(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first 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
When one thinks of the renaissance of downtown Knoxville, names that quickly come to mind are developers like David Dewhirst and Mark Heinz, his business partner; Mike Hatcher and Tim Hill of Hatcher-Hill; Buzz Goss and; more recently, Rick Dover. There are also architects like Faris Eid whose designs have helped preserve and reuse many of Knoxville’s historic buildings.
Yet, resurgence in the downtown area – some reports say more than 3,000 people now reside in these reclaimed and new buildings – did not occur just because of new residential opportunities. There had to be other amenities available for people to decide to live downtown. Those needs were met by early restaurant pioneers like Mahasti Vafaie, who founded the iconic Tomato Head restaurant in 1990, and early club owners like Scott West of Preservation Pub.
Today, an evening visit to Gay Street, Market Square and the Old City reveals a thriving area with large crowds of people of all ages enjoying the plethora of restaurants, clubs, and other venues. It did not just happen; individuals felt a passion for the area and a commitment to making an impact.
We sat down earlier this year for an extended interview with one of the contributors to the entertainment side of the equation that has not only provided opportunities for Knoxvillians but also drawn international attention to the community. Ironically, that individual might be better known for something that he launched 18 years ago in a field in Middle Tennessee’s Coffee County, even though his greatest passion remains focused on his hometown.
In case you haven’t guessed the name of that individual by now, we are talking about Ashley Capps, Founder of AC Entertainment and the creative force behind the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and several others, most notably Knoxville’s own Big Ears Festival.
Capps was born in the Fountain City area of Knox County and graduated from Central High School after a year at Chattanooga’s Baylor School. The thoughtful, soft spoken East Tennessee native reflected on the impact his childhood and teen years have had on his professional life in an extended interview with teknovation.biz.
“My two favorite pictures are of me as a baby,” he says. “One is with me and a toy phone; the other is sitting on the floor with a red plastic record player.”
You could probably never guess what his favorite 45 rpm record was? Try the Purple People Eater written and recorded by Sheb Wooley.
“Nothing has changed,” Capps says with a laugh. “I’m still playing my favorite music and networking with people by phone.”
As he reflects on his formative years, it is clear that his mother and father had a significant impact.
“My parents instilled in me a real passion for learning in the broadest sense of the word,” Capps says, adding that both were music aficionados. His father worked at Standard Knitting Mills and made frequent trips to New York City. At the age of 10, the younger Capps started accompanying him on some of those journeys.
“Dad snuck me into a jazz club when I was 12,” he said. Noted jazz musician Cozy Cole was performing. “It was all a little mysterious, but also fascinating,” Capps observed.
While explaining that he had the intense desire to learn, he was also undecided in terms of what he wanted to pursue as a profession.
“I did not grow-up in Knoxville seeing music as a business,” Capps said. Yet, that is what became his profession for the better part of three decades.
NEXT: The early years.