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.
Two of the United States’ most intriguing solo percussionists are highlights of this year’s offerings. Born in Osaka, Japan, but living now along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, Tatsuya Nakatani is a riveting performer, using every square inch of his drumkit to create emotionally absorbing symphonies of one. A veteran of Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir and a prolific collaborator, Jon Mueller creates swells of sound that seem tidal using an elaborate array of gongs and his hypnotic baritone voice.
A duo and a trio explore the very different relationships a guitar can have with a rhythm (or arrhythmia) section: Chicago guitarist Bill MacKay, who will release a new album on Drag City in March, plays with Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs and drummer Charles Rumback as the sprawling Black Duck. Meanwhile, the Asheville duo of Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon dart in and out of claustrophobic passages and coruscant meditations.
Chicago’s Sima Cunningham—half of the experimental rock act OHMME and a member of Jeff Tweedy’s touring band—sings lithe, soulful songs, alluringly curling between folk and R&B. Minneapolis quintet IE (pronounced “eee”) shape bejeweled soundscapes, piano and synthesizers reflecting off an unfurling canvas of dreamy textures and drums.
The rest of The Pilot Light roster teems with talent from Tennessee and North Carolina. Asheville guitarist Shane Parish is the anchor of the vivid instrumental rock experimentalists Ahleuchatistas, though his acoustic solo work tangles folk and jazz idioms into unexpected shapes. Very Very Hot Evil is the playful solo project of Knoxville pianist Paul Royse, who uses humor and harmony to beguile and provoke in his songs.
JayVe Montgomery, or Abstract Black, is a Nashville clarinetist with Chicago roots, deploying extended techniques to create immersive instrumentals and radiant improvisations. Double bassist Matt Nelson is a Knoxville mainstay, while the double bass drones of photographer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Lundberg are magnetic and spry.
Knoxville quintet White Gregg adds unexpected influences and improvisational elements into its slanted Southern gothic rock, while Knoxville quartet Caps make dashing indie rock. Flaming Lips and Deerhoof collaborator B|_ank combines intense percussion and wide-screen soundscapes during bold live sets. From Nashville, Altered Statesman makes pensive and slightly surreal soul, like Lambchop stepping inside a jukebox. More acts will be added to the Pilot Light roster in the weeks to come.
Run largely by volunteers, The Pilot Light presented more than 250 performances across all genres in 2017 alone, representing nearly 500 local and touring artists. More than 60 percent of those shows were offered at low costs or on a sliding scale, reflecting the Pilot Light’s commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive part of its community. Big Ears is delighted to be The Pilot Light’s partner once again.