Festival announcement season is just starting to heat up as the final festivals of 2018 wind down. Today, Big Ears Festival has announced the first round of its lineup for 2019 and the artsy, avant garde-focused festival features artists such as Mercury Rev, Spiritualized, Rhiannon Giddens playing with Francesco Turrisi, Nils Frahm, Jerusalem in Our Hearts, Jlin, Rachel Grimes, Lonnie Hall and many more artists and special programming.
The festival takes place on March 21-24 2019 in downtown Knoxville, TN. This year’s edition will be its eighth, a time during which the festival has established itself as one of the most innovative and cutting edge. This is a refreshing take compared with most modern music festivals, which hundreds of events seem to rotate through 10-15 of the same headliners and 30-40 of the same upper tier supporting artists.
Instead, Big Ears is willing to take risks and book a lineup that is truly artistic and while not extremely commercially-oriented, extremely fascinating. One standout headliner of the festival are avant-garde jazz collective The Art Ensemble of Chicago, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary at the festival. Other jazz artists performing at the festival include Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson, Alexander Schlippenbach Trio, Wadada Leo Smith and Sons of Kemet. Electronic acts like Jlin amd Yves Tumor will add another dynamic layer to the lineup. Rock-oriented acts like Mercury Rev, Lonnie Holley and Spiritualized will be making an appearance at the festival as well. Classical artist Clarice Jensen rounds out the top billed acts from round one. Also worth noting is the presence of The Messthetics in the lineup, a band that is composed of the rhythm section of post-punk legends Fugazi.
Spiritualized recently released the excellent and emotional new album And Nothing Hurt, which was their first since 2012. Meanwhile, Mercury Rev will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Deserter’s Songs with a tour (though this festival date comes well after the final announced date of that tour.
Rhiannon Giddens will return to the site of Big Ears after giving a keynote address at the 2018 festival. This year, she’ll show off two musical projects. The first will be with the Nashville Ballet, performing Lucy Negro Redux. The ballet will be making its first appearance outside of the company’s Nashville premiere, and is a story chronicling the life of Shakespeare’s famous muse the “Dark Lady.” Joining her as a co-composer, writer and performer is Later, she’ll perform with jazz musician Francesco Turrisi. The second performance from Giddens will be along with Francesco Turrisi.
UPDATE (11/13): Big Ears has announces its final lineup for the 2019 festival. Noteworthy additions include the folk of the Punch Brothers, the experimental indie rock of Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, art pop artist serpentwithfeet, experimental group Jerusalem in My Heart, Stephen O’Malley’s KTL and more. Additionally, Bryce Dessner of The National will be joined by Roomful of Teeth for a performance of Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), which will look at the life and legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe. Take a look at the full lineup below.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson