Big Ears 2018

My third Big Ears and second with a full weekend pass. As before, the music was world class, breathtaking, and mostly from people I had never heard of before or knew only by reputation.

Thursday’s highlight for me was David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot at the Tennessee Theater, one of the crown jewels of downtown. Two guitarists, moving from folk to Tex-Mex to blues to straight ahead rock; a great start to the weekend.

Friday, an unscheduled performance at the visitors’ center by Jerry Douglas and later on, groups from Morocco and Niger, and the Black Twig Pickers from Virginia in between.

Saturday was more jazz oriented, with separate solo performances at St. John’s Cathedral by Peter Evans and John Medeski, Jason Moran and Wilford Graves at the Bijou, and back to the Tennessee to see Anoushka Shankar and, later that night, Diamanda Galas.

Abigail Washburn on banjo and Wu Fei on Chinese zither at the Bijou on Sunday completed my weekend. Weaving together Appalachian folk and Chinese traditional music, laughing and talking together, throwing in a little Chinese opera duet, the hour was gone long before I was ready. Pure magic.

Big Ear’s gift to the city of Knoxville and to music and film lovers generally is hard to pin down. Ashley Capps and company, who put the festival on each year, have no genre to promote and no theme beyond gathering the best musicians from all over into one place over the course of a weekend. What happens is first class music both scheduled and improvised, set up in advance or spontaneous, and a real joy to behold. And hear. And experience. People come from all over the world to Big Ears, and so do performers. Like I said, pure magic.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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