2020 Grammys

Bonnaroo Co-Founder Ashley Capps Looks Back on Billboard's First Live Music Summit

ISSUE 02 2020 - NOT OUT YET!!! OUT ON JAN. 27, 2020
Mike Belleme
Ashley Capps photographed on Jan. 13, 2020 at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tenn.

In 2002, AC Entertainment co-founded and produced the first Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival alongside Superfly. The sold-out event, which featured headliners Widespread Panic and Trey Anastasio at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tenn., earned the top festival honor at Billboard’s first Live Music Summit and Awards in 2004. (It won again in 2006 and 2008.) 

Today, AC Entertainment books and presents over 1,200 concerts and events annually, says Ashley Capps, founder/CEO of AC Entertainment. The marquee festival sold out for the first time since 2013 last year with 80,000 attendees across four days; in 2016, Live Nation acquired a majority interest in AC, and will wrap its purchase of Bonnaroo, which began in 2015, this year. 

“Ashley’s love of music is embedded in his DNA,” says Charlie Walker, partner, C3 Presents. “He creates festivals that don’t begin with a profit-loss focus but are truly about the music. That kind of purity puts him in rare air.”

Adds Jonathan Levine, Music Executive Leadership Group, Paradigm Talent Agency: “Ashley built his reputation the old fashioned way. He earned it. One show at a time, from the ground up. The first show we ever did together was The Allman Brothers Band in Knoxville. His passion for how he goes about his business is akin to that of Bill Graham."

Below, Capps recalls the inaugural Live Music Summit triumph.



In 2002, industry consensus was that launching a major rock festival in the U.S. was a bad idea, following the Woodstock ’99 disaster. We were outsiders operating under the radar as concert promoters, fighting for respect. After the first year, we were very proud: It was unprecedented for a first-year festival to sell out 70,000 tickets in less than three weeks. We had worked our asses off seven days a week for the preceding three years to accomplish that.

To be nominated at Billboard’s Live Music Awards was a tremendous acknowledgment of our efforts, but the top festival win gave us affirmation from our peers, and it helped raise the event’s awareness and profile. Historically, music has always been a social glue — a shared experience that brings people together in communion and celebration. Our commitment to Bonnaroo’s community is what sets us apart; [the festival becomes] the sixth- or seventh-largest city in the state for four days. It’s fully immersive and unlike any other festival in America.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.


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