Big Ears ’18 sets lineup

Harold DuckettOur Town Arts

Tickets for the 2018 Big Ears Festival, set for Thursday-Sunday, March 22-25, go on sale Friday, Nov. 3.

Since Big Ears founding by Knoxville’s own Ashley Capps in 2009, Big Ears has become the music festival people from around the world come to hear cutting edge contemporary music in the fields of classical, jazz and experimental genres, along with cultural and ethnic performances than can’t be heard anywhere else in the world.

That’s because many of the great composers and musicians in these areas not only come to perform before Big Ears devoted, one-of-a-kind audiences, but to get the rare chance to listen to each other and to collaborate on unique performances than only happen at Big Ears.

These special, one-off performances have become a tradition at Big Ears. The 2018 incarnation is certain to add to that history with not-to-be-missed shows.

In addition, impromptu gatherings in downtown’s restaurants and clubs, where conversations with many of these great artists take place, as well as spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, completely unprogrammed jam-sessions and concerts that only get announced by text message shortly before the show, are part of the unforgettable experience of Big Ears.

Together, they form an unfolding kaleidoscopic musical adventure that this year will include indigenous, traditional Appalachian music performed by folk and traditional musicians working today: banjo genius Bela Fleck, dobro master Jerry Douglas, Abigail Washburn, with her unforgettable voice, The Black Twig Pickers, Anna & Elizabeth, and young American folk artist Sam Amidon.

Appalachian themes also emerge in the work of composer Julia Wolfe, especially in her 2015 Puliter Prize-winning “Anthracite Fields,” about the region’s coal, and in the music of Jenny Scheinman”s “Kannapolis.”

Although the question isn’t asked any more by people from around the world who have experienced Knoxville’s unique combination of walkability, close venues, high-caliber restaurants and in-close lodging, “Why Knoxville,” still comes.

“My answer has always been “why not Knoxville,” said Big Ears creator Capps. “So including traditional Appalachian music in this year’s festival is a way of beginning to answer that question.

“This is an especially compelling new direction for Big Ears, and we have more in the coming weeks,” Capps said. “How about a Big Ears fiddlers’ convention, maybe a Square Dance on Market Square and certainly a few picking sessions. We’ll explore the paths linking the fiddle to drone music.

For Capps, and for this writer, as well as many of the musicians who bring their art to Big Ears, the music of the festival has always had a spiritual dimension.

That component of Big Ears will be explored more directly at this festival.

Among the music that will explore spiritual aspects will be the music of Alice Coltrane, widow of the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. A composer and pianist in her own right, Coltrane introduced eastern sensibilities into her music. She went on to found and perform at her own ashram, Sai Anantam Ashram in Cornell, California.

There she wrote music to be performed during the spiritual, ecstatis gatherings of the ashram’s community. It was never intended to be commercial music, but to accompany and assist the Hindu state of mind. The Sai Anantom Ashram Singers will present special performances.

Along with additional jazz music this year, and performances of music by the exciting young Islandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, this is just the beginning of figuring out what this edition of Big Ears will have to offer with a list of artists longer than you arm and more than 100 performances.

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