10/26/2012 - Moogfest Begins Today!
by Carol Motsinger - Asheville Citizen Times
The "AC" in AC Entertainment, the company behind Moogfest, stands for the name of its founder, Ashley Capps. But the company name might as well be ML Entertainment, for Music Lover, or, better yet, MS for "musical sponge."
"If you can hear it and it has some sort of musical quality in it, I'm interested in some way or another," said Capps, 57. An intense love of music is what seems to connect the Capps career stages, from Knoxville, Tenn., radio DJ to booking agent to club owner and now organizer some of the biggest music festivals in the country -- including Bonnaroo, Big Ears and this weekend's Moogfest.
His personal playlist may be "all over the place," he said. But his heart isn't: His love of Asheville -- its hiking trails, top-notch eateries and adventurous, creative spirit -- has ensured that this national taste maker has booked shows here since 1985. In the more than 25 years since that first club show on Wall Street, Capps and his company have been instrumental in the expansion and elevation of Asheville's live music landscape.
"I just had this feeling in my gut that the Asheville community would be receptive to a lot of what I wanted to do," said Capps, a Knoxville native. "Ultimately, I was right."
Moogfest is AC Entertainment's most extensive annual offering in Asheville, but the Knoxville-based event production, booking and artist management company is responsible for about 175 events in town each year, primarily at The Orange Peel and U.S. Cellular Center.
"Asheville is an incredible destination city," he said. "People who know about Asheville start looking for excuses to go. We are happy to provide them with some of those excuses."
Liz Whalen is marketing director for The Orange Peel, which celebrated its 10th anniversary Thursday. The Peel started working with AC Entertainment before the Biltmore Avenue hotspot and Moogfest venue even opened. "Now, AC Entertainment is one of the most, if not the most, well-respected and successful booking agencies in the Southeast."
The secret to Capps' success -- which also includes managing historic Knoxville's Tennessee Theatre -- is simple, according to Whalen. "Ashley himself is truly a music lover," she said, noting that she follows his Facebook posts and Tweets about next-big-thing acts that he's seen.
Capps traces his audio admiration back to his family. His parents were musicians, his mother a pianist, his father a drummer.
One his favorite childhood photos: a 14-month-old Capps cranking "Purple People Eater" on a little red plastic record player. More recently, he's been cranking up tunes by the Talking Heads and Trixie Whitley, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter that AC Entertainment manages.
Capps never imagined a career in the music industry. He took piano lessons and played in the band, and as a high school senior, he started hosting rock shows on the local NPR affiliate, WUOT. Capps would seem a natural fit for radio -- his rich, deep voice is tinged with Southern twang. But he didn't consider spinning the likes of Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Velvet Underground at 2 a.m. as viable employment and instead earned his B.A. at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in philosophy and religious studies.
"In the back of my head, I was always pursuing other career options," he said.
Capps continued to man WUOT's DJ booth after graduation, transitioning from cutting-edge rock sets (like before-their-time German icons Can) to avant-garde jazz (He maintained the jazz program, off and on, for 31 years).
His transitions continued outside the station, too. And then, somehow, in 1979, Capps got lucky and went from turntable to backstage.
"I started to make contact with artists and agents who were interested in coming to town and playing shows," he said. "I just started putting it together."
He started booking shows for acts like R.E.M., Chick Corea and Johnny Winter, and by 1985, Capps was booking 12-15 shows a year in the Knoxville area. That year also marked his first offering in Asheville: Montreux, an American jazz-bluegrass fusion act, at the first Asheville Music Hall on Wall Street (now the Jubilee community space).
"I think I became hooked on it early on," he said, noting that, at that time, he still saw booking shows as just a hobby. "It was something that I developed a lot of satisfaction doing. It's really interesting to bring an artist to town and connect them to an audience that appreciates what they do."
He committed more fully to music when he and a friend opened the Knoxville club Emma Guru's in 1987 (a reference to a Captain Beefheart song). "That was really my full-on jump into the business," he said of Emma Guru's, which lasted 2 1/2 years. "I lived and breathed it. ... But my partner was a novice developer, and I was a novice club owner, so it was not exactly a foundation for strong success."
In its short run, Emma Guru's hosted such diverse acts as Widespread Panic, Garth Brooks and the Neville Brothers.
Right after the club closed, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, Widespread Panic and hard rock's Drivin' 'N' Cryin' all reached out to Capps to ask him to book them in Knoxville. In two weeks' time, he said, he had lined up three sold-out shows -- enough to start a company. "And off we went," he said.
He founded AC Entertainment with Troy Sellers (a co-worker at Emma Guru's), and by the end of the 1990s, the company grew to about 10 employees.
In 2002, AC staged its first Bonnaroo, now an iconic Manchester, Tenn., outdoor festival that draws about 80,000 each year. And afterward, the company flourished, swelling to a staff of 40. Although happily based in the Southeast, Capps said he and his team may be opening a New York office in the coming year.
"We tend to spend a lot of time there and have a number of clients, partners and projects that are based there," he said.
Moogfest, founded in 2010, represents the company's most recent new, large venture.
"The Asheville community is so supportive for music and the arts," he said. "We are always looking at new ideas and concepts that we can bring to life. I wanted to do a downtown festival, and the concept of doing something around Bob Moog and his legacy seemed like no-brainer."
When and where: It runs Friday-Saturday at the ExploreAsheville.com arena (that's the old Civic Center, now the U.S. Cellular Center); Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (next to the arena); The Orange Peel, at 101 Biltmore Ave.; Diana Wortham Theater at Pack Place on Pack Square; and later shows at the Asheville Music Hall, at 32 Patton Ave.
Who's playing: Some 30 shows are scheduled through the weekend. The biggest acts are Primus 3-D, Nas, Miike Snow, Bear in Heaven (all on Friday), Santigold, Orbital, and Shpongle presents "The Masquerade," Thomas Dolby and The Magnetic Fields (on Saturday).
Tickets: Yes, they're still on sale for the moment. A weekend general admission pass is $125, or $75 daily. In order to redeem your pass or single-day ticket for a wristband, visit the main lobby of the U.S. Cellular Center from 3-5 p.m. and 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday, and 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday. Your wristband will be your ticket into the venues. Visit www.moogfest.com.