Big Ears Responses and Winners

Sun Ra Arkestra, The Mill and Mine, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016
Claire Chase, The Standard, Big Ears, Knoxville, March 2017

The response to the Big Ears Ticket Giveaway was immediate and strong, with many people explaining why it mattered to them. Some have attended in the past, others have never been able to afford to go. Some love the music and the festival highlights some of their favorite artists, while others attend to be introduced to music they would otherwise never hear. Many love the impact it has on the city, with people from all over the world traveling here and the musical universe focusing on our city for three days.

Here is a sample of some of the responses. I couldn’t include them all but, together, these give a sense of how important it is to so many people. I’ve edited some of those included simply for clarity or brevity. The winner is announced at the end.


Kelsey Holton:

I’m writing to you from a laptop that hasn’t strayed my lap in quite some time. I’m a doctoral student at UT, and sometimes I feel like I never see the light of day anymore, much less hear the beautiful sounds that come touring through our fair city. Now Big Ears is on the horizon, and I couldn’t think of a better reason to step away from my dissertation for a few days and re-energize through the creative inspiration pouring out of the world’s finest avant-garde musicians and artists.


Big ears is fantastic to Knoxville.  I recently lost a friend who helped push my life forward. He was there for a particularly hard time in my life.  His passing reminded me that it is important to enjoy the moment and to follow your heart to where it beats. I now know that I just need to follow the moment and big ears is that moment.

Jamie Skull:

I usually work Big Ears festival,  bartending at The Mill & Mine and the Tennessee Theatre. I’ve watched it grow over the past few years and really become something special, a remarkable,  unusual,  and totally unique festival experience that has no parallel. I love that different venues,  many historic, are utilized for this festival,  and I believe that we are so honored to host Big Ears. I look forward to it each year, but it would be amazing to experience that weekend as a spectator and a fan. I would love to grow my ears a little more with the remarkable experimental sounds of Big Ears.
Forrest DeMarcus:

I go to Big Ears to be challenged and changed by a feast of culture that you can’t see gathered anywhere else.  I go to hear musical experiences that often exist for only a handful of nights ever. Some have put a spell on me (Max Richter, Sai Anantam Ashram Singers). And some have cast a curse (Deathprod, Nazoranai)!

I always return home with a fulfilled spirit of adventure, but with words that hardly do it justice.  There was a laughter workshop, a box of live crickets, and a woman who growled, snorted and shrieked all at once.  There was…Odorama.  You just had to be there.

Mike Johnston:

I had the pleasure of attending an individual Big Ears show many years ago before its small hiatus.  The festival while not bringing in big name, popular acts is always on the forefront of cool and makes Knoxville that much cooler.  I like that is popular enough to thrive without being too popular and big to be exhausting.  Hoping it stays here for many years to come.
Mike Parish:
I’d like to attend because there is so much music to discover. I used to go to Bonnaroo and loved the smaller stages because I could learn about music groups and genre that I otherwise never find out about. Same at Big Ears. The well known acts are great but this is about discovery.
Brandon Duncan:
This festival is unique, it allows for a rare collaboration of the character of the public space of Knoxville with the immense international artistic talent that converges inside it. To me this was no better represented than in 2017 when a Jem Cohen film about American imaginative space was projected onto the back of building in downtown Knoxville with live accompaniment, for festival goers and passersby alike.
Akshata Dusa:
Would love an opportunity to attend Big Ears, because I never have been able to. I’m doing a study about it for an architecture project in school.
Allen Brisson-Smith:
Big Ears not only brings top talent and new sounds from around the world, Big Ears draws a thoughtful audience of “influencers” from around the country who go home and share stories of our great city. Big Ears makes us better people simply by expanding our soundscape consciousness.
Christopher Spurgin:
The festival is something I look forward to every year and talk at length with anyone who will listen in an effort to get new converts. Where else are you going to get modern classical, kraut rock, drone metal, art pop, alt rock, americana, electronic, and jazz all in the same day? The best part of Big Ears to me is the introduction to artists I otherwise may otherwise not discovered– Kamasi Washington, Emilia Amper, Supersilent, Wu Fei, and Algiers being just a few of many standouts.
For Knoxville at large, its great to see such adventurous programming coming to a city of this size. That our city can attract such diverse talent and international audience is something to be proud of, and I love that the festival includes some free and open to the public events so that everyone can get a taste of this treasure.

John Speed:

This festival matters to me as it embraces all that our city has grown to become.  I worked for my father in law at his clothing store (Schriver’s) for many years in the late 80’s – early 90’s before we had to close it.  At that time, downtown Knoxville was just a pass through point to get to West Town Mall, so I have seen, worked and lived what downtown Knoxville once was.  At that time, downtown Knoxville was an area of town void of cultural activities, sources of entertainment and social activity, in fact, I remember vividly the only time you had a crowd on Gay street on a Saturday was the annual Christmas parade and that was about it.

To see a music festival that brings rich and varied talent from literally all over the world to this same area that was once a desolate spot that catered almost exclusively to bankers, lawyers and TVA’ers is, to me, nothing short of a small miracle for our city and to me, that matters.  This festival matters because it embraces what is good in this world (music, free expression, positivity) that we sorely need these days and takes these tenants and spreads them around our city for so many to experience and enjoy.  Yes this does matter because Big Ears draws people together in our city.  It matters to me as it reminds me of what our city has become and what a great future we have with events like this.  It matters to Knoxville because Big Ears brings the world to our city in so many positive methods of expression and fosters a spirit of creativity and enjoyment for so many.  This festival matters to me because it enables me to explore and enjoy performers I would probably never have the chance to see and being exposed to new and different things is a source of inspiration for me (for anyone for that matter).  Big Ears matters to Knoxville because it helps to remind us all that we have grown as a city and that our future is bright.

Chris Hill:

I’ve always wanted to go to Big Ears, but it’s always been a little outside of my budget. Even though I’ve never been, I always keep up with what happens and live vicariously though friends who post videos and pics from the performances.
I get out to as many live performances as possible, but I’ve always been a little frustrated with the lack of variety of styles we attract here in town. Big Ears is so important to our city because of the variety of genres it brings.
It continues to expose Knoxville to new and interesting live performances and convinces those artists to come back.
Lisa Hood Skinner:
I would love tickets for Big Ears to help us expand our musical horizons & discover new genres. We’re entrepreneurs in the 9th year of our animal clinic & kinda can’t afford tickets on our own.
Nina Howell:
Considering I now have tinnitus, the more music I hear, the more the crickets are drowned out.
Erica Holloway:
I have never been before and honestly never heard of it until last year. I’ve lived in Knoxville my entire life, and as a young adult, I don’t feel like I fit in here. I want to experience everything my hometown has to offer and enjoy it. I’m keeping an open mind.
Amanda Swiger:
I have always wanted to attend the Big Ears festival but have not so far.  This festival is an amazing opportunity to celebrate how musically rich and diverse the Knoxville area is.  I often have less familiarity with the artists listed for the Big Ears festival, but I enjoy the exposure to new music and hearing live performances gives such a rich experience.  Being a part of a music festival is like being fully immersed in a finely curated playlist.  The line-up of artists looks truly amazing.  This year, I am most excited about the Lucy Negro Redux presented by the Nashville Ballet which is in connection with the Big Ears festival.  I am a big fan if Rhiannon Giddens and her former band The Carolina Chocolate Drops.  I would love to see this performance most of all!
Stephanie Tipton:
I love that Big Ears happens in Knoxville. It’s lovely to see a day of consciousness-expanding music from around the world and then be able to curl up in my own bed before doing it all again the next day. It’s so much fun to plan a day of music and see some of my favorites, but some of the most moving experiences happen when I wander into a show and discover something completely new!
Matthew Newmister:
 I would love to be able check out Big Ears this year. I was gifted a weekend pass last year, late that Saturday. Wow, what an experience! My only regret was not being prepared for the sheer number of options for music, art, film, dance, et cetera. As soon as soon as I could, I asked off work for all four days this year. Some of my friends would call me a music junkie. As much as I love classics & standards, I’m always seeking out new sonic experiences. Whether or not I win these tickets, I plan on enjoying my birthday weekend surrounded by the arts in downtown Knoxville!
Dancing at Big Ears, The Mill and Mine, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016
Patricia Taylor:
A hidden gem in Knoxville.  I’ve been watching the line-up for 3+ years and itching to attend.  The variety of talent is world-class — Scruffy City has taken on a whole new meaning !!
Jan Thomas:
One small example: The last time I attended BIG EARS, I saw Jeffrey Brown (NPR) standing in the lunch line at Tomato Head. I welcomed him to Knoxville. We had a brief chat. How ear-sprouting is that!!
Sam Scheffler:
I’d love to attend Big Ears fest this year. Admittedly, I have been lucky enough to go once before in 2010, but since then the festival has transformed into something completely different. I have enjoyed a few of AC’s projects including Bonnaroo, MoogFest, and a very early Big Ears. I’ve always been compelled to go because of what/who I know to be there. This year, I want to grow my ears. I’m especially interested in Big Ears because of the lack of acts that I recognize.  I am unfamiliar with the lineup and even the majority of experiences offered by Big Ears, attending would allow me to discover amazing talents without being predisposed due to a general lack of knowledge and experiences, but not an unwillingness to learn!
Krystal M Whitten:
I relocated from Michigan to Knoxville in hopes of pursuing music and art as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. Music and writing play a huge role in my life as I believe it does for many, if not all, artists. It fulfills a need for self expression that sometimes words alone cannot express. Sharing and experiencing this expression is something I highly value and feel everyone can benefit from and relate to.
One year I was able to get early VIP into the festival and got to sit front and center at the Tennessee Theater for the KSO with Phillip Glass, WOW!, I really liked owning a pair of ears that day!
Phillip Greene:

Big Ears matters to me because it provides an alternative to the normal music festival experience. Unlike the nation’s biggest festivals, which all boast similar lineups of popular music, Big Ears allows music nerds like me to have an opportunity to discover new, mind-bending music, that spans across practices and genres.

This year in particular is an exceptionally exciting lineup because of the inclusion of experimental music pioneers Alvin Lucier and Meredith Monk. Both composers have broken new ground in the American avant-garde, and deserve to be celebrated. Lucier in particular is one of the finest living composers, in my opinion, in the world—I think any lover of experimental music would have to agree. The opportunity to see him play with Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O’Malley is one for the ages, and promises the opportunity for a transcendental live music experience.

Luke Lanzoni:
I believe Big Ears to be a significant music festival for any city, but the fact that it exists in Knoxville is a major deal. It brings in acts that would otherwise never play in Knoxville and brings guests to our city who would have otherwise never visited. Those things are great and they highlight great venues and restaurants our city has to offer, that I feel otherwise go overlooked, when it comes to larger cities in our region.
Carrie Hulsey:
Big Ears puts our scruffy little city on the stage it deserves. It is a perfect artistic balance of experimentation and experience.
Cicuit des Yeux (Haley Fohr), The Standard, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016
Panagiatis Tzerefos:
A lot of these festivals happen in small towns in obscure places and I have attended many across the Northeast when I was in college. Moving to Knoxville 9 years ago, I love that this city, the actual city not just the citizens, embrace and support the artists and their families in order to keep Knoxville music-centric and dare I say ‘scruffy’. The fact that this isn’t the only music festival and all are well attended is on the top of my list for reasons why I call this place home now.
Greg Sherrill:
Believe it or not, this year will be my first Big Ears experience!  However, my interest was piqued by speaking with so many people over the years who were so excited after attending their first Big Ears.  I can’t recall another music event that has sparked so much excitement in the city.
Charlotte Tolley:
This is one of the best events for downtown businesses, bringing visitors looking for unique, quality experiences in our city. The economic impact for these small local businesses is a huge benefit of this festival.
Nancy Campbell:
Big Ears is a wonderful experience. When I have been before, I always think “that doesn’t sound as good as the things I saw in a past year” – then whatever I see surpasses the last immersive experience.  I love the atmosphere of being around visitors from all over the world, too. New friend/old friends – everyone floats around Knoxville smiling and sharing their great time. Knoxville becomes a different place for a few days in March for Big Earers and anyone who happens to be downtown. It is a magical time!
Johnny Miller:

There are few things I love more than Knoxville; my wife, my family and of course music. In fact, I first connected with your blog because of the reference to Dylan and immediately became a fan!

I’ve been a long time fan of music and its ability to create community and develop relationships. What Big Ears does for Knoxville is take us out of our norm, make us think about the world and creates an ongoing conversation.  Bring it up sometime while in a group and you’ll see people light up, anxious to share their stories of Big Ears.  I’ve met so many people through music that have helped shape my own perceptions and voice.
Kat and Roland Van Dusen:
Moved here from Chicago a little over 2 years ago – didn’t know about Big Ears the first year, unable to attend last year, but THIS year, have every intention of basking in the eclectic, earthy, energetic sounds that your writings have teased us with!

Sabrina DeVault:

Big Ears weekend is a time for me to recharge my batteries. Walking from venue to venue talking to people from all over the world is a celebration of diversity and inclusion. I have been exposed to music that I would not have found on my own and I am eternally grateful for each experience. Big Ears allows for all eyes and EARS to be on Knoxville for one weekend. That in itself is important.

Apryl Taylor:
Big Ears means a lot to me in different ways.  Last year was my first attendance.  It was also the first event that my boyfriend and I went to together.  Music is a HUGE part of our relationship. For various reasons, I had spent most of my life without concerts, live music, and celebration of art… so to fall into this was an absolutely amazing experience, and an amazing weekend.  He introduced me to a whole new world, and Big Ears was the first “destination” on our never-ending musical journey.  We hope to make it a regular stop, to “grow” our ears and experience new artists in such a creative outlet.
Sun Ra Arkestra, The Mill and Mine, Big Ears, Knoxville, 2016
Diette Crockett:
I would normally never have thought about attending Big Ears since my son and daughter-in-law started talking about all the musicians they heard when they went several years ago. My husband and I have attended for three years now and really appreciate the new musicians and styles of music we’ve listened to that we normally would never have listened to. We sometimes split up and go different directions just to hear something new and report back to each other. Maya Beiser was one of our first “WOW” performances we saw, so we always try to catch her when she’s on the schedule.
Andrew Bingham:
I think Big Ears matters to Knoxville because it’s a musical representation of our city. It’s eclectic. It’s heartfelt. It’s definitely scruffy.
Mary Linda Schwarzbart:
Big Ears is a significant event for Knoxville, showcases a variety of amazing venues as it brings a wide range of music, dance, film, and spoken word which attracts visitors from around the world.
Cara Bradshaw:
I’ve only been to one day once and it was incredible. Big Ears brings a wealth of music culture to our city in a marathon kind of event in the best venues in the city.  I’m grateful Knoxville gets to host.
Jeff Talman:
Big Ears brings world-class music and musicians to Knoxville and integrates many of the best local venues, institutions and talent into the festival. It generates revenue for our local economy; our innkeepers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, housekeepers, and dishwashers, etc. Big Ears creates a moment where through music we can foster the cross-pollination of ideas, culture and people and the redefining of and destruction of boundaries wherever they exist. Big Ears is a unique and important branding opportunity to showcase the loveliness of our town and the hospitality of our citizens (as well as) to assert a confidence consistent with and faithful to our history as a crossroads and Appalachian cultural capital.
Ryan West:

Big ears is important to Knoxville, myself, and the whole music community.  The range and diversity of the artists and collaboration seems almost unmatched as far as I can see, festival wise. It is important to showcase musicians that have had such a profound impact in music today. The “composer in residence” format they have is amazing, having brought in exquisite talent that people may not be able to see often. Providing a chance to witness some of these artists who may be considered “outsider” is very refreshing in a time when the radio sometimes feels like the same artists over and over.

This will be my first time making the trek, but I have watched the curation of this festival since it’s origin and am always fascinated by what they put together. Knoxville is truly lucky to host such legends year after year.
I’m so sad I didn’t come to see Johann Johannson when he performed. That would have been bliss.
Rhiannon Giddens, Big Ears, Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, March 2015
Thanks for all these responses, as well as the others I didn’t have room to include. The winner of a pair of tickets to this year’s Big Ears Festival, chosen by a random number generator, is first time attendee Melissa McCoy. Melissa said:
Big Ears matters to me because I’m dying to go to something musical LOCALLY that offers a diversity of music. And speaking of which, Knoxville can always use a whole heapin’ helpin’ of diversity of any kind, and music offers a peaceful opportunity!
Congratulations, Melissa! I’ll see you at Big Ears!