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Ladies and Queers Rock Athens: Cindy Crabb Shoots For An Inclusive Space For Music

By Sarah Weingarten, Staff Writer

The music scene in Athens is in the midst of change. The number of women and non-binary musicians in the small Appalachian college town has been scarce and a slap in the face to the very accepting and forward-thinking culture for which Athens is typically known. This past March, the first Ladies and Queers Rock Athens music camp was held in hopes of diversifying music in Athens by giving non-men easy access to becoming musicians.

Cindy Crabb, the lead coordinator at both Ladies and Queers Rock Athens and Athens Rock Camp for Girls, started the week-long intensive music camp to level the playing field. “Ultimately I want to change society, and one way that social change happens is for us to create counter-institutions or organizations that change the power structures,” said Crabb. The counter-institution, Ladies and Queers Rock Athens, gives its participants an opportunity to grow as aspiring musicians without feeling pressured into systemic music norms.

Crabb’s personal journey of becoming a musician made her realize how hard being a non cis-male in music can be. “I had tried to learn how to play instruments before, but I didn’t know other female musicians, so I was trying to learn from guys,” she said. “There was just a lot of internalized sexism and power dynamics I had to try and break down to learn how to play music from a guy.”

Representation will fuel confidence and creativity to whoever is being represented, making non-male representation in music and all media platforms extremely important. It shows that whatever your gender (or absence of), sexual preference, race or ethnicity will not hold you back from accomplishments in a predominately white and cis-male media world.

Ladies and Queers Rock Athens provides the area with this representation, explained Crabb. “When there are women and trans people who are visible in rock 'n' roll, or in vibrant powerful art like that, it provides a really strong role model for other people and [it’s] an example of what is possible,” she said.

The difference between Athens Rock Camp for Girls and Ladies and Queers Rock Athens is that they’re tailored to different age groups. Even though Ladies and Queers Rock Athens is the newer of the two, it has been in the back of Crabb’s mind for awhile. “I wanted to start Ladies and Queers Rock Athens five years ago when we started Athens Rock Camp for Girls for teenagers,” she said. “I wanted to do it for adults.”

Crabb remembered being a teenager and how she would not have had the confidence to create music but, as an adult, she was ready to reclaim and raise her voice. “I just feel like it’s never too late to be empowered. Playing music is a really transformative thing that you can do and you don’t have to have started when you were a teenager, you could start in your 20s, 30s or 40s,” she said.

Ladies and Queers Rock Camp is an efficient, week-long crash-course of instrumental lessons and band bonding. “On the first day they have instrument lessons and then band practice. Everybody writes songs and then [they] perform at the end of the week,” said Crabb. “The Ladies and Queers rock camp is pretty streamlined. It is really focused on learning the basic skills of playing an instrument and then figuring out how to be in a band together, and writing songs.”

Aside from providing females and gender-queer individuals easy access to learning music and more visibility in their community, the Ladies and Queers Rock Athens camp also bridges the gap between young and old. According to Crabb, the oldest person at this year’s camp was a 60-year-old. The different age collaborations bring individuality to this camp that Crabb doesn’t see anywhere else. “Young people often don’t have older mentors, and older people often lose touch with the vibrancy of youth. I like being able to bring people together in that way,” she said.

Ladies and Queers Rock Athens is one of the most affordable music camps in the area, with help and support from ARTS/West and volunteer teachers who kept the camp afloat. According to Crabb it is rare for a music camp to be so cheap. “The other camps, not to diss them--but they are like 300 or 400 dollars to go to the camp for a week and ours is 50 dollars,” she said. “I feel really passionate that people of all classes can access this camp.”

The camp provides instruments for its participants so there are no worries about making a hefty investment. Athens is the most impoverished county in Ohio; keeping a music camp’s costs down is necessary to keep it running.

Even though rock camps are a national trend, this particular Athens camp is more abnormal than the rest, according to Crabb. “Our [camp] here is really special because it is really vocally trans-inclusive and gay-inclusive; it is for ladies and queers,” she said.

This inclusivity is not a huge trend nationally, which shows just how progressive Athens can be. At the same time, it highlights how sexually-queer and transgendered people are forgotten about due to America’s gender binary norms. This camp facilitates more visibility to the female and gender-queer community, as well as strengthening what is already there outside of mainstream view.

Ladies and Queers Rock Athens has opened females and gender-queer individuals to a world of music that was once not nearly as accessible. Crabb initially was unsure about how successful the first year would be, but the time and effort it took Crabb and various others to start and run the camp proved to be extremely rewarding. “To be able to create a space where women and queers are able to really be powerful and supported and up there on stage, amplified, I think is really beautiful,” she said. “This camp is a place where social change can happen.”

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