COLUMBIA — Wendy Yelton is, as of this weekend, a rock star. Her assignment: learn an instrument, write a song, name a band and prepare to perform in a public showcase. The catch: She only has three days.
Yelton, a Rocheport resident, was one of 24 women who participated in Ladies Rock Camp, which teaches women ages 19 and older how to play an instrument and perform in front of an audience. The workshop, held Friday through Sunday at the Columbia Area Career Center, was filled with music lessons, yoga practice and female empowerment.
Each incoming camper ranked her choice of instruments — bass, guitar, vocals and drums — and five bands were formed, each with a volunteer mentor available for advice and musical guidance. There were two practice lessons and four band practices during the weekend, culminating in a showcase concert Sunday night at Mojo's.
Despite the quick turnaround, Yelton said she wasn't too worried about performing.
"I think it is a very reasonable request," she said. "There's not really any pressure."
Maybe I'm just stupid, but I'm not nervous."
Reading, writing, rocking
The three-day camp is a fundraiser for Girls Rock Camp, a week-long summer music camp for girls put on by CoMo Girls Rock. Amanda Rainey, one of CoMo Girls Rock's three directors, said the inspiration for the ladies camp came from the ladies themselves.
"The women we talked to (about Girls Rock Camp) wanted to rock as well," Rainey said. "Lots of girls rock camps do ladies camps as well, so we knew it was possible."
Rainey said about half of the women had actual experience on the instrument they were playing during camp and the women came from a variety of musical backgrounds. The reasons for coming to camp were just as different.
"We started camp with a 'circle of why' and everyone went around and said why they came to camp," Rainey said. "For some, this is fulfilling a 40-year-old dream. Some people are going through divorce. It got pretty intense."
Yelton signed up for camp to put her love of music into action.
"My husband has played guitar for years," she said. "I had six months of piano training when I was in the sixth grade. I wanted to learn how to play the drums, so here I am. I wanted to immerse myself and see if it sticks."
When asked if anything had stuck, Yelton beamed and nodded her head.
CoMo Girls Rock reached out to community members to gather gear for the camp. Rainey said people lent what they could, and many even donated their old instruments.
"Even people we had never worked with before helped," Rainey said. "They would bring a mic, an amp, a cord."
CoMo Girls Rock hopes to hold an instrument drive to build a permanent collection of gear to lend out to budding bands and musicians.
One of the major themes of camp is empowerment — whether it be physical, emotional, verbal or spiritual, Rainey said.
"Women are taught to be in competition," said CoMo Girls Rock director Luci Fere. "We want to create a space where there is no competition."
Rainey said she hopes women will be able to apply the things they learn at camp to their everyday life.
"We're about creating a supportive, community of female musicians," she said.
On the second day of camp, the women took part in an hour-long yoga practice led by Liz Klug of Yoga Sol. It was a free-form session backed by calming music, laughter and the story of Kali, the Hindu goddess of empowerment. At one point the women formed a circle, arms supporting neighbors' backs, to symbolize the communal environment of camp.
When they rose from savasana at the end of practice, the women murmured "namaste" and let out a collective sigh. It was a moment of peaceful quiet, rare in a weekend of rock music.
Yelton said she thinks experiences like camp are important for women in today's world.
"Even for strong, confident women, there can be too much pressure," Yelton said. "Camp doesn't need to be about promoting a radical feminist agenda. We just want to be ourselves."
Fere said the adult campers faced challenges different than those faced by the younger campers during Girls Rock Camp.
"One of the things that's different about Ladies Rock Camp is that ladies have a longer time to hone in their insecurities," she said. "It's really cool to see them come out of their shells."
And come out of their shells they did. Triumphant exclamations rang out into the hallways during every band practice.
"My son told me it was so cool I was playing an actual drum set," said Kathy Birk, drummer for Power Nap, after a particularly successful run-through Sunday afternoon.
In this small community of women, laughter was as common as learning.
"I'm meeting women I wouldn't normally meet," Yelton said. "I don't see this kind of energy and passion every day. It's amazing."
Sunday night showcase
Mojo's was packed Sunday night for the final concert. All five camp bands — Night Trolls, Vejazzalanche, Albatross, Power Nap and The Meat Hangers — performed their own original song. Each was greeted with cheers from spouses, excited children and Mojo's regulars.
To close out the inaugural Ladies Rock camp, the campers, the volunteers and the three directors crowded the stage to sing the camp song. They shouted the last line together, and it sounded like a battle cry.
"CoMo girls rock!"
Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.