Alan Carmichael poses outside The Mill & Mine, one of the venues for Big Ears 2019.
The streets of downtown Knoxville seemed unusually quiet this Monday after the Big Ears Festival closed Sunday night. The truth is that they weren’t any less crowded than on any other Monday. It’s just that the comparison was stark to the weekend when more than a dozen downtown venues hosted 150 or so events as part of Big Ears.
As has been widely reported, folks flooded in from all over the United States and 21 other countries. They loved our downtown. They loved our historic theaters. They loved our churches and bars. And, most of all, they loved our people. As downtown residents and festival attendees, my husband and I heard over and over praise from the visitors for our city’s hospitality and friendliness.
We have been to several Big Ears festivals and they seem to be getting better and better. The stunningly beautiful ballet, Lucy Negro Redux, was a 2019 highlight. But there were highlights every day. And Knoxville’s reputation will be benefiting for weeks and months to come, truth be told, as media coverage from the dozens of reporters who attended continues to unfold. Already, glowing reviews have appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, among others.
The Blue Streak covered opening day in our previous post. Here’s a quick re-cap of some of the other fun things that went on this weekend. See you back at Big Ears in 2020!
Mayor Madeline Rogero, front left, poses with members of the Denmark delegation at the Big Ears VIP welcome brunch on Friday at The Mill & Mine. (Photo by Fiona McAnally.)
The brunch tent was filled with happy, hungry people.
I was partial to the blood orange corn cakes.
There was traditional breakfast fare, as well, prepared under the direction of Chef Jesse Newmister. This is my friend Richard Jolley’s plate.
From left, Amber Parker, executive director of Ijams Nature Center; Andrea Bailey Cox, executive director of the Aslan Foundation; and Sarah Swinford, also of the Aslan Foundation.
Mayor Madeline Rogero, center, with Casey Fox and Jesse Fox Mayshark of The Compass.
Sheep milk cheeses from Blackberry Farm.
Alan’s favorite item: maple glazed crepe enchilada with mixed berry creme.
Once we were fortified, we headed to some shows.
Francesco Turrisi, left, Rhiannon Giddens and Rowan Corbett performed at Church Street United Methodist Church. (Photo by Alan Carmichael.)
I went to see Israeli pianist Shai Maestro and his trio at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. Loved his beautiful music, which had a new-agey feel to it.
Grammy Award-winning Kim Kashkashian played classical viola, also at St. John’s.
Here’s a look at a typical line outside St. John’s, the site of many concerts throughout the weekend.
Peter Gregson with his cello at the Tennessee Theatre.
Members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra backed him up. In one of the more awkward moments of the weekend, Gregson abruptly announced that he had been told he had played over his allotted time, and he cut off his performance prior to the end of his last piece and left the stage.
I had to brace myself with a martini and a bowl of soup at the Bistro at the Bijou before my next stop, which Alan refused to attend with me.
It was a slideshow of the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe accompanied by a performance by Roomful of Teeth. (This is one of the least explicit shots. Also one of the few that would be acceptable on this blog.) Ask me about this show when you see me in person. That is all I can say.
On Saturday, I was interested in a panel called, “Songs of our Ancestors: Making History Present in Music.” It was at Visit Knoxville and attracted a packed house.
The panel consisted of, from left, Ann Powers, music critic for NPR; Richard Thompson, a British folk-rock icon; Rachel Grimes, a pianist and composer; and Rhiannon Giddens, a singer-songwriter who co-wrote the ballet Lucy Negro Redux. (She’s crocheting in this photo!)
The general theme was that we must incorporate history into our stories and songs if we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes our ancestors made. “The past is present,” Giddens said. “There is a tendency to want to sequester the past in cemeteries and museums. But the more we know about the past, the more we can sort of avoid repeating it. We are in some major crises. We’ve done this before. We’ve made these mistakes. Let’s try not to fricking make them again this time!”
In honor of our international visitors, I decided to have a crepe and glass of rose for lunch. At The French Market, of course.
One thing I like about Big Ears is what I call “the rub-off effect.” It inspires others to get musical. When I passed The Art Market on Gay Street, I heard music and stuck my head in to hear Act II, a band of retirees from the Jefferson City area. They sang covers of formerly popular songs and were a lot of fun.
From the minute we saw the DeJohnette Coltane Garrison Trio on the Big Ears lineup, Alan knew he wanted to go see them at the Tennessee Theatre. Left to right, they are Ravi Coltrane, the son of John and Alice Coltrane; Matt Garrison, the son of Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane’s bassist; and Jack DeJohnette.
Jack DeJohnette used to sit in with John Coltrane in the early ’60s. We loved the show.
Harold Budd & ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) had a show at St. John’s immediately following the jazz trio. Here’s Chris Thompson setting the mood for the new age concert.
We ran into Big Ears founder Ashley Capps at the Budd show and he highly recommended that we head back to the Tennessee Theatre and check out Nils Frahm, which started at 10 p.m. Of course, we did.
Frahm, who explained that he was suffering from a bout of food poisoning, knocked everyone out playing his piano and synthesizers.
The next morning, it was back to The Mill & Mine for the closing VIP brunch. It’s for everyone who purchases VIP passes to the show. I think they are worth it because you can get in early at some shows and you have reserved seats at most shows. Plus, you get two brunches — and a coffee mug.
I was glad to see these Big Ears staffers still standing and looking pretty darn good on the last day of the four-day festival. From left, Carissa Stolting, Ashley Capps and Celine Thackston.
Highlight of Sunday for me was the Punch Brothers, an eclectic roots band, playing at The Mill & Mine.
The most recognizable member of Punch Brothers is probably Chris Thile, center, who also is host of “Live From Here” on National Public Radio. It is the successor to (and improvement on) Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.”
We are so fortunate to have Big Ears bring so much positive attention for our town. And to have an opportunity to experience such a wide array of talent — without leaving the beautiful square mile that is our downtown!