It is a completely crazy weekend in downtown Knoxville, the likes of which could hardly have been imagined a dozen or so years ago. If you come downtown, and you totally should, a little extra planning might be in order. Come a little early, plan to stay a little later. You might not be able to park in your favorites spot and there could be traffic delays, particularly Sunday morning. Sidewalks will be crowded with lots of locals and out of town guests. Slow down, embrace the madness, and enjoy the renaissance our beautiful city has experienced. And help an out-of-towner when you get the chance.
We’ll get to the biggest of the big events, but first, there are two other very significant events: The Dogwood Arts Chalk Walk and the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathan. Each will attract their own audiences of thousands. The Chalk Walk will dominate Market Square and Krutch Park all day Saturday. Come early to see these great works springing to life or come around 6:00 pm for the best viewing of the finished works. The marathon has races all weekend, but the biggest impact is the long race on Sunday morning when it prompts some roads to be stopped occasionally for passing runners.
Of course, the most massive, entire weekend-consuming event is Big Ears. I continue to be surprised at how many people in Knoxville have never heard of it and how many from all over the world can’t wait for it each year. As I write this they are flooding into town, filling up our hotels, and discovering our growing range of excellent restaurants. Passes for the weekend are sold out with (as of this writing) single-day tickets remaining (excluding Saturday, which is also sold out).
But there’s a lot to Big Ears that does not require a ticket. The street show (which I love) with a wide panorama of looks and languages is one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Buy a coffee and watch the world pass! There is also an amazing list of free music (and some pop-ups that aren’t announced) all around an in the city. Here are a few highlights. (And particularly check out Friday at the Southern Railway Station, which with Adeem the Artist, Xylouris White, and Los Lobos, would be a lineup worthy of a hefty ticket price of its own.)
Here’s a look at some of the free shows:
Staples Jr. Singers, 700 Bliss, Tank and the Bangas, Meridian Brothers, Mourning [A] Blkstr, Irreversible Entanglements, Carl Stone, Etran de L’Aïr, Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano, Luke Schneider, Theon Cross, Caroline, and maybe a few surprises! Tank and the Bangas, alone, will blow your mind.
The Knoxville Museum of Art will be free and open to the public all weekend. Check out exhibits featuring works by Lonnie Holley (part of the Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art) and Terry Allen, and see Richard Jolley’s stunning Cycle of Life, the sculpture that inspired Michael Schachter’s concerto of the same name that will be performed by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Tessa Lark on Sunday at the Bijou. The museum will also host performances by artists Stephen O’Malley, Kali Malone, and Lee Ranaldo on Friday and Saturday.
Street Party at Southern Railway Station
UPDATE: Due to predicted high winds, the parade was cancelled and the second day of the Street Party will be on Sunday, not Saturday!
Big Ears is hosting a 2-day Street Party at the Historic Southern Railway Station on Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1! Both days will feature FREE CONCERTS from Big Ears and local artists, as well as food trucks, art, and play activities for all ages.
At the 2022 festival, Big Ears partnered with Knoxville’s Cattywampus Puppet Council to forge Krewe du Cattywampus, the festival’s inaugural parade, pairing giant puppets made by East Tennessee youth with musicians representing New Orleans’ and Haiti’s second line, rara, and Karneval traditions. This year, they are doing it again.
FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2023
Street Party: 1-8pm
Music: Adeem the Artist (2:00 pm), Xylouris White (4:00 pm), and Los Lobos (6:15 pm)
SATURDAY, APRIL 1, 2023
Parade Kick Off: 1pm
Street Party: 1-8pm
Music: Drums Up, Guns Down, Good Guy Collective, and Kauwila Mahi (2:00 pm), Danielle Ponder (3:30 pm), Richa Chica (5:15 pm), Combo Chimbita (7:00 pm)
Pilot Light and the Visit Knoxville Visitors Center will also host free music and other programing all weekend. (See the Big Ears Schedule for details.) Also, there will be pop-up performances at random places like Market Street, Krutch Park, and Mast General Store. Downtown Knoxville has a great list of many downtown businesses which will also be hosting music, some affiliated with Big Ears, and some just because it’s a cool thing.
I have tickets to everything and there are a number of the free shows that I’ll be attending because it is the most attractive performance, to me, in that time slot. It’s really good stuff and definitely not some sort of excess from the real festival.
So, if you enjoy the feel of a big city, this is your weekend to see our own small city in the middle of its annual, four-day big-city moment. If that sounds horrible to you, you don’t like crowds, and loud or unusual music makes you cranky, this would be a good weekend to stay home and watch re-runs of Andy Griffith. For everyone else, I’ll see you at one of the thirty-seven shows and sixteen venues I have on my schedule!