Regarded as one of the most unique, boundary-defying and eagerly anticipated cultural gatherings in the world – “a music festival with a rare vision” (The New York Times) – Big Ears Festival returns in 2018 with perhaps its most multi-faceted and diverse line up to date. Spanning four days – Thursday, March 22-Sunday, March 25 – the festival will again feature over 100 performances in venues throughout downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, from the city’s historic theaters and churches to clubs, galleries, warehouses and listening rooms, along with some surprise locations. Weekend passes go on sale Friday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. Eastern at BigEarsFestival.org.
As always, the Big Ears Festival experience is curated to lure audiences into an unfolding, kaleidoscopic musical adventure. Swinging traditional jazz, mesmerizing fiddle tunes, plaintive ballads and rousing spirituals will be heard alongside atmospheric orchestral textures, hypnotic electronics, North African trance music and bold flights of sonic imagination.
“I think this year’s festival may have more depth and breadth than ever before,” says Big Ears Founder and Artistic Director Ashley Capps. “Some powerful themes emerged during the planning process – there’s a deep spiritual thread running through much of the music, along with some brilliant work that is especially potent in our current political climate. There continues to be a strong female presence in the festival. Perhaps most importantly is a very dynamic interaction between the global – the internationally acclaimed artists – and the local – our own indigenous culture and sense of place and community. That’s especially exciting to me.”
This year’s Big Ears program offers a special emphasis on jazz, with a virtual who’s who of leading contemporary jazz greats in performances that span the history of the music, from Jason Moran’s Fats Waller tribute, Nels Cline’s jazz noir big band stylings, to Rova’s electric tribute to John Coltrane, Medeski Martin & Wood’s exploratory fusion and Craig Taborn’s riveting contemporary take on the standard jazz quartet. The jazz avant-garde is well represented with legends like Milford Graves, Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, and vital younger players like Peter Evans and Tyshawn Sorey.
Appalachian themes emerge in the work of composer Julia Wolfe, especially her 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Anthracite Fields,” as well as in Jenny Scheinman’s poignant exploration of small southern towns in “Kannapolis.”
This year, Big Ears – in perhaps its most surprising development – is also expanding the role of bluegrass and traditional Appalachian music with concerts scheduled by banjo wizard Béla Fleck and dobro master Jerry Douglas, along with Abigail Washburn, The Black Twig Pickers and Anna & Elizabeth, among others.
“This is an especially compelling new direction for Big Ears, and we’ll have a lot to share in the coming weeks,” says Capps. “How about a Big Ears fiddlers convention, maybe a Square Dance, certainly a few picking sessions? We’ll explore the paths linking the fiddle to the drone. Plus, one of the most frequently asked questions about Big Ears has been ‘Why Knoxville?’ and this is our way of beginning to answer that question…while throwing a genuine East Tennessee shindig at the same time!”
More details about the shindig, as well as other facets of Big Ears 2018, will be revealed in the coming weeks. There will be a number of special performances to share – solo shows and all sorts of collaborations, permutations and surprises.
The groundbreaking film program, in collaboration with The Public Cinema, will be revealed soon, plus there’ll be installations, exhibitions, artist talks and discussions, interactive experiences, culinary events, wine, beer and other surprises to share in the coming weeks.
Abigail Washburn & Wu Fei
Aine O’Dwyer performs William Eggleston’s “Musik”
Anna & Elizabeth
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: “In The Light Of Air” performed by International Contemporary Ensemble
Anoushka Shankar: “Land of Gold”
Bang on a Can All Stars celebrate their 30th anniversary with works by David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe
Bang on a Can All Stars perform Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields”
Bang on a Can All Stars “Field Recordings”
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Béla Fleck & Brooklyn Rider
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
“Brimstone & Glory” live score performed by Nief-Norf and Wordless Music
Cleek Schrey & David Behrman
Craig Taborn Quartet
Cyro Baptista & The “Banquet of the Spirits”
Cyro Baptista presents “Vira Loucos”
Duet for Theremin & Lap Steel
Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
GAS (Wolfgang Voigt)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
International Contemporary Ensemble
Jaga Jazzist featuring Ståle Storløkken & Jon Balke
Jason Moran Duo with Milford Graves
Jason Moran presents Fats Waller Dance Party
BANGS (Jason Moran, Mary Halvorson and Ron Miles)
Jenny Scheinman presents “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait”
Jenny Scheinman’s “Mischief & Mayhem” with Nels Cline & Scott Amendola
Kelly Lee Owens
Kid Koala’s “Satellite” Turntable Orchestra
Knoxville Symphony Strings performs “Were You There” with baritone Davone Tines
Laurel Halo (Live with Eli Keszler)
Medeski Martin & Wood
Nels Cline: “Lovers” with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and guests
Peter Evans Ensemble
Rocket Science (Peter Evans, Sam Pluta, Craig Taborn, Evan Parker)
Roscoe Mitchell Trios
Rova: “The Sound in Space Project”
Rova Channeling Coltrane: “Electric Ascension”
“Go Dig My Grave” featuring Giovanna Pessi, Frode Haltli, Cheyenne Mize and Susanna
The Black Twig Pickers
The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanda performed by The Sai Anantam Ashram Singers
The Jerry Douglas Band
Tyshawn Sorey Trio
*We’ve highlighted the things we know about and are looking forward to. We are more familiar with this lineup than we have been with previous BIG EARS’ rosters, but the best thing about festivals (and particularly BIG EARS) is discovering new artists to appreciate. In the weeks and months to come, check back in to see spotlights on various angles of the festival and look for the complete guide to the events next March.
Big Ears is made possible by the generous support of The Aslan Foundation, ArtWorks/NEA, Visit Knoxville, TN Tourism, The Royal Norwegian Consulate General, Regal Entertainment Group, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, Pilot Flying J, and The Clayton Foundation.