From its first iteration in 2009, the Festival has been a locus of expedition, defined more by a go-anywhere ethos than by any style or genre allegiance.NPR Music
Recent BIG EARS Press
Surprises from Spiritualized, vulnerability from Jlin, a look inside the mind of composer Nils Frahm & more.
“There’s no other festival quite like Big Ears … the Knoxville-based event has a propensity for presenting the unexpected while reaching well beyond any preconceived parameters.”
“Instead of sales metrics or star power, Big Ears contemplates the perceptual properties of music: shades of dissonance and consonance, the particular qualities of a drone, the ever-changing applications of subtlety and brute force.”
“ECM is observing its 50th anniversary this year and its largest celebration took place at Big Ears, where artists from its roster played some 20 concerts.”
“The annual Big Ears Festival again featured artists eager to experiment, including a slate of talented electronic artists who pushed the genre in new directions.”
“With every installment, Big Ears feels more like several festivals under a single banner … But that segregated outlook misses the genius of the festival, which is about cross-pollination. Few festivals in the U.S., let alone the world, program such a broad array of cutting-edge artists across all genres.”
“This year’s Big Ears felt right in tune with an emergent, exhilarating frontier. I see this not only as a hopeful turn in the festival’s model of inclusion but also as an indicator of present-day permissions around jazz’s state of the art.”
“Nigerian party jams, a turntable orchestra, a cardboard box played with a bow and more from Knoxville’s annual experimental gathering.”
Rob Rushin explains the fascinating history of Big Ears founder Ashley Capps’ creative ventures. It’s a gem of a story and an important reminder of the power of art.
Jon Ross likens jazz pioneer Carla Bley’s compositions to “chapter books with new themes and ideas emerging on each subsequent page.”
Steve Dollar of ARTNEWS affirmed that Big Ears “reconsiders the terms by which experimental music can be presented to an eager, sophisticated audience compelled by seemingly errant tangents of art- and music-making.”
Jim Fusilli described Big Ears as a “silo-destroying festival” with “music liberated from the confines of category and overt commercialism.”
Rolling Stone music critic Chris Weingarten declared the festival “a listening experience unlike any other in America,” boasting “the biggest, boldest lineup in the history of the fest.”
“At Big Ears, the sounds are the stars, free of the tyranny of categories,” writes renowned American music critic and longtime contributor to The New Yorker Alex Ross. Citing Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever as his timely Big Ears jumping-off point, his review captures the heart and soul of not only this year’s festival, but of the event itself.
Grayson Haver Currin dives deep not only into Big Ears but into Knoxville itself, “again turned into America’s most carefully, lovingly program experimental music hub, at least for a perfect long weekend.” Currin also ponders the expansive, unexpected appeal of Sunn O))), music ownership and collaboration.
Writer Ben Ratliff, who’s been to every iteration of the festival since 2009, explores the “series of concentric circles” of music at Big Ears, informed by the classical tradition at the center.
Writer Seth Colter Walls sums it up nicely: “Crossing the boundaries of musical styles may have become a cliche – but when you have the likes of Kamasi Washington and Laurie Anderson on hand, it can also offer an innovative and moving experience.”
Holly Haworth of the Oxford American presents her fabulous, creative exploration of Big Ears, managing to capture the poetry, magic, and mystery that inspires our festival, deeming it “Knoxville’s monster … one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over.”
Ashley Capps, artistic director and founder of the Big Ears Festival, chats with PBS’ Jeffrey Brown on the ways the small, personal and eclectic music festival aims to showcase how diverse genres can stretch and influence one another.
Hailing from London, author James Richards concluded after his Knoxville immersion, “[Big Ears] is unique among the American festivals in that it enlists musicians, not by genre, but their enthusiasm for provocation and their boldness to delve into the fringes of sound.”