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Q and A with Winner Bell

by: L.E. Baskow, Winner Bell helps campers write songs that make the whole world sing. Hear some of them Saturday at the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls summer showcase, 6 p.m. at the Bagdad Theater. See www.girlsrockcamp.org for information.

Winner Bell rocks.

She rocks with her band, she rocks six days a week, she rocks night and day. Bell, you see, sings and plays guitar in a local band called Pom Pom Meltdown, but she also works as operations manager and a counselor at the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Northeast Portland.

Rocking may be easy, but rocking with a camp full of kids who form 17 separate bands writing original music and learning to perform together in the course of one week? That might be enough rock to drive some people straight into the arms of, say, Barry Manilow.

But apparently Bell isn't ready for the Copacabana quite yet. Though camp sessions run Monday through Friday and culminate in a Saturday showcase where each of the new bands performs, and Bell's days run 10 to 12 hours, it looks as if she's made it - the 24-year-old has been doing this six summers in a row.

Portland Tribune: You work 60 hours a week with dozens of kids practicing and playing rock music. As a father of two I've got to ask - are you nuts?

Winner Bell: A lot of that is prep time and cleaning up. The camp is from 9 o'clock till 5:30 p.m.

Tribune: But it's still a lot of time with kids playing rock, right?

Bell: It's great. It's awesome. By the end of the week it's always 100 percent worth it.

Tribune: You don't have any children, do you?

Bell: No.

Tribune: Does working at this camp make it more or less likely you'll have children of your own someday?

Bell: I don't know if it's more or less likely. I feel like I'm a kid at heart and always will be. I totally would like to be a parent someday, but definitely not now. I've got about 160 kids right now.

Tribune: I'm guessing most of the girls who attend a rock-and-roll camp are not strait-laced, sit-still-and-be-quiet kind of kids?

Bell: Some of them are, and some of them are really unique and don't necessarily fit in anywhere else. There's definitely a lot of camaraderie that happens between different groups of girls who wouldn't necessarily have any kind of alliance otherwise. We help them form bands, and sometimes it's really chaotic and sometimes it's really easy. It happens in, like, 30 minutes.

Tribune: Any favorite camp bands?

Bell: I have a lot of favorite names. There's the Wall Street Lunchables. There was the Angry and Unreasonable Smurfs. There was a band called Phonetic Soul, an R-and-B rock fusion band is what they decided it was. There was a band called the Killer Llamas. They write songs about their dogs biting people in the ankles.

Tribune: Is this camp really all about rock?

Bell: It's not just about music. We're a self-esteem and self-reliance building organization. We use music as a medium. There are kids that totally come out of their shell the last day of camp, and they'll jump up and down and scream. They'll have been quiet all week, and at the show they'll show this side of them nobody knew they had.

Tribune: But are there kids who just don't fit in?

Bell: There are some kids who come here and they realize it's not their niche. They're really interested in music, but they realize they want to be more behind the scenes, they want to be a roadie or an audio engineer or a recording engineer. You don't have to be in the band.

- Peter Korn