Notes from Pendleton Rock Camp

This one time, at band camp....

Here in Portland, youth music programs are everywhere: Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, Outside In, p:ear, Ethos. All these nonprofits do a fantastic job of reaching kids that our public schools cannot in the days of tight budgets and federal testing mandates, but 3 1/2 hours east in sleepy Pendleton, musically inclined kids have an altogether tougher time learning to rock.

But there's hope: Recently completing its third year, local promoter/musician Peter Walters' Pendleton Rock Camp ensures that not all of the western town's babies grow up to be cowboys. Walters and his camp counselors (this year's staff included Portlanders Laura Gibson, Dave Allen, members of Heroes and Villains, Deer or the Doe, Junkface and, for the third straight year, the entire band Point Juncture, WA) spent a week crafting bands out of around 50 emo-loving Eastern Oregon kids.

I was there, too, teaching Rock Journalism for the second year. What follows are my favorite moments from camp.

Monday, 10 am: The kids introduce themselves, and the counselors all get giddy when it's a camper named Weston's turn. The slightly runty youngster came out of nowhere last year during the camp's final showcase to deliver the rockingest live version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" since Iggy Pop's wild years. "Hey, I'm Weston," he says quietly. "Most of you know me, but for those who don't you can look me up on YouTube." The class laughs. "That thing has like a thousand hits!" Weston quips.

Tuesday, 2 pm: Working with kids makes a person feel pretty old—they only know Ninja Turtles and Transformers through the most recent movie adaptations. So I'm pretty stoked when my students laugh at a Top Gun reference in a CD review we're reading aloud together. Still, when Dave Allen name-drops Menomena, he's greeted with utter silence. Dave can't help himself: "Really? I'd have thought they'd be more popular." We don't dare ask if they're familiar with Allen's old band, Gang of Four.

Thursday, 3:45 pm: The Kill Davids, a punk outfit of campers who dressed in drag at last year's end-of-week show, is dressed up in redneck fashion for today's in-class performance. "Y'all like rock 'n' roll?" they ask the crowd. "Well, too bad, 'cause we're playin' country!" They fly into a blistering punk-country set. I love these kids!

Friday, 8:45 pm: After an hour and a half of memorable performances from teen bands like Miss You, Mrs. and the Red Axes, Weston is doing it again—he belts out the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." to an absolutely raucous crowd in the middle of Pendleton's Main Street. When he loses the words, the audience is happy to take over.

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