10 Years of Big Ears

Jeff Parker, Big Ears Festival 2022 | Photo by Bill Foster, Courtesy of Big Ears

Big Ears Founder Ashley Capps talks with Cityview as the 10th festival approaches

Described by The New York Times as “one of the world’s greatest music bashes,” the Big Ears Festival returns March 30-April 2 for its 10th celebration in downtown Knoxville. The festival brings together dozens of innovative musical artists for performances in theaters, clubs, churches, parks, galleries and industrial spaces. In addition to musical performances, attendees can enjoy discussions, interactive workshops, art installations and surprise collaborations. 

Founder and Director Ashley Capps answered a few questions for Cityview about the upcoming festival. 

Marc Ribot, Big Ears Festival 2022 | Photo by Cora, Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

Ten Years of Big Ears — congratulations!  What’s surprises you most about the festival and its continued expansion? 

It’s always exciting to put a new idea out into the world and have people respond to it in such a positive way. No matter how much you may believe in your own project or idea, you can never predict or control how it is received. So it has been very gratifying and affirming to see Big Ears take hold the way that it has and continue to grow and evolve year after year – and the response is getting stronger and stronger each year as well. I can’t say that I’m surprised exactly – I don’t think we would have launched it in the first place if we hadn’t believed in it from the beginning – but we are very grateful that it has resonated so deeply and with so many people across the country and beyond.

Big Ears Festival 2022 Performance | Photo Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

Do you have a favorite untraditional venue? 

I love the natural outdoor settings in our beautiful parks – so the events we’ve had at Ijams Nature Center, at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, and at Lakeshore Park have been really special for me. But sometimes it’s not only the venue, but the relationship between the performance and where it takes place that can have a special impact and enhance the experience, create a new perspective. In that way, having the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra or a great concert pianist perform on the floor of the Mill & Mine, surrounded by the audience, can be an amazing experience. I love the concerts in the downtown churches as well. But it’s all about thoughtfully pairing the artist and performance with the right setting – sometimes that needs to be a more traditional venue and other times not.

Andrew Cyrille and Ambrose Akinmusire, Big Ears Festival 2022 | Photo by Billie Wheeler, Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

What would a Big Ears newbie need to know to take full advantage of the festival? 

Just dive in.  If you love music, there’s so much to see and hear and your ticket gets you into all the venues, so you’re free to explore as much as you wish. It’s human nature to zone in on what you already know you love – and this year there’s great rock and roll, country, bluegrass, jazz, classical, folk and many kinds of dance music from all over the world – so I encourage someone new to the Big Ears experience to set off to see maybe Los Lobos or Rickie Lee Jones or Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart and then just relax and let yourself get swept into the experience. It’s fun and exciting.

Joe Henry, Big Ears Festival 2022 | Photo Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

With Yo-Yo Ma coming in May, who else would you love to lure to Knoxville? 

We’re very excited about the Yo-Yo Ma events in late May. That concert at the World’s Fair Park is going to be a great one. And we’re already working on Big Ears 2024 programs. There are so many conversations taking place now with many great artists. But let’s be patient, enjoy what’s already planned, and we’ll see how things evolve in the coming years.

To learn more about the festival and check out the performance schedule, visit bigearsfestival.org.

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