Girls Rock Jacksonville

by By Heather Lovejoy
That’s a rule at the non-profit Girls Rock camp in Jacksonville, which is July 29 through August 2 at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. In its second year, the camp is at full capacity with 45 girls ages 9 to 16. During just one week, they will pick up instruments, form bands and write and perform songs, all while building confidence and positive self-identity in a non-competitive environment.
The campers will perform their original songs during a showcase at the Florida Theatre at 3 pm, Saturday, August 3. Tickets are $15.
Alicia Canessa, one of the camp’s founders and organizers, has noticed that young girls often apologize when they’re not at fault. “The rule makes you see that you apologize sometimes just for taking up space,” she says. “If you’re constantly apologizing as simply as you would say, ‘hello,’ to someone, it compounds this idea that you don’t have a voice or have much value.”
The Jacksonville camp is one of more than 40 camps in the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance, which boasts influence from Austria to the U.K. to Iceland. Canessa, who has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of North Florida, became interested in Girls Rock for its gender-responsive ideology and social goals. The mission is to embrace self-empowerment and to promote a reality where gender, race and socio-economic status do not determine who can or can’t undertake endeavors like music.
In addition to the music lessons, there will be workshops on basic physical and emotional self-defense, making Zines, do-it-yourself media promotion, screenprinting, and image and identity.
“We’re trying to create social change. Our vessel is music and self-expression,” Canessa says. The music industry is male-dominated, making it an apropos focus for a camp that encourages girls to venture outside their safety zones and to take risks.
At the beginning of the camp, the girls may not always speak their minds or feel comfortable. Creating an environment that facilitates personal growth helps them get past those fears. “By the end, [they’re] sharing things about themselves and helping each other,” she says. “You see it. It’s evident how their attitudes and behavior change… in a very positive way.”
Rory Pennington, 10, attended in 2012 and will be attending again this year. Her mom, Jenny Kalota, noticed that her daughter gained confidence and conquered some of her stage fright after last year’s camp. “She’s still a little shy, but she’s opened up more. She’s definitely more interested in music,” Kalota says.
A month before the camp, Rory has already been brainstorming band names like The Echos and The Good, The Bad and The Rock ‘n’ Roll. Last year, she played guitar, and now she wants to learn keyboards. She admits to being nervous on the first day, but she says that went away when she “started to meet more people and get to know them better.” She’s not so nervous this time around. Instead, she’s focused on “getting better at instruments” so that she can try out for LaVilla School of the Arts next year.
During camp week, the staff and volunteers are all female. A group of local musicians are helping out, including Robin Rutenburg, Summer Wood and Naarah Strokosch of the folk band Four Families, Alex E. of Wildlife Society, singer-songwriter Elizabeth Russell and hip-hop artist Cherub “Chopp” Stewart.
“Rock” may be in the camp’s name, but the girls aren’t limited musically to one genre. With a diverse group of musicians volunteering, they can explore whatever type of music they enjoy. “They can’t really make mistakes, especially with the music, because it’s a very creative collaborative situation,” Canessa says. “These girls, they let loose. When they’re in the bands, it’s fantastic.”
For more on the Jacksonville camp and the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, go to and

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october, 2021