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VIProfile: Ashley Capps




By Gay Lyons

Native Knoxvillian Ashley Capps, founder of A.C. Entertainment, has made his mark on the world through music: from his first shows at the Bijou and the Tennessee Theatre to the concert venue Ella Guru’s to Bonnaroo and the Big Ears Festival He can’t recall a time when music was not an important part of his life.

His parents met at Standard Knitting Mills where both worked--his father as vice president, his mother as bookkeeper--but music was their shared passion. My mother’s dream was to be a concert pianist, and my father dreamed of being a jazz drummer,” said Ashley. “There was always music in our home: my father’s Duke Ellington and Miles Davis records. Al Hirt, Pete Fountain and Tijuana Brass. Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley. They are all woven into my earliest memories. My first concert was Duke Ellington at the Civic Coliseum. There was classical music, too: Beethoven, Bach, Brahms. Music of all kinds fascinated me.”

“I used to crank up ‘Purple People Eater’ in the morning on my little record player. Apparently I not only loved music but wanted to share it with others,” he recalled, laughing.

It wasn’t just his parents who exerted influence on young Ashley.

“My cousins, my uncles, everyone was interested in music,” he said. “My cousin took me to a James Brown concert in 1963. My uncle left behind a bunch of 45s, lots of Elvis. I still have them.”

“I loved the social aspects of music,” he continued. “The way music brings people together. What we do as a company [at A.C. Entertainment] interfaces with communities. It’s really integral to what we do.”

Ashley’s love of downtown goes back to his childhood.

“I went downtown with my mom, to the S&W, the Tennessee Theatre, the Riviera, the Bijou,” he said. “We shopped downtown; there were no malls. I fed my love of music by going to Tucker’s Records on Market Square. Rich’s Department Store had a great music selection. I fed my love of reading by going to the library in Fountain City and Gateway Books downtown. It cost a nickle or a dime to to take the bus from [my home in] Fountain City to downtown.”

“Even when it was at its darkest, I never lost my love for downtown,” he continued. “There was always activity at Annie’s, Lord Lindsey, Mercury Theater, the Snakesnatch and Tomato Head. For me there was always a reason to go downtown. I always saw the potential. When I began doing concerts, downtown was the logical place to do it. It was like a blank slate where anything was possible. There was a mystique and an energy.”

“Big Ears [coming up March 26-29] is the biggest cultural event in the city,” said Ashley. “The impact of Big Ears is something I didn’t foresee. Big Ears is integrated into the city itself. We don’t have concessions. People stay in the hotels and eat their meals in the restaurants. Last year the downtown restaurants had their best times in their history. But it goes beyond economic impact.”

“The experience of the festival is the experience of the city,” he continued. “The festival brings in a sophisticated clientele with the means to enjoy fine restaurants and other things. It has an impact that transcends the economic. It offers the citizens of our community the opportunity to interact with people from other places and to experience artists they wouldn’t ordinarily. Music, like food, is a fantastic way to explore the world. These cultural experiences are invaluable in helping to define the community.”

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