Big Ears Festival Expands 2023 Edition


Amadou & Mariam are among the acts scheduled to perform at the 2023 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.

(Photo: Courtesy Big Ears)

Celebrating “Ten Years of Big Ears” during the weekend of March 30–April 2, 2023, the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, has announced a second wave of artist and program additions to the initial lineup announced in September.

The announcement comes as the festival continues to experience a record-breaking response from fans. “We are fortunate to have a devoted fan base that is growing steadily year after year, mostly by word-of-mouth,” says Founder and Director Ashley Capps. “Last year, after a three-year COVID hiatus, we had a big leap in attendance — around 35% — which was a tremendous boost of support and affirmation. This year has continued that trend, leaving 2022’s records in the dust. It really inspires — and challenges — us as we plan the festival.”

Last year’s festival sold out six weeks in advance. The 2023 Ten Years of Big Ears celebration will include expanded programming at new venues. “We’re celebrating by continuing to build on what we always strive for each year: an amazing, unforgettable weekend of music, art, and community that brings together artists and audiences from all over the world,” says Capps. “That’s the goal; there are no set rules on how to get there, so the planning of each festival is a unique adventure for us as well.”

These newly announced artists and programs could almost constitute a festival of their own.

Big Ears’ orchestral programming, in partnership with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, is taking a big leap this year with two nights of programs. The Blue Hour, a collaborative song cycle by five leading female composers — Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider — based on Carolyn Forché’s powerful poem “On Earth” and sung by Shara Nova, will have its first full performance since being released on Nonesuch Records this fall. In addition, the KSO will also perform Michael Schachter’s Cycle Of Life, commissioned to celebrate glass artist Richard Jolley’s remarkable installation at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Guitarist Bill Frisell and his trio are also performing the North American premiere of their symphonic collaboration with the KSO at Big Ears. KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian, winner of the 2020 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, will lead all three performances.

The legendary poet and Knoxville native Nikki Giovanni will return to Big Ears for the second year in a row, this time with saxophonist Javon Jackson’s powerful and moving program “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.”

One of Big Ears’ more intriguing offerings for 2023 will be a performance of the late composer Robert Ashley’s spoken-word “opera for television” Perfect Lives, reimagined by the Varispeed Collective as a site-specific event. Its seven 30-minute episodes will be staged every two hours over the course of an entire day, on site in their proper settings at “The Park, The Supermarket, the Bank, the Living Room, the Church, the Backyard and finally the Bar.” One of the legendary, though seldom heard, works of the 20th Century, this will be an experience of Perfect Lives unlike any other.

Other additions include the return of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra, 70 years strong and vital as ever under the direction of 98-year-old saxophonist and maestro Marshall Allen; folk electronica singer/songwriter Beth Orton, in the wake of her new career-defining recording Weather Alive; and Margaret Glaspy’s debut of Rude Ruth, her collaboration with the Julian Lage Trio. Electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick will present new work, and Lesley Flanigan will present one of her riveting performances incorporating feedback, vocals and homemade electronics. British poet/novelist/playwright and spoken word artist Kae Tempest will make an all-too-rare appearance in the U.S.; Mali’s legendary ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate will bring his band; R&B soul singer extraordinaire Danielle Ponder will perform; from Atlanta, the defiant, genre-eclipsing band Algiers will bring their politically charged post-punk and dystopian soul to Knoxville; the indefinable indie-pop band Lucius, fronted by the singing duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, return to Big Ears on the heels of their first studio album in six years, the Brandi Carlile/Dave Cobb produced Second Nature.

American music iconoclast John Zorn has added two new programs to his 70th Birthday Celebration, which now encompasses 10 totally distinctive and unique performances. Composer and pianist Vijay Iyer will be joined by the Parker String Quartet for a concert of his recent works.

For the full Big Ears program, more information and to purchase tickets, click here. DB

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