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Big Ears Festival announces starting artist lineup

KNOXVILLE - Regarded as one of the most unique and eagerly anticipated cultural gatherings in the world - “a music festival with a rare vision” (The New York Times) – Big Ears Festival will return in 2019 with its 8th edition, taking place March 21 through March 24 in Historic Downtown Knoxville. Festival passes are on sale now.

“Contained within a walkable radius of historic downtown Knoxville — in a range of ornate landmark theaters, refurbished industrial spaces, art galleries, churches, and clubs — it creates its own atmospheric climate, along with a center of gravity,” describes NPR Music. “From its first iteration in 2009, the festival has been a locus of expedition, defined more by a go-anywhere ethos than by any style or genre allegiance.”

Big Ears is thrilled to share the first in a series of artist announcements for the 2019 festival. Additions to the line up - along with more festival programs and details – will continue to be unveiled throughout the summer, culminating in the full lineup release this fall.

“We’re over the moon about the response to the 2018 festival,” says Executive Director, Ashley Capps. “We have an amazing weekend taking shape for 2019. It’s going to be another mind-blowing experience, and we’re excited to start sharing the details sooner, rather than later. ”

About the artists:

Since his stunning 2014 performance at Big Ears, Berlin-based pianist and composer Nils Frahm has continued to mesmerize with his unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, played contemplatively and intimately, and on an epic scale through his vast stage shows. His most recent record All Melody has a massive sonic landscape, combining hushed piano with epic electronic processing, which inspired Pitchfork to call it his “grandest statement yet.”

After first appearing at Big Ears in 2016, with Anthony Braxton and playing solo, Mary Halvorson returned to Big Ears in 2018 for a mesmerizing set with Jason Moran and Ron Miles in BANGS. Next year, Halvorson will return once again, this time with her brilliant and imaginative new project, Code Girl. Built around a unique collection of songs penned by Halvorson, Code Girl features the powerful young singer, Amirtha Kidambi, along with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and the potent rhythm secton of bassist Michael Formanek & drummer Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Lonnie Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity since 1979. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound, as seen in the mini-documentary The Man Is the Music. Holley's journey seeking healing in the transformative power of art has lead him to collaborate and tour worldwide with artists like Animal Collective, Bon Iver, Bill Callahan and Deerhunter, to name just a few, and his artwork has been exhibited widely from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the White House.

Kentucky-based pianist and composer Rachel Grimes returns to Big Ears in 2019 to present her breath-taking folk opera and film The Way Forth, written for voice, strings, piano, harp, narrator and choir. The Way Forth weaves through voices of generations of Kentucky women from 1775 to today, as Grimes traces new perspectives on key historical events through poignant personal recollections, letters, photos and intimate portraits from her own family line. Amidst stories of hard-working, loving people, a quieter theme emerges: the systemic prohibition of the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and enslaved and subsequently freed African-Americans for the sole purpose of amassing wealth and the exploitation of resources. As a counter narrative, The Way Forth presents the emotional legacy of the silenced, the holistic, and the eternal grace and redemption of time as essential to how we may envision our future. Rachel Grimes has toured the world as a solo pianist, and with numerous ensembles, and as a primary composer and performer in the groundbreaking chamber ensemble Rachel’s.

Bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty – the rhythm force of Fugazi– have united with jazz and experimental guitarist Anthony Pirog to form an all-star trio. The result is The Messthetics, a band dedicated to the live ideal, where structure begets improvisation.

Irreversible Entanglements is a liberation-oriented, free jazz collective formed in early 2015 by saxophonist Keir Neuringer, poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother), and bassist Luke Stewart, who came together to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, organized after the slaying of Akai Gurley by the NYPD. The instrumentalists explore and elaborate compositional ideas, but the tone of each piece is driven decisively by Ayewa’s searing poetic narrations of Black trauma, survival and power. This is music that both honors and defies tradition, speaking to the present while insisting on the future.

Hailing from South Africa, guitarist Derek Gripper’s work explores the dialogue between numerous disparate styles of music from around the globe. In one concert, it is not uncommon to hear his solo guitar transcriptions of Toumani Diabaté's kora compositions and Bach’s violin works, along with South African jazz and avant-garde Brazilian songs. Gripper’s concerts are at once intimate and explosive, improvised and composed, traditional and entirely new.

All this and more information, including full lineup, ticketing, and other details can be found at, by “liking” Big Ears Festival on Facebook, by following @BigEarsFestival on Twitter, and by joining the newsletter.

Published June 18, 2018

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