A Letter From Our Artistic Director

“Big Ears is more than a festival…it’s a call to action.”

So spoke one of the younger members of our team last week. I find myself hoping that this is true.

Next week, we will announce the initial line up for the 2018 festival, which will once again span four days, from Thursday, March 22 until Sunday, March 25. Booking any great music festival is a fascinating and challenging dance of ideas, ambitions, passions, and, ultimately, logistics and practicality. With Big Ears, the process for this year’s festival has spanned months – going back to long before the 2017 festival in some instances – and it is both exciting and, as always, a bit intimidating to finally share what’s in store.

The embrace of Big Ears – from both artists and fans – has been both humbling and inspiring – continually pushing us down new paths and to greater ambitions as the festival continues to evolve, seemingly at times with a mind of its own. New ideas emerge; surprising connections are revealed.

As usual, Big Ears 2018 will be an extraordinary gathering of some of the world’s most visionary and adventurous composers, musicians, artists – from classical music, from jazz (lots of jazz and improv this year!), rock, folk traditions, electronica, avant-garde, and beyond. Artists from all over the world…Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, Scandinavia. We continue to give voice to female and male…the secular and the spiritual…the sacred and the profane.

“Why Knoxville?” has been a pervasive question ever since Big Ears was launched.  What’s a festival like this doing in a place like that? For many, that question is answered when people finally visit the city and discover our extraordinary venues, the great restaurants and shops, the historic character of our downtown, the natural beauty of the region…all within an easy walk. But the question has prompted us to delve deeper into our home and its history, its place in the world. We’ve been scratching the surface of that for the past couple of years. But a fortuitous encounter last year at Big Ears with a boundlessly enthusiastic fan possessed of endless curiosity – and who happens to be a musician and ethnomusicologist – has led us in an exciting new adventure exploring the connections right under our nose this year. We can’t wait to tell you more about that!

So, next week, we’ll tell you a lot of the story. There’ll be more to come – some tasty new culinary programs, a few very stimulating and engaging lectures and discussions, our film collaborations with Public Cinema, and a handful of special performances still in the works.

I hope you are as excited by what’s in store as we are, and that you’ll join us as we venture down new paths discovering fascinating stories and unexpected connections, defying categories, blending the past, the present, and the future along with the worldly and transcendent.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of something the great composer Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

If Big Ears is indeed a call to action, then it is in the fervent hope of us all coming together in preserving the fire.


Ashley Capps
Artistic Director

Knoxville, TN · USA



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