published Monday, June 17th, 2013

Bonnaroo becoming multigenerational festival

Fans used the mushroom fountain inside Centeroo to cool off well into the night.
Fans used the mushroom fountain inside Centeroo to cool off well into the night.
Photo by Barry Courter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
June 13-16 • Manchester, TN

MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Like a lot of people, Ashley Capps has those panic-attack moments of doubt and fear when planning a big event. But not everybody gets to invite 80,000 people to a party that will include Paul McCartney on the guest list.

Capps is the AC in AC Entertainment, co-producers of the Bonnaroo Music & Art Festival, which wrapped up Sunday night in Manchester, Tenn., with a performance by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Capps founded the Knoxville-based company in 1991.

On Friday night, McCartney played a 21/2-hour set of hit after hit from his days with The Beatles, Wings and his solo career. For most of the crowd -- including Capps -- it was an emotional experience.

"I cried a couple of times," he said.

Chattanooga radio personality Brad Steiner shared his feelings.

"I cried three times," he said. "A guy in front of us proposed to his girlfriend. Two songs later, the pyrotechnics exploded [during "Live and Let Die"]. It was pretty amazing."

Capps, who has been promoting and producing concerts since the '70s, has seen his share of performances. He sat down for a few minutes Saturday to reflect on the festival's 12-year history. He's been asked a dozen times since then how the festival has gone and his answer is usually, "I know I say this every year, but I really feel like this is the best one."

With near-perfect weather and a sold-out festival, his statement carries a little more weight this year. And there's the McCartney factor.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "To be able to have him here at Bonnaroo was a beautiful thing.

Organizers did have to deal for the first time with a headliner canceling at the last minute, but Capps said even that showcased the strength of his team and the festival.

When Mumford & Sons announced Thursday they were canceling their summer tour while bass player Ted Dwane is treated for a blood clot on his brain, festival organizers reached out to Jack Johnson to fill in.

Johnson, who was already present as a fan, readily agreed and called his bandmates. Capps said the challenge turned into a positive.

"We have such a good team, and while you hate it for Ted and you completely understand it, it was great to see Jack do that. Bonnaroo is all about collaboration."

On Friday afternoon, Daniel Womack and Thomas Johnson of the Futurebirds from Athens, Ga., talked about what Bonnaroo meant to them.

"It's the festival our brothers went to and talked about," Womack said, "so growing up, it's the one we wanted to attend. To be playing it is incredible."

Capps smiled when told of the comments.

"That's really great to hear," he said.

"That is something beautiful to me. I was really inspired by Glastonbury [in Europe] when we visited it in planning to do this. It is a multigenerational festival and you feel it. We are starting to see that here.

"I've talked to artists who told me they were inspired to start playing music by attending Bonnaroo."

Co-founder Rick Farman of Superfly Productions also mentioned Glastonbury as a role model for the festival.

"I see us being around for 30, 40, 50 years. That is the goal."

To make that happen, Superfly and AC in 2007 bought 500 acres of the nearly 700 that are home to the event for four days in June. They've been making improvements like planting Bermuda grass and trees to make things more comfortable for fans.

"It's been a steady evolution and even in challenging years, the growth has been beautiful to watch. Some people might not even notice things like the grass, but it makes a difference."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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