When you hear the phrase punk rock, you might picture black leather jackets, mohawks, and combat boots. While these are certainly associated with the original movement, these days, one idea in particular makes punk rock what it is — the initiative to stand out and break the mold. YEAH!, a Nashville-based 501(c)(3) organization, takes this punk rock ideology to a whole new level, offering Nashville youth a chance to tap into their creativity and their business sense.
The roots of YEAH! trace back to 2003, when college student Kelley Andersen realized there weren’t nearly enough places for women to enjoy, play, or produce music. After doing some research, she learned about Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international program that empowers young women through creativity and the arts. Kelley went through training with the organization and created the second-ever female rock camp in the world: Southern Girls Rock Camp.
From there, Kelley and her co-founders (Anna Fitzgerald, Courtney Vickers, Andrew Jacks, Ryan York, and Nicole Tekulve) decided to extend the organization’s vision to provide a musical summer camp to everyone — not just girls — called YEAH! The catchy name stands for Youth Empowerment through Art & Humanities.
Today, YEAH! prides itself on being a welcoming organization that invites students from all walks of life to learn the power and importance of creative expression. While similar music organizations exist in Tennessee and across the U.S., YEAH! is one of the only options that offers full scholarships to the majority of its students.
“It grew into, ‘Well, let’s extend the accessibility to this community through music education to those who can’t afford or can’t [travel] to summer programs. Let’s go into the schools after [they’re out of session], enrich their programming, and not charge for it at all,’” adds YEAH! Executive Director Mariela Moscoso.
The primary program — called YEAH! Rocks Summer Camp — is a one-week summer camp for students ages 6 to 17. During this week, campers learn how to play a rock-based instrument of their choosing and speak with working musicians to learn about their creative processes. Plus, students receive a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry to better understand topics like artist development, the recording process, songwriting, and more.
“It’s [about] learning that instrument, but [also] how you use it as an extension of communicating what you want to say and who you are,” explains Mariela. “We go through the songwriting process, where we examine what you stand for, what you value, what’s important to you, and what commentary you have. It doesn’t have to be a social-heavy issue … It’s a space where at least the communication starts, and people can find their similarities and differences.”
Once students pick their instrument and gain a basic understanding of how to play it, they begin to form bands with other campers. Not only does this help strengthen their musical abilities, but it also teaches them important life skills that go beyond the music industry.
“There’s no dollar amount you can put on that — learning how to work with a group and learning you are going to [disagree] with your group. What are you going to do? How are you going to work through it? That’s a life skill right there,” adds YEAH! secretary and mental health therapist Melissa Alvarez.
In fact, Melissa recalls a story about her 5-year-old son, who attended one of the camps and quickly learned the importance of working together in a group setting: “[He] formed a band, and his band had disagreements … that’s going to happen … He learned on day one of camp that not everybody’s going to agree. Guess what happens in all bands? They disagree on how their creative vision is going to be carried out. And guess what happened? He had to learn how to resolve the conflict and work together as a group.”
By appealing to a wide range of children and ages, YEAH! teaches students the importance of acceptance and empathy. As a student-centered program, it appeals to every child’s wants, needs, and ideas — all while ensuring there is no pressure to reach a certain level of success.
“We know students are coming from so many different communities,” explains Melissa. “Regardless of identity or socioeconomic standing, it’s a neutral field. A lot of kids finally find that comfortable place where they have an opportunity that maybe they could not have afforded before.”
In addition to the summer camp, YEAH! also offers a program called Rock Block. This condensed version of the summer program takes place over nine weeks, allowing students to still learn how to play a rock instrument and collaborate.
Every YEAH! program then ends with a public showcase. The organization has teamed up with local music venues like The East Room and The Basement East to make these performances possible. “Students get on the stage of these iconic places and feel what it’s like [to perform],” says Mariela. “Although it’s not about the product. It’s the process we value.”
When it comes to the future of YEAH! and its programming, both Mariela and Melissa agree that they want the organization to expand program frequency and length — all while remaining true to their roots.
“Not only do we offer a safe place [for students], that is our culture,” says Melissa. “We try to push that culture, and we do it very well. It’s very easy to foster a culture of caring and inclusivity … and this culture of kindness is what our organization has always been about.”
All photography courtesy of YEAH! unless otherwise noted.
For the best “me moment” of the day, subscribe to StyleBlueprint!