Sold Out Big Ears Features Numerous Free Events

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Standard, Knoxville, October 2015
Kronos Quartet, Big Ears, Knoxville, March 2015

After a two-year hiatus, the Big Ears Festival is back and Knoxville is set to become an international melting pot of music lovers for four days. In addition to musicians and music lovers from all over the world, national and international press will descend on the city. The event also experienced the fastest sell-out in its history.

It’s exciting if you have a ticket, but what if you didn’t get one before it sold out? One option to explore is simply to come downtown and soak it in. If you’ve missed the feel of a big city experience because you’ve limited travel for the last couple of years, come make a day or more in the city and enjoy the most ethnically, linguistically, sartorially diverse crowd you’ll ever experience in Knoxville.

Eat food from another culture by sampling our explosion of restaurants serving a wider-than-ever range of foods and watch and listen to the international world around you. Personally, I could sip coffee by morning and something more adult by evening and just people watch for the four days and be happy.

Nikki Giovanni, Market Square, Knoxville, April 2012

But there is much more to experience. The Big Ears Festival has always featured free programming, but this year’s festival takes that ethos to a whole new level. The free programming is so attractive that I’ll be torn between attending ticketed events and joining the public fun. And be on the lookout for free spontaneous events. Some of those are the most magical.

As festival organizer Ashley Capps put it:

Central to our mission as a non-profit is creating opportunities for everyone who wishes to experience the joys and rewards of some of the world’s greatest and most exciting music. After three years of imagining and reimagining what Big Ears could be, we wanted to return with a spirit of fun and celebration open to all and to further explore the tremendous potential that Big Ears offers for our community.

So go ahead, as your employer for next Thursday and Friday off and come downtown to join the party. But be careful. Your sampling of the atmosphere and the free events will lead to a ticket purchase for next year’s festival. And you’ll definitely also need Monday off to recover. Here are the free events that have been announced for next weekend:

Thursday and Friday, March 24 and 25, will feature a series of free concerts in the Tennessee Amphitheater at World’s Fair Park.

  • Thursday, 4 p.m.: Contemporary classical music legends Kronos Quartet and Sō Percussion, along with the UT Percussion Ensemble; Chicago’s righteous and soulful Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble; Latin Rock from Dos Santos; with the flamboyant
    Colombian-Canadian singer Lido Pimienta, who made a showstopping performance on the 2021 Grammys telecast, closing the evening.
  • Friday, 3 p.m.: The soulful heart of New Orleans music and the Haitian traditions that fuel it featuring traditional jazz from Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses, Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs 79RS Gang, and Sporty’s Brass Band; and Lakou Mizik, the multi-generational Haitian roots band. The night heats up and concludes with the essential Haitian mizik rasin band RAM and the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Standard, Knoxville, October 2015

Saturday, March 26, is Mardi Gras in the City (and more):

  • Scheduled programming is free at KMA and Pilot Light
  • 11:00 a.m. Poet and Activist Nikki Giovanni at the Mill and Mine for a public reading
  • 1:00 p.m. Big Ears has teamed with Knoxville’s Cattywampus Puppet Council to host Krewe du Cattywampus, a parade featuring New Orleans second line and Haitian Kanaval music alongside giant puppets made over the past few months by young people in the Knoxville community. Preservation Hall Jazz Band will lead the parade alongside musicians from New Orleans and Haiti, as well as local marching bands. The parade route wraps through the Old City, crosses the Gay Street Viaduct, and concludes with a . . .
  • 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Free street party ( at Southern Rail Depot featuring food, crafts, and more great music.

Sunday, March 27

  • Scheduled programming is free at KMA and Pilot Light
  • 1:00 pm Writer and MacArthur Genius Award winner Hanif Abdurraqib reads from his work

So, just as easy as you can stroll around downtown, you can have a packed weekend of great events, entertainment, and fun. It’s like visiting an amazing bigger city without the airline costs. Be sure to catch at least some of it and see Knoxville as it is seen by the international community for one great, long weekend.

Discover more from Inside of Knoxville

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading