It’s not easy to become a household name as a banjo player, but Béla Fleck has certainly succeeded. Fleck is often heralded the world’s greatest banjo virtuoso and has won more Grammys (17 the last time we checked…) in more categories than any artist in the history of the award, a testament not only to his freakish talent but also his desire to take this instrument into new territory. From his banjo concertos for full symphony orchestra to collaborations with jazz genius Chick Corea, or his musical mind meld with artists around the globe from Africa to China, Fleck’s genre-busting mission is a spirit we cherish. At Big Ears, Béla will perform with the unsurpassably inventive string quartet Brooklyn Rider and as a duo with songstress and clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn, his soul mate in music and life.
Continuing on with internationally adored experimental bluegrass juggernauts, Jerry Douglas is the world’s master of the resonator guitar, or the dobro. Douglas has served as the musical backbone of Alison Krauss’s Union Station, made foundational records with J.D. Crowe & The New South, and added bluegrass strains to records by rock stars such as Elvis Costello and John Fogerty. But in 2017, Douglas had a musical confession: Ever since he was a teenage dobro player, he’d heard horn lines rippling through his songs. So he wrote a record called What If, and assembled a band of wild players -horns, drums, dobro- including Knoxville’s own Vance Thompson, a trumpeter and founder of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. For a taste of what the Jerry Douglas Band will bring to Big Ears, listen to Cavebop which Douglas calls “an experiment employing Bebop Jazz improv with a dash of Bluegrass for good measure.”