The annual Big Ears Festival returns to downtown Knoxville March 21 – 24, 2024, bringing the world to Knoxville once again. The event, which brings some of the most innovative, creative, and recognized names in international music, has announced the line up, with festival tickets set to go on sale Thursday, September 14, at 9:00 am. The lineup is as spectacular as we’ve come to expect.
This year’s festival list begins with the inimitable Herbie Hancock. Voted by Allaboutjazz.com readers in a recent poll as the number one living jazz pianist, Hancock is no stranger to a range of genres and honors. A child prodigy, playing classical music, including a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11, he quickly shifted to jazz, where he’s comfortable with acoustic or electronic ensembles. The five years he spent in Miles Davis’ band in the 1960s are considered some of the best recordings made by Davis in his career. His forays into R&B cemented his name in the larger public imagination.
(As an editorial aside: Herbie Hancock has been on my bucket list for living jazz players for sometime. I had tickets to see him in Raleigh, North Carolina last year and a COVID exposure prevented me from taking the trip. I will wildly celebrate this performance, in similar fashion to seeing Patti Smith last year. Her appearance at the 2020 Big Ears Festival was canceled along with the festival and I thought I’d never have a chance to see her. Here’s to second chances!)
Another widely known name in pop music will be present, as John Paul Jones, best known as the bassist for Led Zeppelin, makes his first Big Ears appearance (he was also scheduled for 2020 with his group Sons of Chipotle — their planned U.S. debut). While best known for a group that officially broke up over forty years ago, Jones has been very active since, composing, performing, and producing. He’s played with artists ranging from the Foo Fighters to the members of Nickle Creek and Gillian Welch, playing bass, piano, and mandolin. His work with Finish cellist Anssi Karttunen (who was in Sons of Chipotle) is featured in the video included here.
Many festival favorites will return, headlined by Laurie Anderson and Rhiannon Giddens. Rhiannon, who won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in music, will engage a range of performances and performers as a part of her residency. Marc Ribot returns (to celebrate his 70th birthday), as does Sam Amidon, and two of my can’t miss jazz artists: Christian McBride and Jason Moran.
Hip Hop artists Digable Planets (see video below) will perform their magical brand of hip hop. Sometimes called “jazz rap” or “alternative hip hop,” the group has been innovating and making their own path since their inception in the late 80s. While not originally from New York City, the group has lived in Brooklyn since 1992 and are now associated with the city. After just two albums, gold records and a Grammy, the group disbanded. Their reputation as hip hop pioneers remained and they have reunited sporadically since for tours, releasing a live album in 2017.
The festival (as always) features too many artists to highlight, among them, Charles Lloyd, Adrianne Lenker, Henry Threadgill (2016 Pulitzer Prize winner in music), Brad Mehldau, Unwound, Armand Hammer, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Chocolate Genius, Inc, and Shabaka Hutchings. Guitar wizard Fred Frith, and Grammy award winning Molly Tuttle will also make appearances. The lineup will feature its well-established international flare with a wide range of artists from all over the world, including “Malian chanteuse Fatoumata Diawara; and Mexico’s irresistible Son Rompe Pera.”
Electronica gets a spotlight in the form of a four-day program entitled, “Blacktronica,” currated by electronica pioneer King Britt. Britt, known as much for his curation (He’s curated exhibitions for MoMA), Britt brings a sense of electronica that can only be obtained by someone who was there from the beginning pushing the boundaries of the form. His curation for Big Ears includes “a fourteen-artist, four-day Blacktronika program with legendary artists and young visionaries, joining a full-fledged roster of hip-hop influencers and innovators like Armand Hammer, MAVI, Roc Marciano, and others.
Founder and Artistic Director Ashley Capps said, “Big Ears is conceived as an adventure. It’s an opportunity to hear the world’s most exciting musical creators as well as to open up to new ideas and experiences. It spurs the imagination and nourishes the soul. That’s the real magic of Big Ears.”
The festival will take place over four days in a dozen or more downtown venues. Beyond music, it includes film, exhibitions, conversations and more. The full line up of artists and programs can be found here. Expect artists and details to be added over the coming weeks and months. Passes go on sale Thursday at 9:00 am here. The best prices will be available for early purchase and will increase in cost (if available) as the event gets closer. Four day admission starts at $350 and single-day passes start at $115.