Bob Moog probably never saw this coming.
An annual, weekend-long music festival, using his name as a reason to gather and celebrate artistic progression in the cozy mountain town he retired to for the last years of his life.
But fans from all over the world have made the hike, some quite literally, to the Blue Ridge Mountains for this event, now heading into its third year.
Moog died in 2005 before the first Moogfest ever took place in his adopted hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, but a festival in his honor had already taken place in New York City. It too was called Moogfest and in fact from 2004-2007, the event was quite popular as a one-day program. It slowly lost steam and never quite developed into a sustainable event.
In 2009 Moogfest did not take place anywhere. It needed a fresh start.
That’s when Knoxville production company AC Entertainment, most known as co-producer of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, put its name in the hat and put a focus on Moog’s legacy by taking a different approach. It was 2010 and the new Moogfest was to celebrate Moog by sharing his visionary spirit and everything that sentiment resonates. So, a full-fledged, three day throw-down was arranged, with a focus on electronic music, but no specific sidelines. And it was to take place on Halloween weekend. That didn’t hurt either. In the two years that have followed, costumes, leaves of all shades, the season’s first touch of cold and plenty of Moog instruments have become a big part of what must be the most defining synchronicity of fall in the music festival landscape.
BLANK caught up with AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps for a rare interview about the upcoming installment of Moogfest and discussed how the festival has gotten to this point, some of its most memorable moments and what to expect in 2012 and beyond.
BLANK: Many folks don’t realize that Moogfest took place in New York before AC Entertainment took the reigns. Were you a big fan of the original and how did AC get involved?
Ashley Capps: To be perfectly honest, I never attended the original one. I found out about it because I had the idea to do one in Asheville and I learned that they were already doing one in New York. I thought, why not do a celebration of Moog and his legacy in Asheville, where he spent the last several decades of his life. And when I say legacy, the idea I had started before Bob died. It was talked about for many years before it became a reality.
BLANK: So it sounds like Asheville just became the perfect place for your vision.
AC: It was. We’ve been very active in the Asheville community for over 20 years now. I did my first show in Asheville back in 1985. Especially since 1991, we’ve been going into Asheville a lot with many different types of shows. In the Nineties, we booked a great club called ‘Be Here Now’ and we’ve been involved with The Orange Peel since the day that it opened its doors, booking all of their national acts, and we’ve booked shows in the Arena and the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and so on. We love Asheville for a variety of reasons. The town is very responsive to what we do so it certainly is an environment that has us asking what else we can do here? And that, led to Moogfest.
BLANK: Who was that first show in 1985? Do you remember?
AC: Yea I do actually. It was a band called Montreux. It was Darol Anger and Barbara Higbie, Mike Marshall...It was a Windham Hill (label) act.
BLANK: Describe the evolution of the festival. As far as the target audience, there seems to be a great attention to the history of electronic music. In turn, there seems to be a slight distance from the most popular dubstep and mashup acts of today in year three.
AC: We’re not intentionally moving in that direction. We always want to celebrate the history of Bob Moog, but really it goes back to the roots of why we ultimately chose to relocate it to Asheville and how we decided to reconceive the festival. After we discovered what was going on in New York, we realized that it was very much associated with the past. And it’s an amazing past and there are great artists involved in it but if you looked at most of the programming, Bernie Worrell was probably the most contemporary artist that they had programmed. I think for the last one they did they had Umphrey’s Mcgee…but our vision from the beginning was to recast Moogfest as very much about the present while still acknowledging the past and taking a look towards the future. We had Girl Talk and Pretty Lights the first year and we hope to have them back. It’s just that we don’t want to repeat ourselves too soon and this is only the third year of the event. The trick with any festival in my opinion is, how do you keep it fresh and exciting and still maintain this continuity. The vision is really still the same.
BLANK: How would you describe this festival to someone who is unfamiliar with the differences between the many styles of electronic music?
AC: One of the things we discussed with Moog from the very beginning was that we didn’t want it to be just about Moog instruments and not even strictly about electronic music. That first year we actually had Van Dyke Parks who just played solo acoustic piano and he was amazing. Van Dyke had this link to Bob Moog, and he used the Moog synthesizer back in the 1960’s to create this great music for the Icecapades. He was friends with Bob and visited him many times in Asheville over the years, but what he played for the festival wasn’t so much electronic music. Van Dyke is one of the most creative brains in music history and somebody who has continually pushed the boundaries of what is expected. And that to me was a large part of what Bob Moog’s legacy was. It wasn’t just about electronic music per say, it was about inspiring creativity on all levels. Bob loved music and one of the last times I remember seeing him was at a totally acoustic John Hartford concert at The Orange Peel. Bob loved music making and the whole social aspect of music so we try to embrace all those things and try not to put ourselves in a box. So many artists these days use electronic instruments even if their not making electronic music.
Then we have other artists who are pushing the boundaries in so many different ways. We have Primus playing this year because they are doing a 3D show. They’re pushing the boundaries of technology and I can’t wait to see what they’ve got going on. We’ve also brought in Harold Budd performing this year, who is one of the great ambient composers of all time and who collaborated with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Harold is going to come in and play acoustic piano accompanied by a stand up bass player and I’ll bet that it’s going to be one of the most amazing events of the entire weekend.
BLANK: These intimate festivals have an almost tangible flow to them. Is that something you consider in your booking in terms of who plays when and whom you go after to begin with?
AC: Well of course. With the programming of a festival there are so many factors. We always have the artists that we’ve focused on, our “Hit list” so to speak, of people that we’d love to see play the festival but it’s all about everybody’s schedule and availability, so things always play out in an unexpected way. With the more intimate festivals, especially those that are more indoors and inside more intimate venues, we try to match the artist with the experience. For instance, Harold Budd, who I just mentioned, what he is going to do is very exquisite so it’s going to be in the Diana Wortham Theatre, which is perfectly conducive to that kind of experience, whereas Primus or Santigold are going to be in the arena, which is where they belong. It’s gonna be a party and that’s what that experience is all about. Magnetic Fields will be in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium because that’s the perfect place to experience that band. That always dictates our decision-making…sometimes it’s a little bit of a toss-up but sometimes it’s quite clear.
BLANK: Why was the festival cut down to just two days and could it return to a three-day event in the future?
AC: Well we’ve got Justice on Thursday night, so in a sense we’ve got a three-day event but we didn’t want to make people feel like they had to come on Thursday night. For people traveling from out of town it’s difficult to get away in the middle of the week. So rather than make it a four-night event with Justice on Thursday, we decided to scale it down a little bit. And we were also seeing crowds fall off somewhat dramatically on Sunday for whatever reason. With it being the time of year that it is, it’s hard for people to get away from work and school so we decided to focus it on Friday and Saturday this year and see how people responded to that. More is not always better. We always want to hear what the fans have to say.
BLANK: There is a ton of hip-hop at Moogfest 2012. Was that focus to keep the festival fresh and ever-changing?
AC: Sure. And a lot of hip hop artists use a lot of electronic music technology in their music so it was a no-brainer to me. In the past we’ve had Big Boi and Childish Gambino and the response has always been really great to that sort of music. Nas has a huge record and it seemed like a really great time to bring him in. I’ve had a chance to see GZA do Liquid Swordz a couple of times but never with this particular accompaniment which I think is particularly perfect for Moog.
BLANK: Will it be Grupo Fantasma backing GZA for this performance?
AC: No, it’s actually Nathan Williams from Wavves.
BLANK: Last year there was an outdoor venue and the weather didn’t cooperate and some fans were unpleased. It was nice to see that you listened to fans’ concerns and decided against it this year. Are there any other changes from years past that may enhance music-lovers experience?
AC: Well this year it will probably be sunny and 70 degrees (laughs). It was tough for several reasons last year. It just created so many alternatives for people that it seemed like the smart thing to do this year was to scale back a little bit. And frankly if we go outdoors again, I think we might go to a slightly different time of year. It’s a little too risky in the mountains to go outdoors in late October.
It’s really like we ‘ve gone back to the first year. We’re doing basically the same thing we did that year which is the Arena, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, we’re using what used to be Stella Blue two years ago and now it’s called the Asheville Music Hall, which is a great club now in downtown Asheville. And we’re using The Orange Peel of course and the Diana Wortham Theatre.
BLANK: Each year at AC Entertainment’s festivals, there are a few rare performances. Tangerine Dream played their only US show of the year in 2011 and it was our favorite show of the weekend. How do these acts get booked and are there a few equally rare acts in 2012?
AC: There are certainly a few special events this year. Harold Budd and Morton Subotnick both are around 80 years old and very rarely perform, especially in the United States. Both of these artists are legends and are enormously influential on other musicians. Having Morton and Harold, for me…I’m still pinching myself that they said yes. And that came about the same way that the Tangerine Dream thing came about. We asked them. And they said yes.
The Tangerine Dream thing we tried to do the first year and it was just too logistically complicated to pull off that year. They were interested and we made it happen year two and there are still some things like that in discussion. We’re always looking ahead and looking at the special things we would like to pull off.
BLANK: AC Entertainment and Superfly Productions split the producing duties for Bonnaroo. Are there a lot of differences between sharing the programming and being the sole producer of a festival as AC is with Moogfest?
AC: Well yes and no. They’re both group efforts. Yes, Superfly and AC split the producing and the programming duties for Bonnaroo and there are a lot of ideas going back and forth. But we actually do that here with the AC team too so there are still are many different perspectives and many different voices and hopefully what comes out of it is a really great experience for people. Both events are still collaborative. It’s not really that different.
BLANK: Bob Moog Foundation is something that you seem passionate about. Talk about how you discovered Moog and how important he is to modern music.
AC: The person I’ll have to credit (for my introduction to Moog) is Laurie Anderson. I was doing a show with her in Asheville in the early to mid 1990’s and she wanted to meet him. So that’s how I was introduced to him personally. By the way, in the heart of Downtown Asheville, circuitry is being put together by hand. Most electronic music companies ship the work to China to be done these days but this is really being done and you can go in and see the instruments being manufactured. It’s pretty amazing.
More and more artists started coming through Asheville and wanted to tour the Moog manufacturing company and meet Bob. Nowadays, I think almost every artist that comes into town has to go check it out. Last year the day before Moogfest, the guys from Beirut were in there and they weren’t even playing Asheville, they were just driving through town.
The Bob Moog foundation is very separate from the music company and it is there to educate people about Bob’s legacy and electronic music in general. They have plans to establish a museum in Asheville. It’s headed up by Bob’s daughter Michelle, and they are a very inspiring group of people to work with.
BLANK: There are a couple of acts, Tim Hecker and Buke & Gase, which played BIG EARS Festival in Knoxville. Does Moogfest provide a platform for you to reconnect with some of those more avant-garde acts that made BIG EARS so unique?
AC: We’ve always had that element at Moogfest from the very beginning and if there’s been an unfortunate side effect to Moogfest, it’s that is has caused me to put BIG EARS on hold. Part of that just has to do with timing. When we first launched Moogfest in Asheville, we really had no idea that it was going to be as big as it became. It was incredibly consuming and we were 100 percent immersed in Moogfest and by the time it’s over it’s November and you’re going in to the holidays where the music industry shuts down and there’s been no time to plan BIG EARS. It has caused us to put BIG EARS on ice for the past couple of years, but we’re still hoping to bring it back. A lot of electronic music certainly interfaces with the avant-garde and it always has.
BLANK: With the logistical obstacles you mentioned, would it make more sense to combine them into one festival?
AC: Maybe in a sense, but we still intend to revive BIG EARS in some way or another. There have been thoughts of reviving it in another city. We’ve been approached about bringing it to another city pretty aggressively so we’ll see but personally I would still love to see it happen in Knoxville.
BLANK: What do you hope fans take home from Moogfest this year?
AC: I really hope people walk away from all of our festivals a little lighter. I hope they enjoy great music and the experiences with their friends and I hope they walk away maybe a little more inspired about life. To me the beautiful thing…music is extremely important, but festivals are such a great social experience and the interactivity and the sense of community and shared experience, especially with Moogfest where we try to expose them to things and let them play the instruments, we want to create a spark that lets people know that they can be creative too.
BLANK: That was going to be the last question but that brings up a thought. We didn’t know that we would end up loving Tangerine Dream because we didn’t know of them before seeing them last year at Moogfest. People kind of count on these music festivals to introduce them to new things. Is that something you think of with pride or do you see it as a responsibility? How do you look at things like that?
AC: To me it’s one of the great things about a festival. Many of the people I talk to, whether it’s Bonnaroo or Moogfest or Forecastle or whatever, everyone comes with their expectations. They have the bands that they know they want to see but I think everyone walks away with their unexpected highlights and artists that they discover. I almost always walk away from Bonnaroo with my highlight having been something that I didn’t even know that I was going to see. I think that is one of the great joys of festivals…there is so much going on in the midst of the expected acts. Discovering something that you didn’t know that you loved, that’s one of the great things that can come out of these things.
The complete lineup and artist schedule, tons of additional info and tickets for Moogfest can be found at www.moogfest.com
All photos by Rusty Odom except Ashley Capps, which was submitted for our interview on the tenth anniversary of Bonnaroo, which can be found here.