The Big Ears Festival, which will be held March 26-29, 2020 in downtown Knoxville, has announced additional artists to the lineup. The announcement includes one of the most surprising and exciting ever for the festival, and that is a very high bar. It’s hard to exaggerate the impact Patti Smith has had on popular culture in the nearly past half century.
My first encounter with her came with the 1978 single version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night.” I appreciated its simple, gruff rock-and-roll in an era of emerging disco. It wasn’t, however, until 1980 when I found a cassette tape of “Horses” someone had left behind at work that I completely had my mind blown. The fusion of punk music with poetry slapped me to another level of appreciation for her work.
Over the years, I read about her connections to Rimbaud, Dylan, MC5, and REM and appreciated her even more. That she was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 seemed both inevitable and amazing. I fell hard for her all over again when I got my hands on her 2010 book Just Kids, about her life in New York City with Robert Maplethorpe. It is the most beautifully written book I’ve read in the last decade. It won the National Book Award.
Smith comes to the festival with a full band which includes original band members Lenny Kaye on lead guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums. Lenny Kaye is the author of several books and numerous critical essays. He was Grammy nominated three times for liner notes on collections of various genres of music he curated. Smith and band will perform, and she will present a literary program.
The current announcement adds a number of additional artists to the lineup, including ambient music duo Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie who perform as the musical act A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Also added to the lineup are Arooj Aftab and the Vulture Prince Ensemble, Bell Orchestre (which includes Arcade Fire members Sarah Neufeld and Richard Reed Parry), Che Apalache, The Claudia Quintet, Finnesz, Josephine Foster, Ben Lamar Gay Quartet, Sam Gendel Concert Group, Jacob Kirkegaard, Sonja Labianca, Nivhek, Astrid Sonne, Gyda Valtysdottir, D. Scot Williams, Ensemble Dal Niente + Ken VAndermark, Theremin Noir with Rob Schwimmer, Uri Caine, and Mark Feldman.
As with previous editions of the Big Ears Festival, some of the most respected musicians in the world will perform a wide range of music, from the most familiar and comfortable, to the least familiar for many of us, and often the most challenging. Lineups including all the artists thus far announced may be found here. Tickets may be purchased here and are selling rapidly.
Tickets sales are currently at the level they reached in mid-January last year. It’s easy to imagine this year’s festival being a sellout, particularly in the absence of another major local festival. It’s a good time to give Big Ears a try if you haven’t before, but in any case, it is likely a good year to buy your tickets earlier than usual.