Six Living Legends Playing This Year’s Big Ears Festival

by Maggie Molloy

For the past 10 years the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee has been bringing together composers, performers, and curious listeners from around the globe for an annual weekend of exhilarating and ear-expanding music. From ambient to electric, eclectic, experimental, and avant-garde, the festival showcases over 100 genre-bending artists each year in a celebration of the sheer delight and diversity of new music.

Second Inversion is thrilled to be attending this year’s festival. Keep an eye out for our very own Maggie Molloy at the event, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates! In the meantime, check out our list of six can’t-miss living legends performing at this year’s festival.

Meredith Monk:

For nearly six decades, Meredith Monk has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences. At this year’s festival, catch her with her vocal ensemble performing Cellular Songs, a multimedia work exploring biological processes, genetic mutation, and the ways in which millions of tiny little cells can come together to form something extraordinary.

Friday, March 22, 9:15pm, Bijou Theatre
Saturday, March 23, 12pm, Bijou Theatre


Art Ensemble of Chicago:

Over the past half-century the Art Ensemble of Chicago has grown beyond a mere band and into a way of life—a collective musical ethos that transcends the individual members of the group. Founded with the motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to Future,” the group draws from musical traditions across history and around the globe. Their live performances are a revelation: their wildly experimental brand of avant-jazz further amplified by loudly colored costumes and face paint. Catch them live this Sunday.

Sunday, March 24, 8:15pm, Tennessee Theatre


Kayhan Kalhor:

Kayhan Kalhor is a modern master of an ancient instrument: the kamancheh, an upright Iranian fiddle with a melancholic tone and a rich musical history. As a soloist and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, he has spent his career traversing international borders and transcending musical boundaries. This Saturday, hear him in an intimate solo performance that takes traditional Persian music in new directions—and Sunday, catch him in a cross-genre collaboration with Brooklyn Rider.

Saturday, March 23, 6pm, Church Street United Methodist Church (solo)
Sunday, March 24, 5pm, Bijou Theatre (with Brooklyn Rider)


Joan La Barbara:

Joan La Barbara has spent the past 50 years exploring the furthest reaches of the human voice. A pioneer of extended vocal techniques, her acrobatic vocal stylings range from multiphonics to shrieks, squeaks, whispers, wails, moans, drones, and a whole slew of sounds you didn’t even know humans could make. Hear her singular voice live when she performs her own original works on Thursday, and come back Friday to hear her sing music of Alvin Lucier with the Ever Present Orchestra.

Thursday, March 21, 8pm, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral (solo)
Friday, March 22, 1pm, Bijou Theatre (music of Alvin Lucier)


Alvin Lucier:

Alvin Lucier has spent his 60-year career exploring not only music but the ways in which we experience sound itself. His historic compositions experiment with the resonance of spaces, the physical properties of sound, and the manipulation of auditory perception. This Friday, Joan La Barbara and the Ever Present Orchestra perform music from across his career—and on Sunday Lucier performs some of his own original works (including his landmark 1969 sonic exploration I am Sitting in a Room).

Friday, March 22, 1pm, Bijou Theatre (with Joan La Barbara)
Sunday, March 24, 1pm, Ann & Steve Baily Hall at the KMA (solo)


Wadada Leo Smith:

“Creative music” is the descriptor Wadada Leo Smith has given to his expansive body of works. Over the past five decades, the trumpeter has cultivated his own inimitable musical language (and notation) informed by jazz and world music histories but deeply rooted in the present moment. This Saturday, he performs solo meditations on the music of Thelonious Monk—and on Sunday he teams up with two former bandmates to play Divine Love, an ethereal and immersive trumpet and percussion suite first released in 1978.

Saturday, March 23, 2pm, The Standard (solo)
Sunday, March 24, 6:15pm, Tennessee Theatre (“Divine Love”)


The Big Earts Festival is March 21-24 in Knoxville, Tennessee. For tickets and more information, click here.

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