This coming weekend marks the launch of a new music festival franchise in Asheville, North Carolina. The Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit runs Oct. 25-27 and will feature mostly smaller electronic music artists with the notable exception of headliner Nine Inch Nails. Other draws on the bill include Neutral Milk Hotel, Animal Collective, Gary Numan and Disclosure as well as heritage acts like Silver Apples and Sparks and new jack EDM’ers like Bassnectar and Pretty Lights.
Ashley Capps, founder and CEO of AC Entertainment, is presenting Mountain Oasis and up until this year also promoted Moogfest, a similar-minded music festival that had run every October in Asheville since 2010. The year, however, the owners of the Moog decided to take the festival in-house and move it to April. Capps, who has booked shows in the mountain town for some twenty years, sat down with Billboard for an extensive interview to discuss the launch (or relaunch) of Mountain Oasis, the split with Moogfest, his Asheville recommendations, his far flung music tastes (from Stockhausen and Widespread Panic to Anthony Braxton and Paul McCartney), the state of Bonnaroo and his recent decision to get out of management.
Billboard: You called Asheville one of your favorite cities on the planet, why?
Ashley Capps: The name for this festival Mountain Oasis is what Asheville is—an oasis in the mountains. For years and years and years it has supported the arts and live music at a level that far exceeds cities many times its population and size.
What's the population?
The official population is about 100,00 but there are a lot of communities surrounding it that aren’t large, but when combined you get into the hundreds of thousands pretty quickly within about a 50 mile radius. There’s also many college students at private colleges like Appalachian State, Furman, Converse, Mars Hill, Warren Wilson as well as Western Carolina University.
What’s your must-see nature recommendation for first-time attendees?
First of all the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses right through Asheville and the Appalachian trail is nearby and you’re in the Pisgah National Forrest – some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. You have Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
How are tickets selling for Mountain Oasis?
It’s approaching selling out – our best selling year so far.
One of the most striking things about Mountain Oasis is how outro or avant-garde the bill is—Half Japanese, Daniel Johnston, Silver Apples—some of these artists might have trouble filling rooms in NYC let alone Asheville, who booked it?
It’s myself, Bryan Benson and Steve Greene. They’ve been at AC Entertainment for the last 10 years or more. They do a tremendous amount of the booking which comes from a variety of ways. Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel is responsible for Half Japanese and Daniel Johnston because we made him the offer to curate a part of the festival and he was like I’d love for these guys to play in front of me – that’s Jeff Mangum more than its us.
One of the most interesting things – and this goes back to the original concept of Moogfest – is that there is so much to explore there. Certainly Moog instruments has had a huge impact on contemporary music and goes back to 70s and all the prog rock with ELP and Yes and so many of the big rock bands of the 70s and also in jazz in the 70s and a lot of fusion music and there’s also a strain of experimental avante-gaurdism that was not only interesting in its own right, but over the course of time came to influence what a lot of what is now pop music.
At the same time, were the underground electronic music fans upset someone as commercial as Nine Inch Nails was on the bill?
No, not at all. People are really excited. I think people were upset by the conflicts. One guy was upset that Actress from UK was playing against NIN – that’s actually kind of a conflict for me to. But it’s probably not a conflict for most NIN fans.
What are some of the non-music events?
Gary Numan is giving a talk. We have a number of panelists who are coming to us from world of tech and instrument making, production who will participate in the panels. There’s also interactive, educational experiences for people to get hands on experiences with instruments like Theramins.
Who’s booking that?
Jessica Tomasin, who works with us at AC, also runs an incredible recording studio in Asheville called Echo Mountain where T Bone Burnett, Zac Brown, the Avett Brothers and Dawes recorded – it’s an amazing recording studio. She’s helped along with members of my team there.
What’s Mountain Oasis’ capacity?
We’re set up to sell 8,000 tickets per day. It could probably go bigger, but providing a great experience for everyone is our number one priority. The fest takes place in multiple venues of different sizes. The ExploreAsheville.com Arena is about 7,000; The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is about 2,400; Orange Peel is about 1,100; the Diana Wortham is about 500, Asheville Music Hall is about 350.
The Diana Wortham Theatre
You recommended the Diana Wortham as a must-see, why?
It’s an exquisite fine arts theatre. The acoustics are magnificent. The experience between the artist and the audience has a rare intimacy and for the right concert, the experience is unparalleled. It’s a beautiful little venue.
So Moogfest started in 2004 at Manny’s Music in New York that featured a clinic with Keith Emerson (of ELP) and Bob Moog himself before moving to a four-hour gala at BB Kings. And you eventually proposed bringing it to Asheville?
That’s correct. We’ve been doing concerts in Asheville for about 20 years. In fact, I did a camping event that was in many ways the prototype for Bonnaroo just outside of Asheville in 2000 -- a couple of years before Bonnaroo. It was also called Mountain Oasis but we ran into challenges with that fest finding the right location in which to produce it. Then Bonnaroo became Bonnaroo.
So what happened between Moogfest and you to end the partnership?
It’s pretty simple, it was really their decision not ours. The reason for making it so are somewhat of a mystery to me. We licensed the name Moogfest for a dollar a year and this just arose from discussions of wanting to do this festival.
You were originally in touch with a member of Bob Moog’s family, right?
It was his daughter Michelle, she was the first person I talked to about the music festival. Shortly after Bob died, she was in the early stages of founding the Bob Moog Foundation. At the time it wasn’t like I wanted to create Moogfest. We were just conceptualizing about the kind of festival we wanted to create in Asheville. I had known Bob -- I didn’t know him well, but I had known him because I started in the early to mid-90s doing a lot of shows in Asheville. Lori Anderson was the first person who said to me, “Did you know Bob Moog lives here?” And I was like, “No, I didn’t really know that.” And she was like, “Well, he does and I want to meet him.”
At the time, he somehow lost the rights to the name Moog Music and his company was called Big Briar. So we went to the manufacturing company and met Bob and it just continued. And other artists wanted to do it. He loved music and not just electronic music by any means. The last time I saw him was at a John Hartford concert we did at the Orange Peel. After his death and hearing about the Foundation and their plans to create a Bob Moog Museum and all, I was like it’d be great to somehow honor Bob Moog’s legacy and so I started the discussion with Michelle. She introduced me to Mike Adams who had managed to secure the rights to name to Moog Music and was now running the manufacturing company. We started talking about ideas and I pitched the idea that Moog Fest in New York which went kind of under the radar there.
How did it make the move to Asheville?
With the fact that Bob had lived in Asheville for the last 30 years, the manufacturing Company was still there manufacturing these amazing instruments, plus everybody wants to visit Asheville -- it was the perfect combination. And, as we discussed, it was the idea of taking the Moogfest name and rebranding it in Asheville as a contemporary music event rather than one that was solely focused on the past which was what we rolled with. So they licensed the Moogfest name, but it was really our event in every sense of the word: we paid for it, we planned it, we booked it, we marketed it.
Did Moog get any revenue from it?
No, they really didn’t. But they didn’t have any money at risk. We were just licensing the name. As the event grew they became unhappy with the arrangement and they sent me a notice saying they didn’t want to continue licensing the name, so at that point we had to come up with a new name.
I read that attendance was down in 2012 and the fest was cut to two days instead of three
That is its own complicated story: In 2012, when things started getting a little rocky with the Moog relationship, there were challenges with the renovations of the Asheville Civic Center and we couldn’t get a clear picture if the venue was going to be functional for our event. It took us a lot more time than it should have in my opinion to work through those questions. I made the decision that we were not going to be able to do Moogfest because we were running too late and there was just too many unanswered questions and it didn’t feel right. In early May, we were convinced to move forward, but it was so late in the game in terms of planning that we did not feel like we could do a three-day event on the level that we wanted to do it. We weren’t going to be able to attract the talent that we needed to do the event. So we decided to scale it back to two days and that was the reason. We didn’t decide we wanted to do a two days event, we decided we needed to do a two day event.