“The Best Gig I Ever Saw” is a weekly column that will see us ask a musician to chat about their favorite concert thus far. This week it’s the inspiring, talented and unstoppable Alice Bag, queen of L.A. punk…
I’ve been going to rock concerts pretty regularly ever since I was 13. I’m 60 now, so you can imagine that I’ve seen a lot of shows: from Bowie, Queen, Patti Smith, Ramones, Sex Pistols, to Limp Wrist, and Downtown Boys, so it may surprise you to learn that the best gig I ever saw wasn’t some iconic rock band or some future punk rock star before they became famous… or maybe it was.
I’ve been volunteering at Chicas Rockeras SELA (CRSELA), a rock camp serving young girls and women in Southeast Los Angeles, since they held their first summer camp in 2015. Attending CRSELA’s first showcase is without a doubt the best gig I ever saw. I spent the week leading up to the concert working with young girls between the ages of 8 and 18, helping them gain self-confidence, helping them articulate their ideas musically and work cooperatively to perform their first shows in front of a live audience. The showcase was to take place at the American Legion Hall in Southgate, a place more accustomed to hosting wedding and quinceañera receptions than rock shows.
It was a sweltering June afternoon but friends and family of the campers and supportive community members patiently lined up outside the America Legion Hall, awaiting the start of the show. Inside, the girls reviewed their song notes, tuned guitars, warmed up their vocal cords, and tried to shake the butterflies in their tummies by joking and chanting the camp theme song with their bandmates and fellow campers. “¿Quien eres, quien quieres ser? Ahora es la hora de poder, si se puede, con chicas a tu lado, tu momento finalmente a llegado. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Today is the day, listen and see. Yes we can, yes we can, with chicas by your side, your moment has finally arrived.”
The doors finally opened to a sweaty crowd hoping for relief from the sun but the heat was already inside. The temperature was stifling, the sound was terrible, there was no stage lighting but nobody cared. The concert was glorious! Time and time again, the tentative and at times self-conscious little girls who had started camp just five days earlier, transformed into loud, opinionated, self-confident future world leaders. The emotion from the audience was similar to the enthusiasm reserved for championship sporting events, sporting events typically populated by men and boys. I had never experienced this type of support for a group of girls and I don’t think the campers had ever experienced anything like it either. The cheering was deafening; the energy was electrifying. The “friendship pit” was swirling with euphoria. I got caught up in the moment and dared to go into the pit with my newly replaced knee, I screamed until my voice was gone. Afterwards, there was laughing, crying, high fives, and tres leches cake.
How did the bands sound? Like you’d expect after a week of rehearsal and mentoring: rough and self-assured! The thing is, it doesn’t matter if any of the girls grow up to be iconic rockstars, because rock camp isn’t really about rock — it’s about feeling your power, expressing your ideas and knowing that the world is yours to shape.
Alice Bag plays with Amyl & the Sniffers and MOSS at 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 7 at the Teragram Ballroom.