AC Entertainment will take the Tivoli and Memorial to the forefront
“It was electrifying. I had never experienced anything even remotely like what I experienced that day, and I’ve never ever forgotten it.”
This is how Ashley Capps described to The Pulse via email his first-ever concert experience, which was an extraordinary one: seeing James Brown at Chattanooga’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium in the early ’60s, at the age of 7 or 8, thanks to his older music-loving relatives who were stuck with babysitting duties.
Little did Capps know at the time that decades later, he would found the Knoxville-based promotion company AC Entertainment and present a James Brown performance at the 2003 Bonnaroo Festival or that he would have a hand in operating and programming the Memorial Auditorium itself.
“I did finally get to tell the Godfather of Soul himself about it almost 40 years later, which was pretty cool,” said Capps. “He acted like he remembered that very day as well as I did.”
In June, AC Entertainment won a bid to operate two of Chattanooga’s most venerable stages, the 3,866-seat Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium and the 1,762-seat Tivoli Theatre. This announcement was met with praise from music fans who believed that the two venues were under-utilized and who recognized AC Entertainment’s reputation for producing diverse, high-quality festivals, such as Knoxville’s avant-garde-leaning Big Ears Festival and Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, in addition to the aforementioned Bonnaroo Festival.
Starting as a teen, Capps was a program host for the non-mainstream “Unhinged” radio show on WUOT, and later found himself booking live music and opening the club Ella Guru’s, named after the off-kilter Captain Beefheart track.
After Ella Guru’s closed, Capps formed AC Entertainment, which organized large outdoor music events and eventually assumed the management of the historic Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou Theatre, both in Knoxville.
“When AC Entertainment first took the helm of the Tennessee Theatre in 1996, our formula was pretty simple,” said Capps. “We simply started to actively program great shows of all kinds there—shows that attracted as many different audiences as possible—and that was an important catalyst in bringing downtown Knoxville back to life at a low point in its history.
“Then, working with the incredible board of directors of the Tennessee Theatre on the renovation that eventually became a reality in 2003-2004, downtown Knoxville suddenly started to very dynamically transform into the active, vibrant place that it is today,” said Capps.
Capps acknowledged that downtown Chattanooga is much further along than what downtown Knoxville was 15 years ago, but he believes that a fully renovated and actively programmed Tivoli Theatre can have a large positive impact on Chattanooga.
“It’s a world-class venue, and once its grandiose beauty is fully restored and you have great performers and great performances gracing its stage night after night, it can’t help but be a game changer,” said Capps.
As the exclusive talent buyer for Track 29, AC Entertainment has programmed some of the most prominent and anticipated local shows of recent memory, including Neutral Milk Hotel, Jack White and Kasey Musgraves, and it will book the new space Revelry Room, which is slated to open in September on the Chattanooga Choo Choo campus.
“Track 29 proved that there’s a devoted group of music fans in Chattanooga who will come out to support the music that they love,” said Capps. “Working with Adam and Monica [Kinsey] at Track 29 has been terrific. Their creative vision, business acumen and hard work have been an inspiration and really shined a light on the great potential of Chattanooga that is already becoming a reality.”
Capps’ zeal for music has not waned over decades, and he speaks with the same enthusiasm about seeing Neil Young and his new band Promise of the Real at the inaugural WayHome Festival—another AC Entertainment production—last month in Ontario as he does about that James Brown show he saw, over 50 years ago.
“It was such an honor to have [Young] play our festival, and that three-hour-and-15-minute performance was simply amazing,” said Capps. “I’m still pinching myself over how great it was.”
For Capps, who has helped to revolutionize the business of music, the work of AC Entertainment in four Chattanooga venues will boil down to “connecting great performers with an audience for an unforgettable experience.”
“At its best, music is a form of social glue that helps to bind us together,” said Capps. “It interfaces with so much that makes life worth living.”
Photo courtesy Chattanooga On Stage