For three glorious minutes each summer, Lia Formenti is an actual rock star.
The 12-year-old straps on her bass guitar, steps onto a makeshift stage in front of her family and friends, and belts out a song she and her band mates crafted during a week of rock'n'roll camp in Peterborough, Ont.
Last year, her band was The In Between Tweens. The year before, Girl Punch. And while the band names change, one thing stays the same each summer: Boys are not welcome.
"If boys were allowed it would very different and not fun," says Lia, who lives in nearby Indian River. "Some people would be less comfortable, and it would change the music. There'd be more arguments, too, because the boys would want to name the bands Red Skulls or something weird like that."
Her concerns are the same that led to the first all-girls camp in Portland, Ore., in 2001. Since then, girl rock camps have become increasingly popular in the United States, and the concept has gathered momentum in Canada this summer, with new camps opening - and selling out - in Vancouver and Montreal.
While organizers says a safe, non-critical creative environment is the biggest draw for the camps, there's another force at work: More girls are playing video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band at home and realizing that they could do the same thing in real life.
"The games are teaching them more about music than I can," says Rachelle Van Zanten, who runs "Rocker Girl" camps in Calgary and Edmonton. "They start talking about theory, while I'm telling them just to go with what feels right."
The camps, which are loosely affiliated with one another through the Portland organization, each follow their own format.
Generally, girls aged 10 to 17 gather for a week to write songs and learn an instrument, at an average cost of about $200. Prior experience isn't required, and the girls usually stick to the holy trinity of rock - guitars, bass and drums.
The instruments are typically rented from local music stores at a discount or donated by manufacturers. Often, organizers simply canvass their friends for beaten-up gear that can be put to use for a week. It may not be the best stuff in town, but it serves the purpose.
"It's not really about the music anyway," says Jean Greig, a local musician who helps run the Peterborough camp, which has sold out its 40 spots every year since it started in 2005. "It's about empowerment for the girls, with music as the medium. The underlying focus isn't on girls playing guitar, it's about girls at a particularly vulnerable age taking risks and expressing themselves."
Jennifer Duffin helped organize Montreal's first rock camp for girls, which ran the first week of August. She's confident the 20-camper program will be a success in a city that's renowned for its underground indie rock scene.
She decided to start the camp after watching Girls Rock! The Movie, a documentary based on the experiences in Portland. She overlooked her own lack of musicianship and started organizing the fundraisers that would allow the camp to proceed.
"Women have been kind of marginalized within rock music," she says. "There's always been tonnes of female musicians, but they aren't as visible as men. Rolling Stone did a 400-page book called Women In Rock. If they did a book about men, they would need 40 editions."
While increasingly popular, the concept isn't an easy sell among some in the rock community. Juno award winner Sass Jordan, for example, worries the camps focus too much on gender.
"I wasn't interested in gender, I was interested in the music," says Ms. Jordan, who broke into the Montreal music scene as a 15-year-old. "I never really thought about my gender as being a stumbling block. It didn't occur to me, and so it didn't seem to occur to anyone else. If anything, it was a plus - it made me stand out more."
Still, it's clear that once campers hit the stage, their gender becomes a non-issue as they focus on putting on the performance of a lifetime.
"I love being up there and playing our songs in front of everyone, and I kind of like being on stage a lot," Lia says. "Last year we wrote a song called Still Water. I don't know what kind of a song we'll play this year. I like reggae, though, so maybe we can play some of that."
The benefits also extend beyond the week spent at camp - Lia jams with her guitar-playing father on a regular basis, and plans to start her own band as soon as she finds some free time.
"I didn't even know the bass existed before I went to camp," she says. "My mom signed me up for it - I wanted to play drums. Now I like the bass a lot, and I play with my dad and keep learning new stuff. I'm going to keep on playing, and I'll probably get even better."