Saint John Rock Camp cranks up the volume

·4 min read
Drummer Cameron Thompson, 11, is one of 13 kids attending Saint John Rock Camp for girls and gender-creative youth. The camp aims to equip a new generation of Saint Johners with the skills the learn new instruments, promote shows, and write original songs.  (Julia Wright/CBC - image credit)
Drummer Cameron Thompson, 11, is one of 13 kids attending Saint John Rock Camp for girls and gender-creative youth. The camp aims to equip a new generation of Saint Johners with the skills the learn new instruments, promote shows, and write original songs. (Julia Wright/CBC - image credit)

Personal Trampoline, one of Saint John's newest bands, is in the middle of a serious rehearsal session.

Keyboard and vocalist Ethan Kernighan, 14, drummer Cameron Thompson, 11, and bassist Dannika McIntyre, 13, are running through their new single, Bounce Back, for the third time, trying the song a few different ways and offering each other lighthearted critiques.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

The song is "about the trampoline — and it's also about friendship and stuff," said Kernighan. 'We just write down ideas for the song first — like words we like for it. Then we try to think of a loose plot. Then we started thinking of what words will rhyme, and what will have a good rhythm to it. It's very fun."

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

Personal Trampoline is just one band formed this week at Saint John Rock Camp for girls, genderqueer, and trans youth 11 to 18 at Interaction School of Performing Arts. All of them will be performing at a showcase at Imperial Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 27.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

The free camp, led by local professional musicians and educators, and funded by the Saint John Community Arts Board  and local sponsors, aims to equip a new generation of Saint Johners with the skills to play new instruments, form bands, and perform original songs.

At rock shows in Saint John, you tend to see "a lot of people in the crowd that are girls, or who are gender  nonconforming — but we don't see the same parity on stage, or in a technician's role,"  said Rock Camp executive director Abigail Smith.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

"The camp is a step toward "making sure that we have an empowering environment. A big part of that is our facilitators. This is run by music industry professionals and musicians who are all walking the walk in their professional lives.

"It's about empowering people to speak their truth on stage."

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

One of those facilitators is Dill Wong, a lifelong musician who plays in the band Womb to Tomb.

Wong says for them, rock camp has been a chance to bring to life "all kinds of different bands, all kinds of different vibes, all kinds of different looks, feelings and different genres of music."

"There's really no one right way. That's what we try to tell [musicians] from the get-go."

The kids are learning from guest speakers such as Cory Bonnevie of Monopolized Records, who led a guest workshop on the label side of the industry. Sculpture Saint John's Maggie Higgins helped the campers make sets for their band photos. They're also taking a field trip to Local 107.3 FM on the UNB Saint John campus to learn about campus and community radio.

Guitarist Chloe Cook, 16, is playing with a "tropical, sort of shipwrecked-themed band" called Islander. For their big final showcase at Imperial, Chloe and the band have created an elaborate set of palm trees, sand and fake water to go with their "psychedelic, oceanic" sound.

Cook's musical influences run the gamut: "kid's show theme songs, classical music, Queen."

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

A guiding principle of Rock Camp, Cook said, is that "no idea is stupid. There's no mistakes, if it's creative and you're having fun."

Islander bassist Violet Scott, 15, said that despite the "tropical sounds with lots of wave ambience" — not everything about being a musician is smooth sailing.

"Before every show I'm a little bit anxious," Scott said. "But some of the best performances I've done were ones where I was just very unsure of myself, but then it turns out all right if you just go with your instinct and just let yourself play whatever you're playing."

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

Rock Camp is "about connection," Smith said. "I love Saint John, and I find it to be a really collaborative city.

"If you want help recording, there are people that will help you do that. If you need a drummer for your band, you can find them. If you want a graphic designer, people do that as a profession.

"There are people that do this for a living — and they're really talented. They want to collaborate. They're here already. They're already doing it."

For campers like Kernighan, it's a chance to dream big about what is possible as a young, creative person in New Brunswick.

"My mind has been expanded to more creative things, and all these new aspects of life," he said.

I think of it as, like, a whole new me."