Big Ears Festival 2019’s Extraordinary Line-Up

Big Ears Festival 2019, An Avant Gardist's Dream

by John Diliberto 11/13/2018Big Ears Festival, the most civilized and musically adventurous festival in the country, announces its final lineup for the event which runs from March 21-24 in 2019.

This may be one of the most ambitious rosters of this festival to date. There aren’t any of the “big” names like Wilco, Laurie Anderson or Philip Glass that past festivals have had, but there are many more important, innovative and adventurous names, including The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Nils Frahm, Harold Budd and Bela Fleck.

As is typical of Big Ears, the lineup is diverse spanning rock, jazz, avant-garde, ambient and more. If I were to take an overall impression, I’d say this year’s slate has a definite jazz tilt, partly because the festival will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of ECM Records. Among the ECM artists performing are The Art Ensemble of Chicago, who are releasing a box set of their ECM work, Avishai Cohen Quartet, Carla Bley, David Torn, Ralph Towner and Tim Berne’s Snakeoil. Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN, who will be live on Echoes next Monday 11/19, will bring their minmalist jazz. Kim Kashkashian and Meredith Monk aren’t jazz but they record new music on the label. Then there are former and non-ECM jazz artists like guitarist Bill Frisell, Larry Grenadier and Mary Halvorson.

Ambient chamber music pioneer Harold Budd will be feted with 3 concerts and some world premieres that will include solo piano and chamber works. However, when I interviewed Harold a few weeks ago he didn’t know he was playing Big Ears and had no idea what he’d be doing. But the 82-year old artist never disappoints.

Drone and noise has dominated some previous Big Ears fests and that’s here as well with the Duke of Drone, Alvin Lucier.

Experimental rock is there with Spiritualized, Mercury Rev and This Is Not This Heat and the outer edge of folk music as well with Bela Fleck, Rhiannon Giddens and Richard Thompson.

The festival boasts not one, but two divas of avant-garde vocals who sing in languages of the imagination, Meredith Monk and the incandescent Joan La Barbara. Long before Lisa Gerrard and Elisabeth Fraser were creating their fanciful glossolalia, Monk and La Barbara were channeling vocal spirits ancient and alien.

There are roughly a 100 lead artists in 100+ concerts across four days. It is an immersion into some of the most singular music being made today. The complete list is below, but as in past years, there will probably be additions right up to the start of the festival.

Big Ears Festival takes place March 21-24 in Knoxville, Tn.
Tickets for Big Ears Festival 2019 are on sale now at Echoes will be there, trying to cover the enormity of this festival.


Alien Flower Sutra
Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones
The Art Ensemble of Chicago
Artifacts Trio
Avey Tare
Avishai Cohen Quartet
Béla Fleck
Béla Fleck & Edmar Castañeda
Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
Bill Frisell and the Mesmerists featuring Tony Scheer, Kenny Wollesen and the films of Bill Morrison
Bill Frisell’s Harmony featuring Petra Haden, Hank Roberts & Luke Bergman
Brooklyn Rider
Carl Stone
Carla Bley TRIOS with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow
Carla Kihlstedt
Clarice Jensen + Jonathan Turner: For this from that will be filled
Columbia Icefield
The Comet is Coming
David Torn
DeJohnette Coltrane Garrison
Derek Gripper
Dragnet Girl with Live Score by Coupler
Evan Parker / Matt Wright Trance Map+
Ever Present Orchestra
Gabriel Kahane
Harold Budd
Ian Chang
International Contemporary Ensemble
Irreversible Entanglements
Jerusalem In My Heart
Joan La Barbara Performs works by Alvin Lucier
Joan La Barbara: Voice is the Original Instrument
Joep Beving
Kara-Lis Coverdale
Kayhan Kalhor
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider
Kieran Kane & Rayna Gellert
Kim Kashkashian
Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir
Larry Grenadier
Lonnie Holley
Lonnie Holley and The Messthetics
Makaya McCraven
Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl
Mathias Eick Quintet
Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt
Mercury Rev
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble Cellular Songs Concert
The Messthetics
Moor Mother
Mountain Man
Nashville Ballet: Lucy Negro Redux
Choreography by Paul Vasterling
with music by Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi
and poetry by Caroline Randall Williams
Nate Wooley
Nief Norf
Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN
Nils Frahm
Oren Ambarchi
Parker / Schlippenbach / Lytton Trio
Peter Gregson
Punch Brothers
Rachel Grimes: The Way Forth
Rafiq Bhatia: Breaking English
Ralph Towner
Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi
Richard Thompson: Killed in Action
Roomful of Teeth
Shai Maestro Trio
Sons of Kemet
Sun of Goldfinger (David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith)
Theo Bleckmann: Berlin – Song of Love and War, Peace and Exile
Theo Bleckmann: Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush
This is Not This Heat
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil
TRIPTYCH (Eyes of One on Another)
Featuring Roomful of Teeth
Composed by Bryce Dessner
Libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle
Featuring the work of Patti Smith & Essex Hemphill
Directed by Daniel Fish
Produced by Arktype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann
Uncle Earl
Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn
Wadada Leo Smith: Reflections and Meditations on Monk
Wadada Leo Smith’s Nda, Performing “Divine Love” with Bobby Naughton & Dwight Andrews
Yunohana Variations with Susie Ibarra, YoshimiO and Robert Aki Aubrey Lowe
Yves Tumor

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