Aurora Nealand and her band, The Royal Roses, played at Boyd’s Jig & Reel on Friday. We liked them so much, we stayed for two shows.
The Big Ears Festival has come and gone and, trust me, it was one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent in Knoxville. The international music festival attracted about 5,300 visitors each day of its four-day run, according to festival organizers. They came to downtown Knoxville from 47 states and 16 countries.
“From the feedback we’ve gotten from everyone, it really couldn’t have gone much better,” said Ashley Capps, the founder and CEO of Big Ears. “People are describing it as a fabulous, ecstatic experience. Everyone was so happy to be able to be together again listening to music.” (The festival had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.)
The music ranged from jazz to bluegrass, from classical to hip-hop, from rock to folk and from new age to new country. Poetry readings and other spoken word experiences were in the mix. In total, more than 230 performances were held in 12 venues all within walking distance. And about 1,200 participants marched in a frolicsome parade that circled the Old City and ended in a block party.
The festival itself was a sellout. But plenty of free events were added, including New Orleans-style jazz shows at the Tennessee Amphitheater and an hour with the beloved poet Nikki Giovanni, a Knoxville native.
Alan and I met visitors from Gainesville, Atlanta, Boston, New Orleans, Lexington and Niota, to name a few. We heard so many compliments about Knoxville, its charm and its walkability. And raves about the programming of the festival itself.
“Big Ears was absolutely incredible. A transcendent musical experience,” Brandon Telg, a non-profit executive from Florida whom we met on the first day emailed me on Monday morning from the airport. “By the end of day one, I already made a promise to myself to attend every year I can.”
Jazz pianist Jason Moran at the Bijou Theatre.
Shabaka Hutchings, a UK jazz star, performed with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra at the Bijou.
Some members of the Knoxville Symphony, from left at top: Devan Jaquez, Gary Sperl and Justin Cummings. At bottom: Zachary Miller, left, and Alicia Keener.
After the performance, in the Bijou Theatre lobby, from left, former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Katharine Pearson Criss, KSO Music Director and conductor Aram Demirjian and Amy Elias. The three women are on the Big Ears board of directors.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon welcomes guests at the opening party at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
Ashley Capps makes welcoming comments..
Natalie and Jim Haslam attended the party. Pilot Company and the Haslams are major sponsors of the Big Ears Festival.
Moxley Carmichael was happy to sponsor the opening party. That’s Alan Carmichael beside the sign.
Former Congressman Jimmy Duncan was there with his new fiancee, Vickie Dowling.
Packed house at the opening party to hear the Preservation Hall Brass Band.
Preservation Hall Brass Band.
Alan Carmichael, right, with Knoxville Museum of Art Executive Director David Butler.
Rev. Renée Kesler of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, left, introduced poet Nikki Giovanni, who spoke at The Mill & Mine.
The long-running rock and alt-music band Sparks played the Tennessee Theatre. Brothers Russell and Ron Mael front the band.
The beautiful First Baptist Church was one of the featured venues.
That’s where we heard Ellen Reid’s SOUNDWALK Ensemble. Reid, bottom right, an Oak Ridge native, is a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for music.
Visit Knoxville hosted a reception in the Sunsphere.
Knox County Trustee Ed Shouse, left, with Ashley Capps at the Visit Knoxville reception.
Former Knox County Commissioner Evelyn Gill shows off a very creative and appropriate purse she made for the Big Ears festivities.
We sat with this really nice Marietta couple at that event. Both engineers, Diana and Eric Winter taught us a trick to protect our ears in loud concerts: wet toilet paper! It worked!
Guitar virtuoso Bill Frisell played The Mill & Mine.
79rs Gang from New Orleans played the Tennessee Amphitheater. The group plays Mardi Gras Indian music. It is a combination of members of two rival gangs who decided to put their differences aside and make music together.
Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses Band was one of our favorites. They played at the Jig & Reel.
Local swing music performer Kukuly Uriarte is a fan, too!
So are Michael and Evelyn Gill, left, and WUOT’s Todd Steed.
We ran into Knoxville City Council Member Lauren Rider several times during the festival. The crutches did not slow her down!
Here are some folks lined up for the parade in the Old City. Knoxville loves a parade!
A huge puppet of Dolly Parton under the bridge before the Krewe du Cattywampus Parade & Street Party.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., puppet.
We watched most of the parade from the front patio of Marble City Market. Here they come:
A Nikki Giovanni puppet!
Preservation Hall Brass Band.
I liked this bull.
And this bird!
OK, back to the shows!
Circus No. 9 played a wonderful set of bluegrass at the Jig & Reel.
Singer-songwriter Andy Shauf played the Tennessee Theatre with his band. “Where do you get your ideas?” someone from the audience shouted out. “Mostly weed,” he smiled to loud applause.
A newly formed band called GEORGE played at the Old City Performing Arts Center. This was the band’s first public appearance.
Anna Webber of GEORGE.
The law firm Merchant & Gould hosted a brunch for sponsors and VIPs at Five Thirty Lounge, the rooftop bar at the Hyatt Place on Gay Street.
Andrea Bailey, executive director of the Aslan Foundation, a major Big Ears sponsor, made brief remarks.
As did Ashley Capps, left, and John Winemiller, who heads the Merchant & Gould office here and is also chair of the Big Ears board of directors.
We will leave you with a sample (below) from one of the festival’s headliners, 1970s rocker Patti Smith, known as the “punk poet laureate.” This is her biggest hit record, performed at the Tennessee Theatre.