Big Ears Festival gears up a year ahead

Harold DuckettArts 865, Feature

The seats have barely gotten cold from this year’s festival, and Big Ears has already begun announcing the lineup for the 2019 edition of the Big Ears, the avant garde music and film festival that has made Knoxville a landmark on the musical and cinema maps of the world.

Instead of releasing a list so long it’s difficult to comprehend, this year Big Ears is releasing artist lists in clusters that are easier to wrap your head around. Part of the reason is that, before their appearances at Big Ears, many Big Ears alumni were well known to a relatively small group of aficionados. After their BE performances, their calendars fill up. So you have to get them early.

Scheduled for March 21-24, 2019, next year’s performers announced on Thursday, include:

  • Mary Halverson and her new band, Code Girl. Halverson first appeared at Big Ears in 2016 with Anthony Braxton and this year with Jason Moran and Ron Miles. Next year, she comes with her new band, Code Girl, with singer Amirtha Kidambi, Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fukiwara.

    Pianist and composer Nils Frahmn. (Photo provided)

  • Berlin-based pianist and composer, Nils Frahm, who introduced himself to BE fans with his 2014 performance. Frahm builds expansive sonic landscapes by combining hushed piano with epic electronic processing.
  • The Messthetics – a new musical force composed of bassist Joe Lally, drummer Brandan Canty and experimental guitarist Anthony Pirog. The trio is dedicated to a live music ideal in which a foundational structure gives birth to improvisation.
  • Artistic polymath Lonnie Holley, whose art and music comes out of hardship, struggle and a furious sense of curiosity that comes to the surface of his journey in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance and sound. His work has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the White House.

    Artistic polymath Lonnie Holley. (Photo provided)

  • South African guitarist Derek Gripper who blends and transforms everything from African kora music, Bach’s violin works, South African jazz and avant-garde Brazilian songs into music that is simultaneously intimate and entirely new.
  • Irreversible Entanglements, a liberation-oriented, free jazz collective that came together in 2015 to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, organized after the killing of Akai Gurley by New York police. Made up of saxophonist Keir Neuringer, poet Camae Ayawa, bassist Like Stewart, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes, their music is driven by powerful recitations of Ayawa that emphasizes black trauma, survival and power, along with honoring tradition and speaking to the future.
  • Rachel Grimes: The Way Forth. The Kentucky-based pianist and composer returns to Big Ears to present her dazzling new folk opera and film, The Way Forth, written for voice, strings, piano, harp, narrator and choir. The work weaves together the voices of Kentucky women from 1775 to today with letters, photos and intimate portraits from her own family history. What emerges is a narrative about suppressed women’s rights, discarding of indigenous peoples and the enslavement and subsequently freed American-Americans, all exploited for resources and wealth.

Tickets for the 2019 festival are on sale now. Information and pricing can be found at

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