Big Ears Festival, Knoxville, Tennessee's annual weekend celebration of experimental music, is announcing the initial lineup for their 2018 edition, being held March 22nd through 25th. For their seventh year, the fest leans heavily toward the heavyweights of avant-garde jazz, including performances by Medeski Martin & Wood, piano luminaries Jason Moran and Craig Taborn, drummer Milford Graves, free improv pioneer Evan Parker, a performance of Alice Coltrane's "ecstatic music," Nels Cline with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, downtown icon Arto Lindsay, Scandinavian avant-jazz trio the Thing, sax quartet Rova, trumpet radical Peter Evans, violinist Jenny Scheinman and recent McArthur Genius Grant recipient Tyshawn Sorey. Legendary saxophonist-composer Roscoe Mitchell, co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, will be performing in the trio configurations heard on his recent double-disc ECM release, Bells for the South Side.
"Well, you know, I've been a jazz fan for almost as long as I can remember," says Big Ears artistic director Ashley Capps, who was also responsible for bringing Ornette Coleman to the 2007 edition of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. "I discovered Miles Davis and Duke Ellington and Lee Konitz and Thelonious Monk in my father's record collection before I was a teenager. I played saxophone when I was growing up, so I been a jazz fan for a long time. ... I brought the Art Ensemble of Chicago here in 1980. … To me, if there's a surprise about the jazz on the lineup it's that it took it this long to get here."
Big Ears also continues its dedication to modern classical with veteran new-music diplomats Bang on a Can as this year's "composers in residence." Over three performances, they will focus on works from artistic directors Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang. The International Contemporary Ensemble Ensemble will perform Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's multi-disciplinary piece/installation In the Light of Air.
Other highlights of this year's festival include performances from artists working at the nexus of experimental music and the alternative rock and electronic undergrounds, including Diamanda Galás, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lightning Bolt, Kid Koala, Four Tet, Jaga Jazzist, Laural Halo and Jenny Hval.
In what Capps calls "probably the biggest expansion in the Big Ears experience," this years will also feature what the they are calling the "Appalachian Homecoming," a celebration of the music heritage of the American South curated by Anna Roberts-Gevalt of Brooklyn-Virgina roots duo Anna & Elizabeth. Artists include bluegrass icon Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Abigail Washburn, the Black Twig Pickers and more.
"Ultimately, we're going to have a Big Ears fiddler's convention this year, probably a square dance, there's gonna be some jam sessions and a lot of surprises in the realm of exploring the indigenous music of the region and Appalachia and how that connects to these other musical traditions," says Capps. "It's gonna be woven in through the experience of the festival all weekend long but some of it'll be on the streets, actually."
Tickets go on sale on Friday and the full initial line-up is below. Visit the Big Ears site for more info.
Abigail Washburn & Wu Fei
Aine O'Dwyer performs William Eggleston's Musik
Anna & Elizabeth
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: "In the Light of Air" performed by International Contemporary Ensemble
Anoushka Shankar: "Land of Gold"
Bang on a Can All Stars celebrate their 30th anniversary with works by David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe
Bang on a Can All Stars perform Julia Wolfe's "Anthracite Fields"
Bang on a Can All Stars "Field Recordings"
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Béla Fleck & Brooklyn Rider
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Brimstone & Glory live score performed by Nief-Norf and Wordless Music
Cleek Schrey & David Behrman
Craig Taborn Quartet
Cyro Baptista & the Banquet of the Spirits
Cyro Baptista presents "Vira Loucos"
Duet for Theremin & Lap Steel
Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
International Contemporary Ensemble
Jaga Jazzist featuring Ståle Storløkken & Jon Balke
Jason Moran Duo with Milford Graves
Jason Moran presents Fats Waller Dance Party
Bangs (Jason Moran, Mary Halvorson and Ron Miles)
Jenny Scheinman presents "Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait"
Jenny Scheinman's "Mischief & Mayhem" with Nels Cline & Scott Amendola
Kelly Lee Owens
Kid Koala (DJ Set)
Kid Koala's "Satellite" Turntable Orchestra
Knoxville Symphony Strings performs "Were You There" with baritone Davoné Tines
Laurel Halo (DJ Set)
Laurel Halo (Live with Eli Keszler)
Medeski Martin & Wood
Nels Cline: "Lovers" with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and guests
Peter Evans Ensemble
Rocket Science (Peter Evans, Sam Pluta, Craig Taborn, Evan Parker)
Roscoe Mitchell Trios
Rova: "The Sound in Space Project"
Rova Channeling Coltrane: "Electric Ascension"
Steve Gunn & the Black Twig Pickers
Susanna feat. Giovanna Pessi, Frode Haltli & Cheyenne Mize
The Black Twig Pickers
The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda performed by the Sai Anantam Ashram Singers
The Jerry Douglas Band
Tyshawn Sorey Trio