Sonic youths: Experience Music commences new young musicians’ program

'We're not pointing kids in any one direction," says Experience Music's Chuck Lee. "We want them to direct where they want to go."

A new organization in Asheville is providing an outlet to young musicians in search of bandmates and a place to play. Experience Music, founded in October 2014, is a collaboration of parents and regional musicians that facilitates passion and artistic development for aspiring rock ‘n’ rollers.

Experience Music offers youths the chance to partner with a popular regional band each session to develop connections within the local music network, refine their craft with others in a rehearsal format and explore the business side of the music world. “We recognize there are youth players with high levels of ability and few, if any, organized opportunities for them,” the organization states on its website.

The idea behind the program seeks to address the lack of available live performances for young musicians and bands around town. “There’s really not that many outlets for kids to perform at,” states co-founder Chuck Lee. He says they seek to provide “real-show” opportunities for their students.

In addition to Lee, Experience Music staff includes local musician and music teacher Billy Litz, a regular on the local circuit, and Casey Saulpaugh, a professional steel guitarist with an extensive background in music technology and marketing.

The inaugural Spring session of the "Experience" program will kick off with an Open House on March 7th.
The inaugural Spring session of the “Experience” program will kick off with an Open House on March 8th.

The program’s spring session begins March 23 and will feature local jam heroes Phuncle Sam in the mentorship role. Applicants will go through an audition process, where they meet with instructors to discuss interests, influences and goals — and ultimately put together a prepared performance, accompanied by Experience staffers. Those accepted will be split up into two groups: one band of advanced musicians, the other for those still learning the craft.

Once admitted to the program, young musicians have the chance to rehearse on a weekly basis, with instruction from staff and the band-in-residence. “We’re focusing on helping our students to create original music and to learn the process of preparing for and playing at live events,” says Lee.

Each session will culminate with a live performance with professional acts at local area venues and music festivals. This spring’s participants will have the chance to play with Phuncle Sam at Pisgah Brewery in May.

While “The Experience” program is only open to youths between the ages of 9 to 16, Experience Music does offer lessons to both children and adults interested in learning to play an instrument or about music production. This includes tutoring in recording techniques, theory and marketing. They also offer a program for children with developmental disabilities. “Music provides good feelings all around,” says Lee. “No matter what level you’re on.”

The founders hope that their open approach and methodology — letting students determine the style and course of their own music — will extend beyond a single session and provide lasting friendships and connections for all those involved. “[Kids] want to take their music further, make it stand out,” says Saulpaugh on the group’s website. “We want them to understand that being a musician is much more than just playing music; it requires playing from the heart.”

Experience Music recently partnered with Prestige Subaru and RiverLink to provide support for the program and expand opportunities to gig at live events, including future show dates with the RiverMusic series.

Interested parties are encouraged to check out Experience’s space and programs at their open house event on March 8 at the Experience Music Studio on Merrimon Avenue. Auditions for bands will begin on March 14.

For more information and admission rates to the program, visit or call 230-4510.

About Max Hunt
Max Hunt grew up in South (New) Jersey and graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2011. History nerd; art geek; connoisseur of swimming holes, hot peppers, and plaid clothing. Follow me @J_MaxHunt

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