We have seen the future of rock ‘n' roll, and it is adorable.
On Thursday, the local kids' arts organization KnowHow Knoxville will hold a fund-raiser in advance of two of its summer camps designed with pre-teens in mind.
"There's just not a lot of opportunities for that age group," says Elizabeth Wright, the organization's co-founder.
KnowHow offers kids opportunities to express themselves creatively in ways they might not be able to otherwise. This summer, KnowHow will hold week-long camps for documentary filmmaking and a local version of Girls Rock Camp, a national program aimed at 8- to 17-year-old girls. This week's fund-raiser, a music and arts festival at Candoro Arts and Heritage Center in South Knoxville, will feature a lineup of local bands led by women: Daddy Don't; the Susan Lee 3, a renamed version of the Tim Lee 3; and the Pinklets, poster children for what can happen when you give a group of girls musical instruments.
"[Music] helps women with math and science skills, and to creatively express yourself. It's really empowering," Wright says. "[The Pinklets] embody everything the camp is about."
The Pinklets, who are all between the ages of 9 and 14, are heirs to a pair of local music dynasties. Guitarist/keyboardist Willa McCollough's father is Sean McCollough, who fronts the Lonetones and hosts the WDVX show Kidstuff on Saturday mornings. Lead singer and guitarist Lucy Abernathy, 11, grew up listening to her father Kevin Abernathy perform in his bands. Though her older sister, Roxy, 14, maintains she's only filling in on bass for a few more shows with the Pinklets, the youngest Abernathy sister, Eliza, 9, is a dedicated drummer.
Lucy and Willa, also 11, met in their first-grade class and hit it off right away—personally and musically. The first iteration of their band, the Tigresses, eventually gave way to the Pinklets, though none of them say it's their favorite color. (Roxy sports purple hair.) They have to juggle practice with school work and extracurricular activities during the school year, but they all say playing together is worth it.
"We can do what we love and share it with people," Willa says.
"We love music, [and] you get to be in a band with your best friends," Lucy says.
Lucy is the main songwriter for the band, which has never performed a cover so far. She gets much of her inspiration from day-to-day interactions, from talking about feminism with her mother ("Beautiful" is about her mom) to feeling down and putting on a brave face when your friends want you to be happier ("The Other Man").
The Pinklets' sound is classic pop-rock, but the lyrics offer an insight we don't often get in rock 'n' roll: the intricacies of friendship, sisterhood, and puppy love through the eyes of pre-teens themselves. (And cupcakes, too.)
"[‘The Other Man']'s about—you know, when you're out with your friends and something happens that makes you sad," Lucy explains. "You get mad at one of them, and you don't want to be happy because you're so not into it right now, and they start talking about something else and they're all really happy."
The band has played a few gigs—mostly school-sponsored festivals, talent shows, and Kidstuff, plus a show at the Dogwood Arts Festival in April. But they're not packing their bags for Hollywood—together or separately.
"We see the cons about being famous," Willa says. After performing at school talent shows, some classmates asked them to sign their T-shirts, which she didn't enjoy.
They say they're excited about the KnowHow Knoxville fund-raiser, but they'll probably be nervous the day of the show.
"I'm not nervous at all," McCollough says. "But I know I will be on Thursday."
There's no long-term goal for the band other than recording an EP. They've got about 12 original songs, but they collectively agree that there are only about eight they really want to record. And they're are under no illusions about their future together.
"We're probably going to evolve [as a band]," Lucy says.
Till then, though, they'll continue rocking.
Registration for the documentary filmmaking camp, which starts on June 16, is now closed, but the Girls Rock Camp (July 28-Aug. 1) is still open for registration. Full tuition is $250, but there is financial aid available. You can register for the camp at knoxknowhow.wordpress.com/apply. The KnowHow fund-raiser is on Thursday, June 6, at the Candoro Arts and Heritage Center at 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, and free to anyone under 18.