Sarah Reagan is a rock star, both figuratively and literally.
When the 40-year-old mom of three isn’t busy keeping up with the demands of raising a teenager and twin 6-year-olds, she’s helping to mold Tarrant County’s next generation of female rock musicians.
Reagan, who spent several years as the lead singer of Fort Worth-based band Solo Sol, is the founder and executive director of the youth rock camp Girls Rock Fort Worth.
Part of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA), Girls Rock Fort Worth is one of more than 90 Girls Rock programs across the globe and focuses on empowering girls, women, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals by using the tools of music and arts education to foster community and build power.
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“I really loved the idea of using music as a way to empower girls and give them confidence,” Reagan says.
Since 2016, Girls Rock Fort Worth has hosted a rock camp every summer for girls ages 8-17. Throughout the weeklong event, campers are given the opportunity to learn how to play instruments, write songs and perform live with help from qualified volunteers. Mixed within the mostly musical curriculum are life skill-based workshops focused on self-defense, body image and standing up to injustice.
While the youth camp still remains the central focus of the program, Girls Rock Fort Worth is branching out this month with the adults-only Pantherette Rock Retreat at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth. The event, which is open to women and gender nonconfirming individuals over the age of 21, takes place Feb. 16-18.
“It’s sort of the next step to reaching a bigger audience and making a greater difference,” Reagan says.
Ready to rock
To the hardworking team behind Girls Rock Fort Worth, the upcoming Pantherette Rock Retreat offers more than just another way to introduce new faces to the program. It more importantly offers the opportunity to set an example for future generations of aspiring rock musicians.
“There’s not a huge representation of women in the music industry, professionally and even in our own local music community here in Fort Worth,” Reagan said. “We’d definitely like to see more women represented in all the fields, whether it is playing in a band or writing about bands or producing music, recording music.”
During the jam-packed three-day event, campers will form their own band and receive lessons in instrument instruction, songwriting and performing. In addition, there will be workshops (similar to the ones held during the youth camp) that tackle topics related to empowerment.
Campers are not required to have any musical experience, and the majority usually do not, says Reagan. The only thing campers really need, she says, is a willingness to step outside their comfort zone and try new things.
“We really work hard to make sure that we have a safe space for them at the camp so they can try on different things,” Reagan says. “Explore themselves and kind of reconnect with themselves in a way.”
While registration to attend the camp has closed, the public is invited to attend the camp showcase at Main at Southside (MASS) on Feb. 18. Doors open at 7 p.m. and all proceeds from the event go toward future Girls Rock Fort Worth programming.
The nonprofit, which is run 100 percent by volunteers, is funded mostly through donations (both monetary and goods). The program regularly accepts items such as used instruments and musical equipment, plus food, printing paper and auction items.
“There’s so many different ways for people to be involved with us,” Reagan says “Whether it’s volunteering at camp or during the year. Helping us get food for camp. There’s a lot of different ways to be involved and it’s open to both women and men.”
Music is life
Long before she was a registered nurse, Shannon Matzke of The Colony was just a rock-obsessed kid growing up in Oklahoma.
At 6 years old, her entry into the world of rock came via a record player she received for Christmas and a bunch of cast-off records (Kiss and Cheap Trick) passed down from her teenage sisters. As she grew older, her musical taste evolved and she became obsessed with ’80s indie rock artists such as The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Sisters of Mercy.
“I was the only punk rock kid in my town, and music was so much of my sustaining force. It’s what kept me going. It’s what inspired me to go to school and leave my little town,” Matzke says.
Matzke also found inspiration in her musically inclined family, which includes her country musician father and bluegrass-folk artist sister. When she turned 15, she took up the guitar, then at age 30 changed to the bass. Now the 46-year-old is ready to tackle a new instrument: the drums.
Matzke, who has previously volunteered with Girls Rock Fort Worth as a nurse and camp counselor, will take part in the inaugural Patherette Rock Retreat as a camper and says she is most looking forward to having the opportunity to play with other rock-loving women.
When asked why she thinks camps like Girls Rock are so important to young girls and women, Matzke says she finds empowerment in challenging yourself to try something new.
“It’s never too late to take up a new skill. Anytime where you can learn something it just adds to your self-esteem,” she says.
Building self-esteem. Providing a safe space to try something different. Inspiring future generations. For Reagan, these are just a few of the pieces that help make up the overall vision of Girls Rock Fort Worth.
“Our biggest mission at Girls Rock is to empower girls and women. We want them to find their voice. To learn they have the right to take up space and help them own that space,” Reagan says. “As women, especially, we pretty much get the message we need to be smaller and not take up too much space. That’s probably our biggest hope is that they learn to kind of take up that space and be who they are. And be confident in that and not worry so much what people think.”
To learn more about Girls Rock Fort Worth, visit www.girlsrockfw.org.
Pantherette Rock Retreat showcase
Doors open at 7 p.m. Feb. 18
Main at South Side (MASS)
1002 S. Main St., Fort Worth
Tickets and more info: http://www.girlsrockfw.org/