Observing Jill Staveley with her children Charlie and Meara is a beautiful insight into a special dynamic between mother and daughters. When Meara, just days away from her fourth birthday, couldn’t bring herself to smile as the lethargy of the day caught up to her, Staveley held Maera’s face in her hands and brushed back her hair. “You have a lot of feelings right now don’t you? I know you do. I can tell.”
The shoot proved tiring for her youngest, but the promise of salty toffee and a game of ‘What Time is it Mister Wolf?’ afterwards, which we had the honour of joining in on, got her through.
For so many, the acknowledgement of complex emotions that can arise from a chaotic, albeit fun day, is rare. Staveley is nurturing a sense of joy and music within her daughters with self-aware parenting and entrusting them with instruments. As girls, there is nothing more empowering than owning a skill and being confident in that skill. Staveley, along with other prominent community members, has been passing this sense of confidence on to young women every summer for the past 11 years with Rock Camp for Girls, while incorporating her love and pursuit of music into everyday family life. This fine balance is an achievement considering the contemporary hardships of parenting in this part of the century.
Mothers have a lot on their plate, and it can prove even more difficult when trying to balance one’s own passions with honing those of our children simultaneously. Jill Staveley is a Production Manager at Trent Radio and has been involved in various bands such as The Burning Hell, The Staveley Project, and currently, Steelburner. She shared her insights surrounding the topic of family, motherhood, and its impact on being a touring musician. We dove into the significance of Rock Camp for Girls in Peterborough and how the whole community comes together to make it happen.
Jill Staveley has always been surrounded by music. Her parents met in a band and she grew up as a highland dancer. There was always live music around her, and she “always felt drawn to the music.” But it was when Staveley injured her knee that she really got into music.
Back when Staveley was a teenager, there weren’t really music lessons available for much besides basic piano lessons.
“I hadn’t taken guitar lessons and learned my scales or had access to the equipment, so I was told I could finger pick and sing backups, or it was, like, vocal stuff.” Staveley expressed how she feels her primary instrument is her voice, which leads to a lot of gender stereotyping involving the whole “chick as a backup vocalist thing.”
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom, so I was ready for the time when I knew I had to put myself second. I couldn’t be a touring musician and be a mom. I wasn’t wealthy, I didn’t have the privilege of a travelling nanny, right?”
Staveley toured and was playing shows as late as possible into her pregnancy with her first daughter, Charlie. She recounts this experience fondly. “I was playing shows right up to my due date with Charlie. It was amazing. I had these visions that I would be able to pump breast-milk and leave for a couple of weeks, or that I would be back on track pretty quickly. I would watch other moms, before I became a mom, who hadn’t spent a weekend away from their kids, and always wondered how they could do that. How do you become so wrapped up in your motherhood?
Well, that exact thing has happened to me. I have literally only slept one night away from Charlie, and she is six years old. That was my wedding night. I was breast-feeding, and practicing attached parenting.”
Motherhood creates a touring dynamic where one becomes very cautious and aware of how having a young child around is affecting band members and anyone else touring with you. Everyone is exhausted and travel-worn, and simple things like keeping a baby quiet become more significant when you’re on the road. Car seats and changing diapers become sanctimonious with the reality that the band can’t play at a bar-it’s just not a thing you do with a baby in tow.
Looking back, Staveley says that these were all very kind accommodations. “I wasn’t invited to tour after that. Your music also has to be a business, and it’s just not functional with a baby.” We all laugh about how it’s still so impressive that she pulled this off, “Yeah, I was like, breast-feeding while tuning my guitar.” Is there any image more empowering than this one? We don’t think so.
This year marks the eleventh year of Rock Camp For Girls in Peterborough, a grassroots initiative led by a group of women who wanted to teach young women how to rock and roll in Peterborough.
Jean Greig, otherwise known as the “Rock Queen”, was the first to hear about Rock Camp For Girls and brought the idea back to Peterborough. Jean was and remains a part of The Estrogems along with Em Glasspool and Kate Story, a group that still performs to this day.
With the help of Staveley, Story, Peg Town, and Glasspool, the very first Rock Camp For Girls in Peterborough was organized and delivered. Since then, the Rock Squad (those who organize and volunteer their time to make this awesome camp function) has included individuals folks like Di Latchford, Chelsey Bennet, Kristen Clark, Charlotte Dempsey, Augusta Veno, Anwyn Climenhage, Kelly McMichael, as well as other volunteers and camp staff such as Kirstin Addis, Jocelyn Grills, Moe Laverty, Tracy Ashendon, Kate Gentle, Sarah Theobald, Anya Gwynne, and so many more.
“All the gear was borrowed, every last piece of equipment, from our friends and the community. It was incredible. None of us had ever run a camp before, and trying to do this liberating thing and get these girls rocking and rolling in our community, it was so empowering for us to do this.”
Rock Camp For Girls is part of a greater Rock Camp Alliance, which is associated with movements such as the underground feminist hardcore punk movement Riot grrrl that originated in the early 1990s. It is a subcultural movement that combines feminist consciousness and punk style and politics. It is rooted in giving voice to women in rock and roll, and it has slowly built up to become an important part of our community.
Rock Camp For Girls runs for two weeks in the summer. The kids joining the camp are between nine and eighteen and have a varying spectrum of talents and skills. Some kids come in with no musical skills at all, and others arrive with a thorough knowledge of scales, tuning, and chord structure. Rock Camp is a space for kids who are excited about learning more about music in a group environment, or jamming, and is also comprised of kids who are there because their parents work. Camp in this community is important for a variety of reasons.
Staveley tells us, “it’s everyone’s camp, but it was Jean’s camp, she’s the Rock Queen. She’s doing other things right now and in the past few years we almost had to shut down camp, sometimes we didn’t have enough volunteers and it became overwhelming. I had kids, and Jean and I both had to come in and put out a big call out. It’s about participating year round. We need people who can make a commitment to show up on the first Tuesday of every month.”
Though organizing Rock Camp For Girls while being a mother made the dynamic more difficult, it still sounded like motherhood and running the camp were two lifestyles that meshed better than motherhood and touring.
Staveley had both her daughters come to work with her at Rock Camp for a time, and both girls were able to come to all of the Rock Camp Shows, as the organizers ensure that all shows are matinees that their father, Matthew, plays with Washboard Hank.
“We try to do stuff that they can actually be there for. When we practice at home, we try to incorporate them so that they can participate. Charlie would make a sign or a show poster, so that they can actually see what it is that we’re doing.”
There is something about organizing music events that humans of all ages can attend and enjoy that really makes the community flourish. When all generations are involved in creating something fun and enriching, all of society benefits. Staveley has regularly been attending Charlie’s classes for the past couple of years to jam with the little kids, and is known there as Sister Jill. In this way Staveley remains in tune with her passions while being an attentive mother and active contributor to the community.
The camp started an internship program which gets students their high school community hours while helping out with the big stuff. One year, Greig and Staveley organized an intermediate senior camp containing its own separate curriculum from what was running at Rock Camp. Local band The Lonely Parade were a part of this and now they’re part of the Rock Squad, the staff roster at Rock Camp For Girls.
The community just keeps giving back to itself; some campers leave for good once they’re done while others return for more camp experiences or as volunteers to continue the camp’s growth.
So what exactly do kids learn at Rock Camp?
There are tech workshops where campers learn how to put together a PA system, along with songwriting workshops. Every year the camp writes a song together. It’s easy to write a song by yourself, but it’s hard to write it with others, as that incorporates peer cooperation and teamwork. The campers get instrument lessons with either the bass, drums, guitar or keyboard. Once assigned, campers are taught timing and rhythm along with the basics.
Rock Camp For Girls registrations go online in February, and the kick-off concert is usually in the first week of March annually at The Spill.
“We love Dave Toby [The Spill’s owner], he’s amazing. We always do a matinee and it’s a chance for older and younger people in the community to play.”
We asked Staveley why she thought Rock Camp For Girls was so important, in comparison to a Rock Camp for, well, everyone. She told us a little story that put things into perspective.
“When Rock Camp For Girls first started, I wondered, why are we making this exclusive? I was a little standoffish in the first year, and then I became very passionate. I’ve never been into girl specific activities, things like ‘girls only open mics’ or ‘girl things’ in general. I hate the whole ‘we need a girl band to play’ thing. You know? I don’t want to be a girl. I want to be a musician. So initially, this was problematic for me.
One day my friend was running the kitchen at Sadleir House and she had a local male musician come in to help her while Rock Camp was in session. He was the same age as some of the girls, and he had stuck his head out and all of a sudden, this environment of risk-taking turned into girls fixing their hair, and literally nobody was willing to go on stage. I was like, ‘Oh! Now I understand why we need this space.’”
Staveley and her counterparts are seeking to create a hands on learning environment for girls, while insisting that this is not an exclusive term, but rather, inclusive.
“It’s for youth, basically. We’re still trying to figure out the best language to use.”
Rock Camp For Girls is not about creating a ‘woman only’ space, rather, it’s about creating a space where kids can gain enough skill, and have the confidence to take that skill outside in the public sphere.
“I find that girls are conditioned not to be confident risk takers in comparison to boys. I grew up with the gender binary, and all of that stuff affected how my actual confidence developed.”
As a woman in the music industry, Staveley has ample experience dealing with the patriarchy in the music world. Women are treated differently all over the music stage. She lamented about times when she would get on stage, and sound technicians would try and tell her how to use her gear.
This lady runs Rock Camp, has been in several bands, was a sound technician herself, and some bro-dude is trying to tell her how to use her amp. Can you imagine? We still haven’t stopped cringing over here.
“I worked at the Gordon Best for ten years and did everything from bartending to sound. There would be really big name bands that would come through, and you’re doing your job, and they’d be like ‘Oh, are you the door girl?’ I literally had guys on stage ask me the colour of my underwear while I was doing soundcheck.”
Staveley warmly recounted working with people like Ian Osbourne, who were so very respectful of all people in the craft. It was difficult to always catch on to the fact that there was gender inequality when working with people who treated musicians as musicians and technicians as technicians regardless of what their body parts are.
“I was very lucky to work in that environment. But it’s true, as a performer I think I’ve only played at one venue where the sound technician was a female. It’s a thing. It’s a totally male dominated society.”
Interestingly, the emergence of Rock Camp For Girls was opportunistic for some misogynists who made an appearance in the community. Often, creating a space to combat such things can reveal an ugly underbelly.
“There were some people who would pay lip service to Rock Camp but then behind our backs they would be like, ‘well why is this person teaching that, there are way better players in the community’. We tried to explain that it wasn’t about being the best at something but about creating an inclusive space.”
Staveley explained how Rock Camp is growing and transitioning with its name. Rock Camp is not simply for “girls” but non-binary and trans youth as well, which is clearly stated on their website. The whole point of Rock Camp is to give an opportunity of encouragement and support, and to build confidence and skills within those not traditionally included in what society knows as rock and roll.
There have been kids who have transitioned and no longer identify as “she” returning to camp, and are conflicted about whether they can still be a part of Rock Camp. It’s the job of the women running the camp to give those individuals a stronger voice in the community.
“One of the things we started at camp this year is that when we introduce ourselves we also include our prefered gender pronouns. We are opening up that dialogue.”
Motherhood bleeds into every aspect of Staveley’s life decisions and how she approaches camp, “I’m getting old, and these kids are young. We are creating an environment that my kids are growing up in. I don’t want to teach them the oppression we are fighting.
Rock Camp for Girls is not about a genre of music, it’s about a way of life, taking risks, and making mistakes. It’s about being inclusive and recognizing there’s no lead singer. We talk about how we’re all stars and we can’t make a Rock Camp constellation without each other.”
Trent Radio has always had an important role to play in Staveley’s life as well as Rock Camp. Trent Radio is involved with many local people in the community, and record lots of live music. It is one of the reasons Staveley is there, as it is a musical outlet and a great way to work with the community. Trent Radio, with Staveley’s involvement, created a project called Local Youth and Music.
“You had to apply and audition, and when you were selected you did a series of workshops with local experts in the music scene, with people like Nick Ferrio. Then, as a group we recorded an album with them. That’s how the first Lonely Parade album came about. I recorded that with them through the Local Youth and Music project.”
Through grants and funds such as the Community Radio Fund of Canada, Trent Radio has been able to remain actively involved with young local musicians, and help them record, promote and set up shows.
“We paid for copies of the album and promoted it to Exclaim! and got national promotion.”
That the campers grow as individuals is clear to anyone who witnesses the transformation of those attending. Camp allows kids to be anyone they want to be. No matter where a kid is from, no matter what their school life is like, a camper gets to define how they want to present themselves.
This newfound confidence is then taken back into the community, and however small or large the confidence gain, it is still a benefit to both the individual and the community they hail from.
“I know that I have gained so much from working at Rock Camp. Bad shit happens and you think, how do I move forward from it? We as councillors take risks constantly.
We have a rule at Rock Camp that says you’re not allowed to say sorry. You have to say ‘rock on.’”