So You Wanna Be a Rock Star?

Here’s where kids can rock out at summer camp.


Bay Area Girls Rock Camp empowers girls through the power of music.

When Sophia Margino, 11, heard her babysitter, Maria Juarez, 25, rave about Bay Area Girl’s Rock Camp, she had to check it out.

One of a handful of rock camps in the San Francisco area, Oakland’s BAGRC promises a crash-course in becoming an all-round rock star. Juarez, an Oaklander, attended BAGRC in her teens, forming her all-female band, Chixx Mix, there. Margino followed suit, signing up for BAGRC as a preteen. She finds BAGRC fun, because she’s learning to write music and play drums and keyboards. And she has made new friends there.

“Most camps, you have to sign up ahead of time. I was able to go there and sign up on the first day,” the Berkeley youth said. She was put in a band with a “younger group” of kids who were in the third- to sixth-grade age group. “Right now, I’m in a band with a girl I met there, Claire; she plays drums and I play keys,” Margino said.

Bay Area Girls Rock camp is a member of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international coalition of like-minded organizations whose common mission is empowering girls through music. Founded in 2008, the GRCA has a growing membership of more than 50 camps, with representation in cities all over the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America. The inspiration to start a girls-only rock camp came from Portland, Ore., home of the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls. The first camp of its kind, the RNRC4G opened its doors in 2001. It was after volunteering there that Carey Fay-Horowitz decided to bring a similar camp to the Bay Area, founding BAGRC. BAGRC began with one week of summer camp serving 65 students and 40 volunteers. Today, BAGRC offers three sessions of weeklong summer camps in June and July and a 10-week after-school program January through March (plus a three-day adult rock camp experience in October), working with nearly 300 youth yearly and more than 200 adult volunteers, serving ages 8 to 18. BAGRC aims to challenge gender stereotypes, encourage collaboration and tolerance, and provide a comfortable space for people of all backgrounds to express themselves through music lessons, workshops, group activities, and performances. Summer camps happen at the Oakland School for the Arts, with a live showcase at the New Parish; the other classes are held at the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts.

Shawna Scroggins, BAGRC program and outreach coordinator loves her job. “One of my personal success stories is seeing a 17-year-old student—who was too shy to even speak into the mic—during her first summer at camp on stage singing her loudest with a giant smile on her face. Several former campers have now transitioned into being adult volunteers,” she said.

Kids do not need to know how to play an instrument before they start; in fact, no music experience is necessary. Margino, for example, first learned keys and drums while attending BAGRC. Tuition is $500, though BAGRC offers a sliding scale and has financial aid scholarships available.

Another hip local rock ’n’ roll option for budding frontmen and frontwomen since 2011 is 3 O’Clock Rock. Male and female students at the DIY-focused camp form bands, make albums, and perform locally. Participants can learn keyboards, drums, guitar, and bass, plus they do a little analog recording, film production to create music videos, and gain some exposure to screen-printing for posters, T-shirts, or album covers.

“We were fortunate to find a basement space in downtown Oakland,” said Billy Ribak, a music teacher and director at the camp. “Our first release on our 3 O’Clock Rock label is by The Jet Stars, who evolved from the first students that I put together in a band.”

Adachi Hiroyuki, owner and head chef at Abura-Ya Japanese Fried Chicken at 380 15th St. in downtown Oakland provides an ongoing venue for the students to perform (and eat fried chicken) in. “We started having these free live rock ’n’ roll monthly fried chicken shows at his restaurant on the third Saturday of the month,” Ribak said.

Some 3 O’Clock Rock courses are year-round. The program serves kids ages 7 to 15. Upcoming summer options include making an album at the studios; Beach Boys, Weird Al, and Devo themes; and Oakland Feather River family camping. Prices are $1,099 per student and $635 per family member for camping (10 percent off summer offerings if you sign up by Feb. 28). Students need little to no music experience. 3 O’Clock Rock is also planning a field trip to Burger Boogaloo, an annual music festival in Mosswood Park run by Ribak’s brother, Marc Ribak.

3 O’Clock Rock has received support from many local indie businesses, including Amoeba Records, 924 Gilman, KALX Radio, The Octopus Literary Salon, Brotzeit, VAMP Records, 1234 Go!, Down Home Music, Treasure Island Flea Market, SF Rock Project, and Thee Parkside. All stand behind the camp in teaching kids and teens how to rock.

Two additional rocking options for kids are BandWorks in Jack London Square and Rock Band Land in San Francisco. BandWorks offers seven summer camp programs for kids and teens in the mornings and afternoon with Teen Rock sessions in Oakland in the evenings. The students form bands, led by professional musician-instructors. Program fees vary, starting at $195 for the teen rock classes, $295 for half-day attendance, and $550 for full-day attendance in a weeklong program; scholarships are available. The camp offers digital production and video recording classes, limiting each group of music players to four guitars, two drums, two bass, and two keyboards per band at maximum. Groups are usually kept to age group, with ages 8 to 12 in one group and ages 12 and up working together in another. BandWorks also offers eight-week sessions throughout the school year.

Rock Band Land teaches after- school classes and winter, spring, and summer camps in San Francisco for ages 4 to 9, with a few classes for those up to age 12. Attendees learn in a fun game-style process how to write songs, play instruments, record, make album artwork, and perform at this Mission District camp. In summer, there are six weeklong camps that are $425 to $450 per week.

Berkeley teenager Ivy Knight, 15, echoes Juarez in enthusiasm for BAGRC. Knight attended two years in a row when she was 12 and 13. “It was really cool,” she said. “We learned self-defense and being comfortable in yourself. It wasn’t only focused on music, but on aspects of being a girl and having power.”

She continues to play guitar and sing. 


This report appears in the March edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


Published online on March 13, 2017 at 7:00 a.m.

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