After winning an LGBT leadership award from Berklee College of Music where I am a student, I wanted to spend my summer working to empower female and queer musicians. Riot Grrrl Ink didn’t advertise any openings for interns, but I had won the award based on my project description of the work I wanted to do for them, so it was a shot in the dark when I asked them to take me on for the summer. As luck would have it, Gina Mamone, RGI’s CEO, was losing an intern and had a spot for me, proving good things come to those who speak up.
A bearded collie named Allister greeted me when I first met with Gina at her Brooklyn apartment this summer and she matched Allister’s wiggling welcome in warmth throughout my amazing internship with RGI. My work with RGI included doing publicity for Katz of Athen’s Boys Choir and revamping all of Gina and RGI’s social networking sites. I also worked on websites for pop artist Jasper James and trans activist Leigh Thompson as well as the queer trans collective Flatbush Freakshow. While many of my peers from Berklee interned at major labels for the summer, I wanted to work for a company that both turned a profit and was helping to make art with an emphasis on social change. The RGI radical capitalist business model highlights the power of creating a strong network of queer/activist artists and organizations under the shared belief that everyone involved is giving back to that community, both financially and with their time, and art. This business and community thrives based on the ways it facilitates and requires the various contributions of all those involved.
I was also able to work full-time at the Willie Mae Girls and Ladies Rock Camps in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Since RGI supports similar rock camps for girls around the world, it was an opportunity to do some of the type of work that RGI funds. Willie Mae Rock Camp is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, many of whom use their only week of vacation to work at the camp each summer. Some of the most creative, hardworking, talented female musicians in New York City teach each year at the camps and learning from them was one of the best things I have done. I had students ranging from 8-year-old girls to 50-year-old women. On my first day, I stood in front of a group of 14-year-old girls who insisted to me that they all were going to solo on guitar…and they did. In fact, at the end of the first session of girls camp, one of my most promising, but shy, students confided in me that she had done a school project on Berklee College of Music and that she really wanted to go to school there. I had been hoping that my work during the summer would help me connect more aspiring female instrumentalists with the resources they need to get to a place like Berklee. The gender ratio disparity, especially in the guitar department has been frustrating for me and often I find that female players lack confidence rather than talent or desire. Berklee is working hard to support female instrumentalists and I am positive about steps they have taken towards inclusion. Good things come to those who speak up.
Before playing a show at the Bell House in Brooklyn, Amy Ray and Kaia Wilson stopped by to perform and mingle with the campers at WMRC. Amy Ray came in during a Songwriting workshop I was helping to facilitate and had an amazingly calm way of interacting with a rowdy bunch of 10-year-olds who had been unleashed on a drum kit and were slinging guitars blasting through amps. Both Amy and Kaia were incredibly down to earth about the campers enthusiasm and all the volunteers standing behind them gushing.
That night, the show at the Bell House was packed and I got the opportunity to watch Gina Mamone at her finest. So much of what she does at RGI has to do with connecting queer musicians and activists with one another and the setting of the Amy Ray concert highlighted the power in the work RGI does. Toshi Reagan opened the night with her fierce presence and challenged the audience to continue supporting the political fight that she believes only just began when we won the last election. Amy Ray had 4 amazing musicians touring with her including Kaia Wilson and Melissa York of The Butchies as well as Julie Wolf (Ani Difranco, Indigo Girls) Julie has been a huge inspiration for me as a multi-instrumentalist and side-person. I have followed so many of her various projects over the years, when I got to spend some time with her after the show I think I came off like a creepy encyclopedia of all the work she has done. The show ran like a well-oiled machine, everyone pitching in to move gear out to the van, or help sell merch and saying hi to old and new friends the whole time.
The experience of teaching over the summer, getting to be there when the light bulbs flash on and someone learns something new, then following that through to the business side and learning about the process of creating community and industry out of music, is what I hope I can make a life out of. Meeting and working alongside my heroes and discovering new ones, cemented this summer as the best in my life. Good things come to those who speak up.