On March 31, Girls Rock NC’s third annual fundraiser Rock Roulette will be held in Motorco Music Hall, where nine new bands formed just two months ago will showcase their hard work and perform original songs and covers. 

Founded in 2004, Girls Rock NC started off as a small camp where 29 girls formed bands, collaborated to write original songs and performed for the community. Then it expanded its programming to also include a fall and spring After School Program and spring Rock Roulette for adults. Girls Rock NC is a LGBTQIA+-inclusive, non-profit organization that works to empower girls, women and marginalized genders to be confident and engaged in community through creative expression. The very first Girls Rock camp began in Portland, Ore., in 2001, while Girls Rock NC was the third in the country and the fourth in the world. Today there are more than 130 organizations based on the Girls Rock model across the globe, and Girls Rock NC currently has about 120 active volunteers and serves more than 300 people each year.

“The mission there is to [put] a group of people, much like our youth, into a space with people they may or may not have a lot in common with and offer this platform for them to make their own decisions, make things for the sake of making things, reel their own voices in new ways and try things that they’ve been scared to try,” Executive Director Mary Alta said. “And work together in this vulnerable way that can wind up helping them feel more confident and more engaged in their own communities, just like we hope for our youth.” 

This year, 40 to 45 participants were grouped into nine bands. For many of them, this was their first time touching an instrument. Coming out of “riot grrrl,” an underground feminist punk movement, the Girls Rock model contributes to the creation of a feminist narrative within the male-dominated music industry, where women are often marginalized or tokenized as vocalists. Even without formal musical training, you can still strum a guitar, make some noise and be innately political.

Conversations about “female empowerment” today often center around encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects that are historically dominated by men. However, Rock Roulette and Girls Rock NC re-appropriate that narrative by encouraging women to express themselves liberally and recognize the inherent benefits of these “female traits.”

“There’s this notion that anything associated with femininity or with women is weak or bad,” Alta noted. “In pursuing a world where gender is a non-factor and where gender oppression is not this enormous thing that it is, getting to that place is not going to happen through people aspiring to masculine traits. It’s going to happen via understanding that feminine traits are inherently good.” 

Girls are often taught that there is not enough room for all of them, and consequently must compete and tear each other down in order to earn their space in the world. To push back this social pressure and cultivate a supportive environment, Girls Rock NC teaches girls to work together, give one another constructive feedback and respect each other’s opinions and identity.

The organization is also conscious of inclusiveness and diversity, as many of the staff, volunteers and youth are queer and transgender people. Their website repeatedly emphasizes that queer people are more than welcome to be part of the organization, and they make sincere efforts to incorporate the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The goal isn’t just to have more girls playing guitar on the stage — we are connected to this broader societal goal of collective liberation,” Alta said.

Society says girls should be quiet. But Girls Rock NC encourages them to shout and make noise.