During the last decade, Big Ears has emerged as the United States’ preeminent festival for exploratory music. This year, the festival honors a visionary international institution that has always operated with the same outlook—ECM Records, the border-erasing label launched by producer Manfred Eicher that has now spent half a century tirelessly pursuing new frontiers and standards of excellence in jazz and classical music.
At Big Ears 2019, some 20 concerts featuring legendary artists such as The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Meredith Monk, Carla Bley and Jack DeJohnette and a new generation of torch-bearing talents like Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, Avishai Cohen, and Shai Maestro form the largest group of ECM acts under one banner in the United States (and one of the largest in the world) during this auspicious 50th year. View the lineup and read more here.
SUNDAY, MARCH 24 / 12am – 12pm
Free to Big Ears patrons, $10 for general public.
ALL NIGHT FLIGHT returns to Big Ears for its second edition with nearly two-dozen musicians and a team of four visual artists. Beginning when the clock ticks from Saturday, March 23, to Sunday, March 24, the drone will commence, one artist’s interpretation emptying directly into the next. Acoustic textures will meld and mix with electronic ones, international experimental stars co-mingling with regional upstarts from both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Learn more here.
Panels, Artist Talks, and Workshops
We are thrilled to host a series of artist talks & panel discussions offering artists and listeners the platform to speak about their experiences. Visit the schedule to view these conversations in context of the full weekend of events. Read about each panel here.
The Pilot Light
For the sixth consecutive year, we are honored and excited to announce four completely free days of music at The Pilot Light, downtown Knoxville’s local and experimental music hub since 2000.
The Pilot Light’s history with Big Ears is long and intimate. When AC Entertainment first hatched the idea at the end of the last decade, The Pilot Light founder Jason Boardman joined the festival’s curatorial wing, helping to program a first year that was met with glowing international praise. The Pilot Light’s booking, after all, has always reflected an ethos similar to that of Big Ears, serving as an essential experimental outpost in the Southeast; in fact, several Big Ears performers have made and continue to make their Knoxville debuts at The Pilot Light.
As part of Big Ears 2019, these concerts—all booked by The Pilot Light’s Boardman—put our ideals about programming cutting-edge sound at play within the context of a thriving small club that happens to be, like the festival itself, a nonprofit enterprise. Mixing regional talent with several vital players from the United States’ musical frontiers, this year’s The Pilot Light programming is a compelling component of Big Ears 2019.
Big Ears and Knoxville microcinema masterminds Public Cinema are thrilled to announce the core of the film screenings at the 2019 festival, which will turn the University of Tennessee’s UT Downtown Gallery into a provocative movie house throughout the month of March. The works of four filmmakers with very different but equally compelling approaches to the screen get their own days in the Gallery, with their works shown as repeated loops or in enormous uninterrupted blocks. Like the music festival itself, the film component of Big Ears 2019 is honored to bring challenging, riveting, and rewarding work to Knoxville.
Public Cinema’s partnerships with Big Ears have been artistically audacious from the start: During their debut at the festival in 2016, they showed a 35mm print of Sun Ra’s landmark Space is the Place, hosted a Q&A with Laurie Anderson around Heart of a Dog, and invited Jodie Mack to sing and rap to Dark Side of the Moon. In 2017, they showcased films by Jem Cohen and Jonathan Demme and a series of experimental shorts, followed by a tantalizing assortment of 3D programming and the 50th anniversary of Canyon Cinema in 2018. MovieMaker Magazineeven named these events one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world. Though the size of the screen and room is smaller this year (in part in an effort to begin planning for some colossal 2020 surprises), this year’s filmmakers—Beatrice Gibson, Wang Bing, Johann Lurf, and Jodie Mack—are some of the medium’s most vital modern voices. Read more here.
FRIDAY, 22 MARCH – SUNDAY, 24 MARCH
Mosaic Interactive is a suite of interdisciplinary works that explore our collective dreams, memories, and rituals through the lens of song and storytelling from around the globe. Big Ears 2019 is honored to welcome a team of artists from Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia, Palestine, South Africa and the U.S. to present works that journey through liminal spaces between past and present, waking and sleeping, human and spiritual. Learn more here.
Admission to this special Wednesday performance is not included with Big Ears Festival passes.
It is a long-running Shakespeare debate: Who is the “Dark Lady” he describes with such lust and longing in his sonnets? Various scholars have pursued the question over the years, whittling down the possibilities to select candidates of Mediterranean origin. But in her compelling 2015 collection of poetry called Lucy Negro, Redux, Nashville writer Caroline Randall Williams took a more literal (and, for some, more controversial) approach by identifying the Dark Lady as someone of African descent. She gave personality and meaning to Shakespeare’s muse, developing her as a person and not just as the bard’s spark.
In Lucy Negro Redux, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Carolina Chocolate Drops cofounder, Big Ears veteran, and Nashville and Broadway actress Rhiannon Giddens uses Williams’ work as the springboard for a full ballet that explores ideas of love and equality in a world that does not make them easy. A collaboration with Williams (who narrates the night), The Nashville Ballet, and artistic director Paul Vasterling, Lucy will make its world premiere in Nashville in February 2019. Its second performance happens in Knoxville for Big Ears 2019—fitting, as Giddens pursued the project after texting festival founder Ashley Capps a set of demos inspired by Williams’ book. She composed and will perform the score live with her recent collaborator, acclaimed Italian pianist and percussionist Francesco Turrisi. A testament to audacity and vision, Lucy Negro Redux seems destined to stand as a major work from Giddens, a major talent.
This production is recommended for adults due to explicit language and mature themes.
Guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Greg Tardy will perform together live – for the first time ever as a duo – before a small, lucky audience at the studios of East Tennessee Public PBS, in a special taping of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s “Live at Lucille’s.”
Bill and Greg recorded a record together this past August – to be released soon on Newvelle Records. While their musical relationship spans decades – with Tardy being a member of at least two of Frisell’s bands and appearing on several of his records – this is their first duo recording. It was inspired by the musical rapport that emerged when Bill appeared as special guest with the KJO – which has claimed Tardy as a member since he moved to Knoxville to teach at UT several years ago – in January 2018. This concert will be the first live performance of the music that they recorded for the album.
Big Ears Beer Exchange
The annual Big Ears BeerExchange returns to Suttree’s for it’s fifth installment Saturday, March 23 at 1p. Co-hosted by friends of the festival Charles and Bruce Gearhart along with George Talley and the Suttree’s team, this year’s exchange will be the biggest and best ever featuring rare and hard to find beers from around the world along with the best brews the region has to offer.
We encourage fans, patrons and locals alike to bring their own favorite and special beers to share with fellow connoisseurs. This year’s event will raise money for Big Ears’ favorite charities – The Joy School of Music and Community School of the Arts – and all participants are strongly encouraged to donate $5 for their participation. Must be 21+ to participate.
A popular Big Ears tradition since our debut in 2009 returns: During Ampient Brunch, a collective of local musicians explores their shared interest in ambient music at Old City Java, one of Knoxville’s essential coffee outposts. From 10 a.m. until noon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, these musicians will share some mellow sounds as you sip your caffeine. These performances are free and open to the public.