MANCHESTER, Tenn. — When he isn't booking the who's who lineup that makes up the annual Bonnaroo artist bill, Ashley Capps still burns mix CDs for friends.
His genuine love of music remains at the heart of what has grown into a lasting business success for Capps, head of Knoxville-based AC Entertainment and co-founder of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Now in its 11th year, the event continues to draw sold-out crowds on its reputation for the diversity and quality of performers.
"We are all music lovers and very passionate music lovers," said Capps, speaking for himself and his business partners in Bonnaroo co-organizers Superfly Productions.
"We all go to concerts because we love them — it's not just business for us. We keep our finger on the pulse, what's exciting to us, what's exciting out there.
"Part of the esthetic of Bonnaroo has always been about sharing the music we enjoy."
This year's four-day event, under way through tonight on a pastoral 700-acre farm in Coffee County, offers everything from Saturday night headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to genre-blending buzz band Afrocubism, to the iconic Kenny Rogers.
The breadth of it begs the question of how such an eclectic lineup comes together.
"It's a discussion. It's a discussion that's already started for 2013," Capps said. "It never ends. It's an ongoing process. Generally speaking, we're meeting about Bonnaroo at least once a week (throughout the year.)"
Artist availability, a shrewd business sense and a myriad other factors play into the process.
Who's touring, who's releasing a new album, who's big that year and who sparks organizers' interests among the "100s, if not 1,000s" of acts vying for a spot on one of Bonnaroo's dozen venues.
Strong headliners also factor as a major part of the equation, Capps noted.
Besides the Chili Peppers, this year's headliner roster includes Radiohead, Phish, Bon Iver, Ludacris and Alice Cooper.
"Artists who've reached out to us, artists we've reached out to," said Capps. "It's exciting, but ... the most frustrating thing is having to choose just a few."
The options are so many that AC Entertainment has since founded Moogfest in Asheville, N.C., Knoxville's own Big Ears festival and most recently, the Forecastle festival in Louisville, Ky.
And as the requests continue for a spot on one of Bonnaroo's 12 stages and theaters, Capps added that he's increasingly impressed with young bands' ability to self-produce and promote their sound in the modern music industry.
Bonnaroo first-timers Moon Taxi, from Nashville, is certainly a product of the do-it-yourself era.
The members are touring now to promote their third album, Cabaret, self-released on their own label, 12th South Records.
And the video for its first single, "Mercury," was shot and edited entirely by the band members themselves on iPhones.
"We've tried to make it as big as it could be on our own," said keyboardist and Knoxville native Wes Bailey. "Up until last year we didn't even have a business manager."
Some Bonnaroo bookings can take years to "incubate,'" said Capps. For instance, the Beach Boys, whose original members — Brian Wilson included — will mark their 50th anniversary with a Bonnaroo appearance this afternoon.
"We ourselves don't know when we start out, what we want the festival to look like," Capps said. "What's a good fit in 2012 and 2013? The answer is very different from 2002 or 2003. What makes sense for Bonnaroo has evolved over the years."
And sometimes it's just a matter of where he eats breakfast.
In mid-April, Capps was in a New York City restaurant when he ran into Kenny Rogers' manager, who happened to be staying in the same hotel.
Barely two months later and Rogers, too, is set to grace one of the stages at the farm this afternoon.
"From the beginning, diversity has been at the heart of what we want to be about," Capps said. "If I were not involved in the business, it'd still be my hobby."
Capps' passions also include travel, art and food (the offerings at Bonnaroo's Food Truck Oasis are as eclectic as the music.) And just like sampling the local cuisine in a new city, Capps is quick to scope out the grass roots scene in local clubs wherever he's visiting, at home and abroad.
"To me, music is really an introduction to culture," he said. "It's an entry into learning about people."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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