This is generally the time of year when artists and performances are added to the Big Ears Festival lineup and this year is no exception. The festival is, incredibly, approaching rapidly. Set for March 30 through April 2, this year promises to be the largest ever. While last year’s festival attendance (after a two year hiatus) exceeded the previous festival by about a third, this year is selling even more rapidly.
For me, the new additions begin with Javon Jackson’s The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni. I’m delighted to have her return. I’ve admired her for decades and she was one of several powerful women who made last year’s festival so special. This year she is teamed with saxophonist Javon Jackson and Ashley Capps said, “It’s a program of spirituals which she selected, highlighted by poetry readings and even one song sung by Ms. Giovanni herself. Obviously, we’re thrilled to bring her back.”
The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will have an expanded role this year, adding a new song cycle, The Blue Hour. They will have a separate program paired with Guitarist Bill Frisell and his Trio performing the North American premiere of their symphonic collaboration. The Blue Hour consists of “a collaborative work by five of the leading female composers of the present time” based on Carolyn Forché’s powerful poem “On Earth” and sung by Shara Nova.
It will be the debut performance of the piece since being released on Nonesuch Records a few weeks ago. They will also present Cycle of Life for the second time at the festival, a piece by Michael Schachter celebrating Richard Jolley’s glass installation at the KMA and featuring violin soloist Tessa Lark.
Also announced are singer-songwriters Beth Orton and Margaret Glaspy, as well as poet/spoken word artist Kae Tempest. Tank and the Bangas, last seen at the Rhythm n’ Blooms festival will join the proceedings, as will Lucius, the stunning Sun Ra Arkestra, Bassekou Kouyate, King Britt, and Morton Subotnick. John Zorn has added two new programs to his line up (now numbering ten) as he celebrates his seventieth birthday.
There is much more:
One of Big Ears’ most intriguing and unique offerings for 2023 will be a performance of the late composer Robert Ashley’s spoken-word “opera for television” Perfect Lives, re-imagined by the Varispeed Collective as a site-specific event. Its seven 30-minute episodes will be staged every two hours over the course of an entire day, on site in their proper settings at “The Park, The Supermarket, the Bank, the Living Room, the Church, the Backyard, and finally the Bar.” One of the legendary – though seldom heard – works of the Twentieth Century, this will be an experience of Perfect Lives unlike any other . . .
And more . . .
Margaret Glaspy’s debut of Rude Ruth, her collaboration with the Julian Lage Trio. Electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick will present new work, and Lesley Flanigan will present one of her riveting performances incorporating feedback, vocals, and homemade electronics. British poet/novelist/playwright and spoken word artist Kae Tempest will make an all-too-rare appearance in the USA; Mali’s legendary ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate will bring his band;R&B soul singer extraordinaire Danielle Ponder will perform; from Atlanta, the defiant, genre-eclipsing band Algiers will bring their fiery politically-charged post-punk and dystopian soul to Knoxville; the indefinable indie-pop band and Roger Waters collaborators Lucius, fronted by the singing duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, return to Big Ears on the heels of their first studio album in six years, the Brandi Carlile/Dave Cobb produced “Second Nature.”
The amount of artist programming has expanded, new venues have been added, but the quality remains unchanged and unparalleled. Last year’s festival sold out weeks before the even and this year will likely be the same. Of the festival, Ashley said:
We’re celebrating by continuing to build on what we always strive for each year: an amazing, unforgettable weekend of music, art, and community that brings together artists and audiences from all over the world. That’s the goal; there are no set rules on how to get there, so the planning of each festival is a unique adventure for us as well.
You can find out everything you need to know and purchase those tickets before they are gone, right here!