

“I want them to feel smart and talented and creative and valued,” she said. “And more than anything, I want them to have fun.

“As a 10-, 11-, 13-year-old girl, imagine never having been in an all-girl, supportive environment where you get to think and do and say and be whoever it is you want to be. To be able to have that experience at such a young age, I believe, can have a great effect.”

Fehring’s idea of the camp would center less on the polemics of sexism and feminism, and instead focus on breaking down self-imposed barriers and opening up girls to the idea of mutual support and admiration.

Girls Rock! Des Moines is a music camp for girls age 10 to 16 at the Des Moines Social Club. Photo by Amber Williams

Girls Rock! Des Moines is a music camp for girls age 10 to 16 at the Des Moines Social Club. Photo by Amber Williams

“There’s this whole ‘Mean Girl’ syndrome that starts at about third grade, and it’s really about how girls interact,” she said. “You can be a kick ass, rad chick and not tear down the kick ass, rad chick next to you. So the empowerment for Girls Rock! Des Moines is about making space for all the girls to be as awesome as they are. We’re not going to have a self-defense class. Of course it’s not that I don’t want girls to be able to defend themselves, (but) that’s not what I want this camp to be about for 10- to 16-year-old girls. I want this to be about how they navigate the world, and we can do that through music and being creative.”

And yet, for all the big dreams, Fehring wound up bringing the camp to Iowa kind of though chance.

“A really good friend of mine is a touring musician, and I went to see her play with Ani Difranco years ago,” she explained. “There was a booth in the foyer of the venue that was for Girls Rock. So I looked at all the information and got the brochure and got on a mailing list.

“And then I did nothing. It was overwhelming, the idea of starting that without any organizational support.”

Fehring continued to work on her own music, raise her daughter and volunteer through the Des Moines Social Club.

“Last year I was doing a program called ‘Lez Talk,’ and it occurred to me: The (DMSC) is this really great organization in town doing these really great things. Why don’t I go to (DMSC Education Director) Matt McIver with this idea, and see what he thinks?” she recalled.

CVA_11PAGE 17Fehring was looking for advice. She wrote up a one-page explanation of her idea and approached McIver with it, hoping to come out of the meeting with some kind of feasibility study. Best case scenario, she’d have an idea of how to go about starting a Girls Rock! camp here in the capital city sometime in the future. What she got, however, was something very different.

“I met up with Matt, and he just said ‘Girls Rock 2013. Let’s do it.’ ”

Just like that, Fehring’s whole perspective on the project evolved.

“Part of the reason why it took me so long to do anything with the idea was because I couldn’t wrap my head around how one person could do any of the things necessary to get this off the ground,” she said.

But now that she had the backing of the Des Moines Social Club — also a 501(c)3 focused on diversifying the arts in the city — Fehring saw possibilities open up.

“Partnering with (the DMSC) gave the idea legitimacy. I would probably never have been able to partner with the (Des Moines Music Coalition) the way that I have without (the DMSC’s) involvement,” she said.

A big part of getting a new camp ready to go is making sure that there are plenty of instruments to go around. The camp never wants a lack of a personal instrument to be an impediment for a girl who wants to attend. To that end, Fehring has been taking donations from music stores and individuals around town, collecting both donated and temporarily loaned guitars, basses, drum kits and keyboards. DMMC administrator Chris Ford has been working with Fehring to help make sure she’s got everything the camp needs.

“The Social Club also allowed me to do things like apply for grants,” she continued. “There are a few grants that are available to individuals, but most of them are given to other nonprofit organizations.”



Funding is, of course, the biggest obstacle. Even though the camp will be staffed by volunteers, there’s still a litany of costs associated with getting the camp off the ground.

“The (money) will go towards program costs, facilities, lunches and rental equipment,” Fehring said. “It’ll go for CD printing costs and studio time at Sonic Factory. It’ll offset the cost of background checks for volunteers and for volunteer orientation. I’ve written several grants, but we probably won’t hear (either way) until the very, very last minute. So we need to plan on not having that money.”

Enter Kickstarter.

For the uninitiated, is a place for people to seek funding for projects through crowd-sourcing. Anyone can create a Kickstarter campaign, provided it meets the site’s criteria. Users create a video presentation on their project, set the funding goals and see what the Internet thinks. If enough people donate enough money during each fundraiser’s set time period to meet (or even surpass) a campaign’s funding goals, the project receives the money. If not, every donor gets reimbursed. Kickstarter campaigns that tap into the right consciousness have done phenomenally well. founder Anita Sarkeesian created a campaign to fund a series of video projects looking at sexism in the video game industry. Initially seeking $6,000 for the purchase of research material, the highly popular (and controversial) project eventually netted Sarkeesian $158,922, allowing her to greatly expand the scope and depth of the project.

In February 2012, independent video game developer Double Fine created a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund its new game project. Asking for $400,000 to cover art and development costs, Double Fine — creators of the beloved cult hit “Psychonauts” — surpassed that total in just nine hours, en route to a then record $3.3 million Kickstarter result.

Fehring’s goals are more modest. Launched in March with a goal of $5,000, Girls Rock! Des Moines has received $3,815 in pledges as of press time. Pledges have come from across the U.S. and Canada, with Fehring personally thanking each and every donor on the Girls Rock! Des Moines Facebook page.

“The first $500 donation we got, I cried,” she admitted.



While the involvement of the Des Moines Social Club and the DMMC have certainly helped pave Fehring’s road, there’s no doubt that her passion and excitement for the project is the motor that makes the machine run. Her updates on the camp’s Facebook page keep people engaged, and the simple fact that it’s impossible not to like her makes it an easy decision to help spread the word.

“Word has traveled so fast,” she said. “I was just in a job interview last week, and as we were chatting, the woman I was interviewing with was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you that Girls Rock person?’ That’s so cool that this complete stranger has already heard about Girls Rock.”

What people are sharing is Fehring’s idea of a positive, gender-specific experience.

“The camp will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s what we’re calling ‘green room time’ before the camp starts and after it’s over for parents to drop kids off and still get to work on time.”

“Over the course of (the camp’s) two weeks, each band will write an original song, which they’ll have recorded at Sonic Factory,” she detailed. “Then they’ll finish the camp by performing a live concert for their families and the community. The majority of the Girls Rock! camps are one-week camps, (but) for me, as a songwriter, I think of the process of creating an original song, and then I think about little girls who’ve never written a song or maybe even played the instrument they’ve picked up. The idea of writing a song and being ready to record and perform it in five days? So it was really important to me to (have two weeks).”

In addition, Girls Rock! Des Moines will feature workshops on music education, stage presence and music history. Fehring is also planning for local musicians to perform for campers during the lunch period.

“Each musician will perform for 15 or 20 minutes, then we’ll have a Q-and-A with the girls,” she said.

The camp will include social and interpersonal workshops as well.

“We’re partnering with the Young Women’s Resource Center to do our empowering girls curriculum, so they’re going to cover things like body image and self-esteem and relationships among girls.”

Money considerations aside, a project of this ambition takes manpower.

“(We) did a volunteer matrix to figure out the number of people it would take,” Fehring said. “We need 16 music-experienced volunteers and eight non-music-experienced volunteers, just for the classes. However, not everybody has two weeks to spend all day, so that number grows.”

At the website for Girls Rock! Des Moines, Fehring has an application form for volunteers.

“Once our website went live, within 24 hours we had 20 emails from people wanting to volunteer — people wanting to do workshops; there’s a DIY fashion lady who wants to do a workshop with the girls about how to repurpose your clothes.”

But Fehring is hungry for more volunteers of every stripe.

“We still need musicians for our lunch sessions — people to monitor the green room, class room helpers, lunch room attendants, music instructors. Plus, we’ll have a whole other set of volunteers for the final day’s performance.”

From the moment she made the commitment, Fehring has devoted all of herself to making Girls Rock! Des Moines a reality. For months, she sacrificed her lunch hours at work to meetings and promotion. She was laid off last month, catapulting Fehring into making Girls Rock! a full-time passion.

“I don’t want to sound too new-agey, but I really want girls to have a greater sense of themselves and what their potential is,” she said. “Yes, girls who are interested in music are going to want to do it, but I think it’s great for girls who’ve never contemplated music, because it’s really about getting girls to feel comfortable with themselves and with each other.”



Girls Rock! camp is a service to the community that Fehring whole-heartedly believes in, and it’s a passion she will continue to find new ways to foster.

“Most of the Girls Rock camps that exist grow into additional programming,” she explained. “So a lot of them have after-school programs; they have multiple summer sessions. A number of them have grown into an adult-centered program called Ladies Rock, because moms and aunts and guardians are dropping off their girls and thinking, ‘Well that’s cool. I want to do that.’ Someday we can be a sleep-away camp, we could do multiple sessions, I’d love to do a Ladies Rock camp.”

And with that smile, she added, “One of my friends just started a program called Wee Girls Rock. It’s for little, little girls, like (ages) 6-9! Can you imagine? How cute.”

But for now, Fehring is focused on getting the first two weeks of Girls Rock! Des Moines off the ground, and the community has stepped up to help her see it home.

“There are three local music shops who have agreed to donate equipment,” she said. “Several people have just volunteered — completely unsolicited — to help support (the camp). There’s a fundraiser at Vintage Wine and Spirits in West Des Moines (with) wine and hors d’ouevres, music and all proceeds will go to (Girls Rock!).”

In addition, Ritual Café is holding a fundraiser on April 15, and in Waterloo, the band Suite Little Sister has volunteered all of the proceeds from its April 19 show to the project as well.

“That’s kind of the amazing thing,” Fehring said with her million-watt smile. “I keep finding people who just want to help.” CV

*** The Ritual Cafe Fund Raiser has been changed to April 18th**

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