Camping Virtually | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Camping Virtually 

Salt Lake City's Rock Camp takes its mission to support the creativity of marginalized youth online.

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  • Sam Crump

The bustling noise of nightlife and live music has been replaced by an eerie silence that now fills the many venues and bars of Salt Lake. Not only are there no concerts to attend, but many non-profit music camps serving kids have shut their doors for safety as well. While the physical venues and buildings may be vacant, live music and its inviting spaces are very much alive—if you know where to look. Local musicians have gotten creative about how to connect with others musically, and have a message to share: The space is still there, and we are here to stay.

This June would have marked the fifth year for Rock Camp SLC running its week-long music camp for marginalized and underrepresented youth. The camp, like many other events and festivals, has been canceled this year in a conscious effort to keep people safe. This is particularly tragic, because Rock Camp SLC is much more than just a music camp; it is a safe space for marginalized youth to be encouraged, to be heard, and to gain positive mentorship in music-making. Many of the non-profit program's volunteers are women, transgender and gender-expansive—just like the campers themselves—contributing to an environment that fosters creativity, self-confidence and empowerment.

While the physical camp itself will not be running, however, the program isn't totally canceled. Talia Keys—Rock Camp's music director and a local musical powerhouse—has gotten creative about how to run elements of the program virtually. "Camp is not over," Keys says. "Camp is happening, and we want to make sure kids know they have the space still."

Normally, the camp would run for one week every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the kids would be forming their own bands. This year, Rock Camp has created two days of programming planned every week via their Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Tuesdays are "wellness" hangouts (yoga, dance, etc.); Thursdays involve a music class conducted by Keys and co-music director Hillary McDaniel. Keys has even collaborated with some kids virtually to co-write a song. "We wrote a beautiful song together called 'What Really Matters,'" she says. "These kids are smarter than we give them credit for."

The empowerment and connection that flows in and out of Rock Camp feels incredibly altruistic. Volunteers have said that they often come away feeling that they have learned more from the kids than the other way around. Kenzie Waldon, guitarist and frontperson for the band Slick Velveteens, says that the camp "is truly a haven for not only the campers, but the volunteers too. ... I've never felt more empowered as a musician and a female than when the week is over and you get to watch the campers rock out on stage with full confidence."

The camp has proven so successful and popular that campers of years past have graduated and later signed up to mentor younger attendees themselves. The kids who populate the classes of Rock Camp are "the next generation of teachers," according to Waldron, and keeping it running is critical for them. "I truly believe Rock Camp saves lives." says Waldon.

Keys, McDaniel and the other Rock Camp volunteers have given space to kids who need it now more than ever, and are an inspiration to fellow creatives who might be struggling, especially at this time. "What I want to express to everyone who feels down right now, is to get creative [about performing]," Keys says. "I have connected with more people across the states in the last month than I ever have on tour."

Rock Camp will also be hosting a "virtual music festival" on May 22 - 23 to raise funds for the program to keep running. Youth bands from previous camp years will perform, along with camp volunteers and, of course, Keys herself. There are also opportunities for kids to submit a virtual performance of an original song to be showcased as part of the festival. Information about the festival—and the event itself—can be found on the camp's Facebook page at

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Emma Roberts

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