(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a five-part series focused on internationally known music and concert promoter Ashley Capps, a Knoxville native who maintained his passion for his hometown while building a national brand.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment says his teenage years on into his 20s clearly reflected his passion for music and learning.
During his senior year at Knoxville’s Central High School and later at the University of Tennessee (UT), Capps worked at WUOT, the local National Public Radio affiliate. That experience, first playing rock songs and later jazz, provided the foundation for the music promotion career that ensued.
“I took classes I wanted to take,” Capps says of his first few years at UT. He even interrupted college to live near Woodstock, NY, a city famous for its own music festival.
After two years there, he made an important decision.
“OK, I’ve got to get a college degree,” Capps concluded. “What’s the quickest way out?” The answer was a path leading to a degree in philosophy and religious studies and resumption of his work at WUOT, playing music that was of interest to him, but not necessarily getting a great deal of airplay elsewhere.
“The record labels sent records to the stations, and their reps would call to see if we were playing them,” Capps explained. “Artists started finding out I was playing their music.” Most of the songs were not in the mainstream.
As he made connections with the representatives and the artists, Capps was unexpectedly laying the foundation for what has become an almost 30-year career as a promoter that initially started as a sideline with a single request.
“An agent called and said Tristan Honsinger (a cellist) would be in the area on this date,” Capps explained. “Can you arrange a concert?” The youthful music fan said, “Why not,” and secured Knoxville’s iconic Laurel Theater as the venue. The date was February 27, 1979, one that is indelibly etched in Capps’ mind.
Booking and promoting bands became a passion for Capps.
“I kept doing it (booking musicians into clubs), but not to make money,” he explained. He found it exciting and invigorating; it fed his passion for music and networking with others.
That sideline activity began to change in 1982 when he brought George Winston to the Bijou Theater and sold-out the venue. In the process, he made around $2,000.
“It was an insane amount of money,” Capps says he thought at the time. “There might be something to this (concert promotion), but not enough to quit my job.”
It was about this time that the always inquisitive part-time music promoter got a wild hair and enrolled in an accelerated architecture program at UT. He quickly concluded architecture was not for him, but also acknowledges that his next big venture – a club in Knoxville’s Old City – “came out of the whole architecture thing.”
NEXT: The launch of Ella Guru’s as a prelude into full-time promotion.