Rock & Roll Dreams

Where Rock & Roll Dreams come true…

Peggy Ratusz

Gutting and starting from scratch— things Anne Coombs has done both figuratively and literally in her efforts to bring to fruition The Rock Academy.
The building that now bursts with rock music from floor to rafters every Saturday was once a cold, calculating check-cashing business. This now pristine and organized studio, classroom, and listening room is adorned with concert posters and framed album covers  from past and present rock-and-roll, soul, hard rock, blues, punk, and heavy metal kings and queens. A two-tiered twenty-four-foot-long stage down one wall is the focal point of this state-of-the-art performance space.

The musicians and singers, who’ve come to learn and jam, range in age from nine to seventeen. They have auditioned to gain a spot in one of three classes held each Saturday that provides them the opportunity to learn and grow from some of Asheville’s most effective mentors, teachers, and coaches.

Fifteen years ago, Anne was teaching all styles of guitar to sixty students each week at the Asheville Music School when it was located on Charlotte Street. After visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, a seed was planted in her heart that thirsted for seven years until she watered it just over a year ago, opening the doors to The Rock Academy in West Asheville.

Little by little, step by step, she kept the faith and took that leap to satisfy her desire to help young instrumentalists and vocalists reach their potential. In her own words: “This program is so great for kids! It teaches leadership skills, social skills, and communication skills—all through playing music! It motivates students that may already be in private lessons, but who never get a chance to practice what they learn in a live group setting. It’s a program that builds confidence and instills pride. What a great opportunity for kids, to have the chance to perform live on stage at some of the best music venues in the country! To actually showcase their skills and be around others who share their passion for playing and performing, and to share their accomplishments with family and friends.”

The Rock Academy program developed as she taught summer guitar workshops at UNCA and in the back of the Music Center at River Ridge Shopping Center, as a way to make money during a time of year that is typically slow for a music teacher. The enthusiasm she found in her younger students was just the fertilizer she needed to sprinkle on her seedling; a year-round music school for kids that would also include vocalists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers.

“Music bridges generation gaps. As soon as I strap on my electric guitar to shred and rip through a solo, I’ve got their attention―I’m no longer some lady; I’m suddenly cool!” And she rips through and teaches everything from Green Day, White Stripes, Judas Priest, Pink, Lady GaGa, Joan Jett, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin—all of them.

Not too long ago, Anne incorporated the Adult Rock Academy and now holds classes on Wednesday evenings for a generation of closeted rock stars. The curriculum and acceptance process is much the same as the youth curriculum and Anne is constantly awed by the courage and unbridled desire of grownups, many of them parents of the younger students. She stands with pride, watching them play and sing in front of audiences for the first time in their lives.

Founder of both The Rock Academy and Asheville Music School, Anne continues to follow her dream to help make others’ musical dreams come true. Rock Academy’s assistant director, Alec Fehl is a creative and technical partner who’s known for a structured yet spontaneous approach to guitar instructing. Along with Alec is Jae Sedmak, another guitar mentor; both Alec and Jae are Berklee College of Music graduates. Between the two of them, a wide range of genre expertise and engineering skills are offered. Newly formed Teen Rock Academy boasts another instructor;  the amazingly talented multi-instrumentalist Andy John facilitates the fifteen-to-seventeen-year-olds. Percussion instructor, Harry Lewis is a seasoned drummer who has played with a plethora of bands from NYC to LA. Kim White, lead singer for local band Unit 50, is vocal coach, and Toni Pisani is the office manager and “go to’ person for everything.

“Paying it forward” is Anne’s mantra. To that end, she and the volunteer board recently added a non-profit music program for at-risk and low-income youth. Her passion for music infuses the kids who discover that this is their calling. She and her partners see to it that students are well-informed and well-equipped. They make sure students know how to tune their instrument, how to arrange a song, how to play with dynamics as well as improvise in order to develop individual style. And so much more. The most valuable lesson learned at The Rock Academy is how to be a responsible citizen in the music business—not only by giving your craft the respect and rehearsal time it needs, but how to be a respectful and responsible team player.

You’ll find Anne and her amazing staff mentoring as many as forty kids each Saturday.  For the year-round workshops, a student should have some knowledge of their instrument, from how to play it to how to maintain it. A singer should have a good ear if s/he wants a spot. Summer camp is different—come inexperienced and ripe for learning. The first phase of summer classes started last month but there are spaces left in the second round starting this month.  These classes are held daily from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, culminating in Friday afternoon concerts for friends and family. For more information, visit the website and/or call the Academy at  828-275-2587   [ ].

Check out for a complete schedule of upcoming events, especially their annual show at the Orange Peel on September 18th. And please take a look at to learn more about the Non-profit. This is a great opportunity to sponsor a child who is in need of financial assistance with the gift of music.

Peggy Ratusz is a writer, songstress, and vocal coach. [;]

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker