Big Ears 2018 Announces Daily Lineups and More

There’s really no way to predict who will agree to play the Big Ears Festival one year to the next. From an unlimited pool of international musicians, the possibilities are simply too big. We’ve come to appreciate that even after lineups are announced, the magic often lies in how they are paired, sometimes intentionally, sometimes spontaneously as the weekend progresses.

With today’s availability of single day passes, all tickets are now available for what promises to be another great exploration of a festival that is more like a sprawling, organic event of epic proportions. No doubt there are many people now scattered around the world whose memory and understanding of Knoxville is this festival.

Newly announced artists include Marc Ribot confirming two shows, one with Los Lobos’ David Hidlago and another with Ceramic Dog. Neo-soul/R&B icon Meshell Ndegeocello has confirmed along with Okkyung Lee, Ikue Mori, Ned Rothenberg, Yuka Honda, Billy Martin and Aine O’Dwyer. Jon Gibson performs, “Visitations,” and does a solo set. Roscoe Mitchell/Trio Five, Violinist Johnny Gandelsman and parings of Jason Moran/Milford Graves, Arto Lindsay/Paal Nilssen-Love, and Kieran Hebden/Mats Gustafsson.

Later this month expect details regarding the “film festival (produced in association with Public Cinema), along with additional programs – talks, discussions, exhibitions, installations, happenings – and exciting surprise events.” That should all drop, along with a complete schedule, in early February.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, February 2016

Here are some of the highlights just announced:

  • Guitar wizard Marc Ribot returns to Big Ears for his third festival with two very different performances.  In duo with inimitable singer / guitarist David Hidalgo – front man for the American rock band, Los Lobos – they’ll share a unique vision of classic American country and rock tunes, “border music” favorites, and a few classics from the Los Lobos songbook.  Ribot’s punk / funk band Ceramic Dog, featuring Shahzad Ismaily and Chas Taylor, returns to the festival ahead of its first new album in four years.
  •  Soulful R&B singer, songwriter, bassist and rapper Meshell Ndegeocello will make her Big Ears debut on the heels of her eagerly anticipated new recording, Ventriloquism, which features her always unique approach to classic tunes by Prince, George Clinton, Force MD’s and Sade, among others.
  • Trailblazing virtuoso improvisers Okkyung Lee (cello),  Ikue Mori (computer electronics) and Ned Rothenberg (woodwinds) will collaborate with legendary British saxophonist Evan Parker in his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, as well as presenting their own individual solo performances.
  • Yuka C. Honda will present her solo show, Eucademix, and appear as a special guest on celeste and electronics for Nels Cline’s big band opus, Lovers, performed with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and others. Drummer Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood will also present one of his special solo excursions.
  • Saxophonist and flutist Jon Gibson, an original member of Philip Glass’ original ensemble in the early 1970s, will present his fully immersive classic from that time, Visitations, and perform solo works for saxophone and flute during the weekend.
  • Violinist Johnny Gandelsman, a member of the acclaimed string quartet Brooklyn Rider, will present his recently recorded program of J. S. Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin.  Brooklyn Rider will be performing their own program, as well as collaborating with Béla Fleck.
  • For only the second time in his career, composer and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell will present the four interactive TRIOS that recorded his chart-topping 2017 ECM recording, Bells for the South Side, and will add Trio Five, a separate concert with a fifth interactive trio, joined by Junius Paul and Vincent Davis.
  • In addition to the live world premiere of William Eggleston’s MUSIK, instrumentalist Aine O’Dwyer will offer a second concert of her own compositions.
  • Saxophone powerhouse Mats Gustafsson (of the Thing) will combine forces with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet).
  • Astonishing drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (also of the Thing) will go head-to-head with guitarist Arto Lindsay.

Meshell Ndegeocello

While the precise schedule hasn’t been released, the break-down by day has been provided, which is helpful to those trying to select a particular day for a one-day foray. For those who can do so, I really recommend the full-festival completely immersive experience. Your thinking about music will shift by the end of the weekend. Here are the daily lists of artists:

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


Jerry Douglas, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, Knoxville, January 2017

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

Tickets are available here and all details for the festival will be revealed via the website, as well as their FacebookTwitter and Instagram pages.