Live Nation now owns Knoxville-Based AC Entertainment

Ashley Capps helped create one of the country's most monumental music festivals in Bonnaroo. He's the brains behind Big Ears, the force behind the revitalization of Knoxville's historic theaters and an overall concert promoting pioneer.

But now, he's taking a step back.

Global entertainment giant Live Nation has fully purchased Knoxville-based promotion company and Bonnaroo co-founder AC Entertainment, which it acquired a controlling interest of in 2016.

The full purchase went into effect Jan. 1, nearly 30 years after Capps created the company.

"Bittersweet is a good word," Capps told Knox News about the purchase. "And I would be lying if I didn't confess a certain emotional roller coaster associated with this. But it was my decision. ... And I still think it's the right decision. Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant."

But Capps is ready to "embrace the change" and all the exciting opportunities that come with it.

Ashley Capps can concentrate on creativity

Ted Heinig, who was most recently vice president of AC Entertainment, has stepped into Capps' former role as president.

“Technically, my (new) role is senior director," Capps said. "And a lot of that focus will be on maintaining the thread and continuity of Bonnaroo’s culture and the threads that have been integral to the success of the festival.

"It will really free me up to be more creative and explore new opportunities.”

Capps said Bonnaroo, which will celebrate its 19th year in June, is on track to be the most successful event in the festival's history.

Live Nation acquired controlling interest of the festival in 2015. The majority purchase of AC Entertainment happened the following year.

And since then, Live Nation has opened up doors for AC Entertainment to be even more successful in Knoxville and beyond, Capps said.

What Live Nation has to offer

Although AC Entertainment is now part of Live Nation, music fans shouldn't expect to see any drastic changes. AC Entertainment will continue doing what it has always done — just bigger and better, Capps said.

"What Live Nation offers to us is an extraordinary network, an extraordinary team and also access to resources and relationships that simply make it possible to do more business," he said. "Live Nation actively has encouraged AC to develop new festivals and continue to grow in every way.”

Ideas for new festivals are already being tossed around.

A full purchase has been part of the plan since AC Entertainment began partnering with Live Nation. The initial purchase of 51% set up opportunities for Live Nation to fully acquire the company down the road.

It was last summer when Capps decided it was time to move forward in finishing the deal.

“For me, it’s about planning for the future and setting the stage for AC Entertainment and all of the employees of AC Entertainment to continue to thrive and be focused on the future," he said. "It’s really about maintaining stability and maintaining focus."

'Maintaining the character of AC Entertainment'

Capps has been running things at AC Entertainment for nearly 30 years. But recently, Heinig and other employees have been doing more of the heavy lifting.

"It felt like a really healthy time to let them step to the forefront and step aside and let them prepare their own way in the coming years," he said. "And I'm still here to help."

Capps said AC Entertainment is coming off its three most successful years in company history, which has a lot to do with Live Nation.

"Thus far, I think Live Nation has shown a genuine interest in maintaining the character of AC Entertainment and supporting AC Entertainment and what made it successful to begin with," he said.

That's why Live Nation wanted to purchase AC Entertainment in the first place, and it has no interest in "that level of uniformity" some large companies try to create, Capps said.

"They’ve been great partners," he said. "I certainly don't have a crystal ball. Things change. But, at this particular point, everything I continue to hear is they are very committed to AC's role in Knoxville, Tennessee, and throughout the region.”

But you don't need a crystal ball to see Knoxville is changing.

'You're going to see more and more activity'

AC Entertainment has operated, managed and booked the Tennessee Theatre since 1996. It took on the same role with the Bijou Theatre 10 years later, and both venues have been having "their absolute banner years," Capps said.

Capps is also a partner in The Mill & Mine, where AC Entertainment books shows.

But there's one venue — a big venue — that AC Entertainment and Live Nation could become more involved with moving forward: Thompson-Boling Arena.

"With the new (alcohol) policy at Thompson-Boling Arena that is making it possible for more shows to come to Knoxville, you're going to see more and more activity," Capps said.                    

AC Entertainment already has a role in the upcoming Foo Fighters, Chris Stapleton and Zac Brown Band concerts at the arena.

'I'm not going anywhere'

AC Entertainment has a long-term lease at Riverview Tower in downtown Knoxville with no plans to move. Capps won't have to worry about the day-to-day operations of the company, but he'll still be around.

"I'm not going anywhere in the immediate future," he said. "At least, I'm not planning to."

He will continue as executive director of Big Ears Festival, which is a standalone nonprofit. AC Entertainment is involved with the festival as a production partner.

"Anything that I have to offer where I feel like I can make a difference, I feel like I'll continue down the road with it," he said. "I think you'll see AC Entertainment continue to prosper."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Ryan Wilusz

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Published February 21, 2020