KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Big Ears Music Festival returns March 21-24, 2019 to historic downtown Knoxville.
During the last 10 years, Big Ears has developed a reputation for presenting preeminent musical pioneers and cutting-edge innovators from a wide swath of genres, earning it praise from The New York Times as “a music festival with a rare vision” and from Rolling Stone as “a listening experience unlike any other in America.”
This year’s Big Ears lineup mixes an audacious slate of special programs, central themes, and world premieres with powerful sets from some of music’s most compelling new voices. With more than 100 concerts, workshops, installations, and interactive experiences, Big Ears 2019 will turn Knoxville into one of the world’s creative epicenters for a remarkable long weekend. Tickets are now on sale at www.bigearsfestival.org.
Big Ears 2019 leads with Spiritualized and Mercury Rev supply their ecclesiastic psychedelic rock, while Nils Frahm, Jlin, Carl Stone, and The Comet is Coming all offer electronic music.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago has reimagined the boundaries of improvised music since the late ’60s and celebrates their 50th anniversary recording under that name. They lead an immense field of jazz legends including Jack DeJohnette, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell, The Alex Schlippenbach Trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and Wadada Leo Smith. They’re joined by Mary Halvorson, with her band Code Girl; Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn in a rare piano duo; and one of this year’s great breakout acts, London’s Sons of Kemet.
Parallel pioneers of extended vocal techniques, Joan La Barbara and Meredith Monk perform, as well as visual artist and improvisational singer Lonnie Holley. Rhiannon Giddens returns with two new projects after delivering the keynote address at Big Ears 2018, and Kayhan Kalhor, the master of the kamancheh, an Iranian fiddle performs solo and with the polyglot string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
Knoxville native Yves Tumor has released one of the best albums of 2018 with Safe in the Hands of Love. Guitarist Rafiq Bhatia builds worlds of radiant noise and rhythm on his ANTI- debut “Breaking English,” while young Scottish cellist Peter Gregson is readying his audacious Deutsche Grammophon introduction, a modern reinterpretation of Bach’s Cello Suites. Electronic composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, breathless instrumental trio The Messthetics, Nashville ambient experts Coupler, South African guitar phenom Derek Gripper are all featured.
Big Ears 2019 presents one of the first productions of TRIPTYCH, a multimedia project that explores the legacy of New York photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. Combining large-scale projections of his work with new music by The National’s Bryce Dessner and interpretations of Monteverdi’s madrigals by stunning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, TRIPTYCH includes the writings of Essex Hemphill and Mapplethorpe’s muse, Patti Smith.
The Nashville Ballet presents the first performance of Lucy Negro Redux outside of its hometown premiere, a program based around the hypothetical life of Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady,” for whom he penned many of his most famous sonnets. It is composed by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens.
Fifty years after Manfred Eicher launched ECM Records, Big Ears will offer a timely focus on the ever-vital record label, with a series of performances highlighting the label’s pioneering past and rich present, exploring both its jazz and classical pedigrees. The programs include concerts by free jazz titans The Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Carla Bley Trio with Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard, drummer Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison, trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith (performing his early masterpiece Divine Love), Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Ralph Towner, the Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan duo, Meredith Monk, and violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist Robert Levin. Representatives of the label’s new vanguard include a collaboration between Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN, trumpeters Avishai Cohen and Mathias Eick and their bands, plus the trio of emerging Israeli piano star Shai Maestro. More artists will be added to the Big Ears’ ECM roster soon.
Harold Budd presents a career overview featuring new arrangements of many of his classics, as well as multiple world premieres of new works, with the support of his son Terrence, the ACME String Quartet, Knoxville-based experimental collaborative Nief-Norf, and composer Tim Story. Alvin Lucier — another legendary composer, known for his musical inquiries into the very nature of sound — delivers his work across multiple days, including performances of his “I Am Sitting in a Room” and “Bird and Person Dyning.” The Ever Present Orchestra, featuring Stephen O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi, plays more of Lucier’s work, as does Joan La Barbara, the inventor of multiple extended techniques for voice. In her own concert, La Barbara will present an overview of her own compositions. Theo Bleckmann performs.
British guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson performs as well leading composer and pianist Rachel Grimes who offers the second performance with a unique chamber ensemble. The International Contemporary Ensemble presents three concerts, including works by four women composers: Iceland’s Anna Thorvaldsdottir, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, Ellen Reid, a Tennessee native, and Ashley Fure.
In the coming weeks, Big Ears will announce even more of its 2019 programming, including the second edition of its all-night, 12 -hour drone concert and a series of panels and workshops. The Big Ears film festival—recently dubbed one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the United States - “an experimental answer to SXSW” - will return under the direction of Paul Harris and Darren Hughes of Knoxville’s Public Cinema.
For more information, visit www.bigearsfestival.com.
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About The Big Ears Festival
The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)(3), is to create, nurture, and support artistic expression and cultural education that transcends traditional boundaries, strengthens and builds relationships, and connects across communities through genre-defying music, film and arts programming, and interactive experiences.
Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American, Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings in the world, bringing together a virtual who’s who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators and influencers with younger artists who are synthesizing their own experiences in-to fresh, new creative work. Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville – and taking place in its world-class historic theaters, excellent clubs, and unique alternative performance spaces – all within easy walking distance of one another and intermingled with superb restaurants, bars, and shops – Big Ears offers an unparalleled experience for adventurous artists and audiences alike. While primarily focused on music, Big Ears is also developing a strong independent/experimental film component while also presenting installations, exhibitions and interactive experiences.
Big Ears is created and produced by AC Entertainment, recognized as one of the foremost independent promoters in the United States. Founded in 1991 by Ashley Capps, the company books, markets and presents over 1,000 events per year. In addition to Big Ears, AC Entertainment is the force behind internationally renowned events including Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival®, Forecastle Festival, and many more. For more information on AC Entertainment, visit ACEntertainment.com.
The 2019 Big Ears Festival is made possible by the generous support of The Aslan Foundation, Pilot Flying J, Visit Knoxville, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, Hobson Wood Foundation, Red Bull Music Academy, Boyd’s Jig & Reel, National Endowment for the Arts, The Shifting Foundation, SouthArts and Tennessee Arts Commission.