Big Ears’ 10th: A note from our Founder, Ashley Capps

Credit: Alistair Butler, 1980
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.


Ten years of Big Ears! Who knew? It took me by surprise when it was pointed out only a couple of weeks ago that 2019 would mark 10 years since the festival was launched in February of 2009.  As it turns out, we have even more auspicious milestones to celebrate next year, as the iconic ECM label along with the Art Ensemble of Chicago (who also recorded some of major work for ECM) both mark 50 years of singular artistic vision and achievement.  There’s certainly much cause for celebration this coming March.

Looking backwards, of course, can be a tricky business.  But in marking these milestones, we have no interest in mere nostalgia – or in the notion of glorifying a supposedly lost “golden age.”

For all of us – Big Ears, the Art Ensemble, and ECM alike– the celebration is ongoing, firmly rooted in the here and now, in the fertile vitality of the living, breathing, creative spirit of exploration, invention, and innovation.  It’s the continuum – from past to present and into the future – that we seek to honor, illuminate, and nurture.  For us, the “golden age” is now…and happening all around us.  Look! Listen!

Much has been said of Big Ears’ “open borders” approach to programming – the coming together of different musical genres – the cross pollination – the blurring of lines.  Last year, Rhiannon Giddens, in her beautiful and moving keynote address, perhaps articulated it best when she said that Big Ears “…not only crosses boundaries, it completely ignores them.  It dances over their graves.”

That’s a bold statement – but it is indeed our vision and inspiration and aspiration:   To dance…across generations, across gender, across race and culture, and, yes, across art forms and genres…across everything that seeks to limit, to divide, to contain, and to separate us from the expression of our common humanity – its boundless beauty and its infinite mystery.

This year, Big Ears programming continues to expand and spread its wings, taking on even greater breadth and depth…. Kim Kashkashian plays Bach and Theo Bleckmann sings Kate Bush…there’s the continuing vital edge of iconoclastic rockers like Spiritualized and This Is Not This Heat alongside an exciting tsunami of young boundary pushers like Yves TumorserpentwithfeetJlin….an ongoing spotlight on visionary female composers, from Meredith Monk and Joan La Barbara to Rachel GrimesCarla KihlstedtEllen Reid and Anna Thorvaldsdottir…plus world premieres of new work – and freshly reimagined classics – by the enigmatic Harold Budd…while legendary sonic philosopher Alvin Lucier collaborates with young pioneers a fraction of his age, helping us to hear the world in new and unimagined ways… jazz legends like Jack DeJohnetteWadada Leo Smith and Bill Frisell, along with a new generation of jazz-inspired movers-and-shakers like Mary HalvorsonShabaka Hutchings, and Makaya McCraven… while Punch Brothers and Bela Fleck continue to push Appalachian traditions into new realms… from the Nashville Ballet’s Shakespeare-inspired collaboration with poet Caroline Randall Williams and Rhiannon Giddens … to Triptych, a powerful, collaborative multi-media homage to the work of Robert Mapplethorpe… along with much, much more.  I hope you’ll explore the full scope of offerings at

There’s so much to share in the coming weeks – more details and nuances about the programs already announced, plus the Big Ears film festival, our most inspiring series of talks and discussions to date, along with exhibitions, culinary experiences, and other treats.  We will also have news about expanding transportation options including a new trolley program, new seating arrangements for the Standard and the Mill & Mine, and some extraordinary special shows and opportunities for our donors and VIP / Premium passholders.

Thanks for joining us in making Big Ears possible.  We look forward to seeing you in March.  Let’s dance!

Ashley Capps
Executive & Artistic Director, Big Ears Festival

Knoxville, TN · USA



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