"This really is the future of rock-and-roll in Memphis," says Kelley Anderson of Murfreesboro.
She's standing in the lobby of the Hutchison School's Wiener Theater following the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp, watching as a swarm of pint-sized superstars interact with their first adoring audience.
"Somebody really should track the progress of some of these girls over the next few years," Anderson says.
She's probably not exaggerating. Anderson, of the hard-harmonizing honky-tonk band Those Darlins, founded the camp in 2002 while attending Middle Tennessee State University.
On Saturday night, Anderson introduced 14 new bands, each exactly five days old and composed of girls between the ages of 10 and 18. It was an epic first gig in front of an enthusiastic crowd of moms, dads, friends, and curiosity seekers.
The sounds roaring off the stage weren't always pretty, but nobody ever said rock had to be pretty. And by the time the last band took to the stage, there could be no doubt that Memphis is still a town full of raw talent and power.
On the previous Monday, following an amped-up mid-day performance by Six Gun Lullaby, a Simpsons and Sleater-Kinney-inspired punk band from Middle Tennessee, a handful of girls attending the Memphis edition of this summer's Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp settled into a more traditional classroom to learn the history of women who rock.
"If you really want to impress your parents or your grandparents, start talking about the Shangri-Las," said "Herstory" instructor Alice Buchanan, who sings and plays guitar for Memphis' eclectic popsters Scandaliz Vandalistz.
Buchanan's lesson plan for Monday was a crash course in '60s girl groups that began with a Shirelles video, grooved over to Martha Reeves, explored the Ronettes and Phil Spector's "wall of sound," and ended with a group of girls who'd only met that morning singing Mary Weiss' overwrought melody and all the harmony parts to the Shangri-Las' "Walking in the Sand."
"On Friday, we're going to write a blues song," Buchanan said, giving the class some idea of what they had to look forward to.
Later that afternoon, the girls from the "Herstory" class joined up with other would-be rockers who'd spent their afternoon learning about photography, recording, self-publishing, songwriting, and everything it takes to be a rock-and-roll superstar. That's when the 14 new bands were formed, and 60-plus girls sat down to talk about "their sound" for the first time.
Saturday's showcase was the culmination of a week of classes, practice, and performances by girl-centric acts ranging from Memphis' the Ultracats to Austin rockabilly filly Rosie Flores. The musical styles represented ranged from Disney tunes to brooding British blues, with some Joan Jett and a handful of surprising originals shuffled into the mix. Throughout the evening, drumsticks twirled and picks flew out into the audience.
The Vegas Rundown's show-closing number, a cover of Mayday Parade's "If You Wanted a Song," had the whole theater on its feet. But two members of the band Applecore best summed up the mood of the evening following their winningly disastrous cover of Helmet's "Unsung."
"Thank you for being the best audience we've ever had," one guitar player said, waving to the crowd.
"And the worst audience we've ever had, too," another guitar player snarled into the mike. Now that was rock-and-roll.
The night's festivities ended with all girls on stage for an energetic run-through of "Let's Have a Party," originally recorded by rock-and-roll's first female star, Wanda Jackson.