Big Ears Announces Full 2018 Lineup


Improvising cellist Okkyung Lee is scheduled to play in a variety of different settings at the upcoming Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.

(Photo: Lasse Marhaug)

The Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, is set to return March 22-25 with performances by jazz luminaries like Milford Graves and Roscoe Mitchell scheduled for the 9th installment of the sonically inclusive series.

As broad as the music offerings are, Ashley Capps, the festival’s founder, sees Big Ears’ film programing as the perfect complement to what’s been planned for the 2018 festival.

“It is pretty broad,” he said, mentioning a regional film series, as well as documentaries on Graves and a film that investigates the birth of country music in Bristol, a town straddling the Tennessee-Virginia border. “And hopefully, it’s a nice parallel to some of the themes that we’re exploring at the festival itself.”

In addition to performances by harpist Áine O’Dwyer, the Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Susan Alcorn and Medeski, Martin & Wood, a wealth of additional jazz shows are schedule for the festival. Capps said he was excited for Graves’ various sets, as well as Mitchell’s series of TRIOS performances, comprising music from his Bells For The Southside (ECM). The festival organizer said it only might be the second time the suite has been presented in a live setting.

Improvising cellist Okkyung Lee’s also scheduled to perform solo, as part of Evan Parker’s electro-acoustic ensemble—which includes trombonist George Lewis and pianist Craig Taborn—as well as playing in Rova, a group that will recreate John Coltrane’s Ascension during one of its sets at Big Ears.

“It’s always the same mindset—it’s trusting your ears and using your musical judgement,” Lee said about playing the festival in a batch of disparate settings. “When I’m playing solo, there’s nowhere to hide, so I have to rely on myself. But playing with other people, it’s not about me. I’m trying to figure out how I can contribute to the bigger picture.”

The essence of Lee’s selflessness enables her to seamlessly fit into any performance situation. And it’s that sort of genre-agnostic savvy that Capps has employed to program the genre-bounding Big Ears.

“I think the thing that sets Big Ears apart from other festivals is the way it explores connections between different genres of music and the way those different genres might influence each other or the way a particular artistic personality embodies all of these different facets of musical creation,” he said. “More typically, you’ll have a jazz festival or you’ll have a bluegrass festival. And maybe you’ll have some overlap there, but they’re genre-specific and put a lot of similar acts together. … Here, we want to put things in a different type of juxtaposition. I think Béla Fleck fans should listen to Roscoe Mitchell and Roscoe Mitchell fans should listen to Béla Fleck.”

A complete list of Big Ears performers is below.

Thursday, March 22
Nels Cline: “Lovers” with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and Guests
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
David Hidalgo & Marc Ribot
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: ‘In the Light of Air” Performed by International Contemporary Ensemble
Kid Koala’s “Satellite” Turntable Orchestra
Jaga Jazzist Featuring Ståle Storløkken & Jon Balke
Meshell Ndegeocello
Brooklyn Rider
Jenny Hval
Kid Koala (DJ)
Duet for Theremin & Lap Steel
Susan Alcorn

Friday, March 23
Medeski Martin & Wood
Bang on a Can All Stars: Field Recordings
GAS (Wolfgang Voigt)
Milford Graves
Jason Moran presents “Fats Waller Dance Party”
Béla Fleck & Brooklyn Rider
Jon Gibson’s “Visitations”
Susanna feat. Giovanni Pessi, Frode Haltli & Cheyenne Mize
Trio Five feat. Roscoe Mitchell, Junius Paul, & Vincent Davis
International Contemporary Ensemble
nief norf & Wordless Music: “Brimstone & Glory” Live Score
Arto Lindsay
Rocket Science (Evan Parker, Peter Evans, Craig Taborn, Sam Pluta)
Kid Koala’s “Satellite” Turntable Orchestra
Cyro Baptista Presents “Vira Loucos”
Evan Parker
Rova: The “Sound in Space” Project
The Thing
Tal National
Steve Gunn
Jenny Scheinman “Mischief & Mayhem” with Nels Cline and Scott Amendola
Aine O’Dwyer
Jaga Jazzist
Innov Gnawa
The Black Twig Pickers
Okkyung Lee
Ned Rothenberg
Yuka C. Honda “Eucademix”
Ikue Mori
Laurel Halo (DJ set)
Jon Balke

Saturday, March 24
Anoushka Shankar “Land of Gold”
Roscoe Mitchell TRIOS
Bang on a Can All-Stars: Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields”
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda: The Ashram Experience
Diamanda Galás
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Rova Channeling Coltrane: “Electric Ascension”
Four Tet
Jon Gibson
Aine O’Dwyer Performs William Eggleston’s “Musik”
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
Laurel Halo Live with Eli Keszler
The Jerry Douglas Band
Jason Moran & Milford Graves
Cyro Baptista and Banquet of the Spirits
Jenny Scheinman Presents “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait”
Kid Koala’s “Satellite” Turntable Orchestra
Arto Lindsay & Paal Nilssen-Love
Steve Gunn & the Black Twig Pickers
Kelly Lee Owens
John Medeski
Wu Fei & Friends: Improv Game
Peter Evans
Billy Martin
Cleek Schrey & David Behrman
Johnny Gandelsman plays Bach
Anna & Elizabeth

Sunday, March 25
Bang on a Can All Stars Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary Performing Works by David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe
Bangs (Jason Moran, Mary Halvorson, and Ron Miles)
Craig Taborn Quartet
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda: The Ashram Experience
Lightning Bolt
Knoxville Symphony Strings Performs “Were You There” with Baritone Davóne Tines
Abigail Washburn & Wu Fei
Tyshawn Sorey Trio
Peter Evans Ensemble
Mats Gustafsson & Kieran Hebden
Julie Byrne
Cleek Schrey
St. John’s Passion: A Meditation on Suffering

Passes range from $10 for a single event to $600 for a weekend pass. More information about the festival, which also includes literary events and discussions, can be found on the Big Ears website. DB

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