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Big Ears Festival 2019 announces artist additions

June 26, 2018

Regarded as one of the most unique and eagerly anticipated cultural gatherings in the world – “a music festival with a rare vision” (The New York Times) – Big Ears Festival will return in 2019 with its 8th edition, taking place March 21 through March 24 in historic Knoxville, Tennessee. Festival passes are on sale now.

“Contained within a walkable radius of historic downtown Knoxville — in a range of ornate landmark theaters, refurbished industrial spaces, art galleries, churches, and clubs — it creates its own atmospheric climate, along with a center of gravity,” describes NPR Music. “From its first iteration in 2009, the festival has been a locus of expedition, defined more by a go-anywhere ethos than by any style or genre allegiance.”

In addition to seven artists announced in mid-June, Big Ears is thrilled to share the second in a series of artist announcements for the 2019 festival. Additions to the lineup – along with more festival programs and details – will continue to be unveiled throughout the summer, culminating in the full lineup release this fall.

2019 Initial Lineup:
Nils Frahm
Mary Halvorson: Code Girl
Lonnie Holley
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider **
Jlin **
Rachel Grimes: The Way Forth
Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt **
The Messthetics
Irreversible Entanglements
Derek Gripper
Clarice Jensen & Jonathan Turner: For this from that will be filled **
Rafiq Bhatia: Breaking English **
Coupler: Dragnet Girl **
+ many more artists, films, installations to be announced…
** represents new artist addition

About the artist additions: 
Big Ears is honored to welcome Brooklyn Rider back to Knoxville in 2019, after their stunning performances – both solo and with Béla Fleck – at last year’s festival.  In 2019, the quartet will perform alongside Iranian artist Kayhan Kalhor, a virtuoso on the kamancheh, an Iranian bowed, stringed instrument.  Kalhor is a master of traditional Persian music and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, with his own compositions featured on several of Silk Road’s albums. Brooklyn Rider and Kalhor’s collaborative record, Silent City, debuted in 2008, and this unique performance brings their decade-long relationship to the Big Ears stage.

Jlin is considered one of the most prominent, inventive electronic producers today. Though previously using samples in her work, she now refuses to, and her tracks are composed of entirely original material. Pitchfork calls her most recent record Black Origami “a gorgeous and overwhelming piece of musical architecture, an epic treatise on where rhythm comes from and where it can go.”  From hard-hitting compositions of her own creation, to wild remixes of artists like Björk and Max Richter, Jlin’s creativity is limitless, and we cannot wait to have her at Big Ears 2019.

Acclaimed drummer and bandleader Matt Wilson will present Honey & Salt, a project over a decade in the making featuring Carl Sandberg’s poetry in an eclectic variety of musical settings. Honey & Salt was cited on over 35 “Best Of” lists in 2017, including an unprecedented 5-star (masterpiece) review in Downbeat, and inspired the Wall Street Journal to claim that the album not only beautifully marries music and poetry but also “points to a new kind of jazz recording.”  In Knoxville, Wilson will be joined by his band, featuring Dawn Thomson– guitar & voice, Ron Miles-cornet, Jeff Lederer– reeds and Martin Wind– bass.

For this from that will be filled, a collaboration between cellist Clarice Jensen (ACME) and artist Jonathan Turner, explores the variable differences between acoustic and electronic sound and simulated and unconscious depiction. Building on a long and romantic tradition of solo cello repertoire, Jensen expands and confuses the familiar sound of solo cello through the use of effects pedals, multi-tracking, and tape loops recorded at variable speeds, presented in works she has written for herself as well as a piece she conceived of with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. This music accompanies visual projections by Turner that connote a structure of unknown scale or place and conjure the simulated presence of the viewer/listener within this interior, suggesting an experience inside an environment of which the texture and design draw from domestic and commercialized aesthetics, overbearing in their glossy blandness. In combining these elements, an experience is created that is not explicit in message or emotion or journey, as those specifics are voided through the repetitive nature of the compositions, the foreign nature of the cello sound, and the disorienting pace through Turner’s nebulous interiors.

Breaking English is guitarist and composer Rafiq Bhatia’s new work for electroacoustic trio, transformed into an immersive multimedia experience by visual artist Michael Cina and video artist Hal Lovemelt. Born of an iterative, sculptural approach to composition, Breaking English exploits the divisions between organic and mechanical, intimate and removed, new and known.  At Big Ears 2019, Bhatia will be joined by Ian Chang (Son Lux, Joan As Policewoman) on electronic and acoustic drums, and Jackson Hill (Xenia Rubinos) on bass and synthesizers, as the trio funnels a universe of anxiety, hope, and inspiration into one singularly provocative and mesmerizing statement.  According to an NY Times interview, Bhatia’s inspirations for Breaking English include but are not limited to: Jimi Hendrix concert videos, blaring prayer calls from Turkish mosques, East African archaeological sites, the death of Trayvon Martin and Flying Lotus sound collages.

Founded in 2011 by Lambchop veteran Ryan Norris, Coupler’s core is Norris along with Rodrigo Avendaño and drummer Rollum Haas. At its root, the project is an exercise in mutual cooperation of creative individuals and an exploration of the intersections of man and machine, live and recorded, composed and improvised, stasis and flux. Coupler’s music has always used the language of ambient without being ambient per se. If ambient music is meant to create a space in which to think, Coupler’s deliberate ambient music transcends the space it creates to allow a threshold to be crossed.  At Big Ears 2019, Coupler will present their stunning live score of the 1933 silent Japanese gangster film, Dragnet Girl by filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu.

All this and more information, including lineup, ticketing, and other details can be found at, by “liking” Big Ears Festival on Facebook, by following @BigEarsFestival on Twitter, and by joining the newsletter. 

About Big Ears Festival
The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)(3), is to create, nurture, and support artistic expression and cultural education that transcends traditional boundaries, strengthens and builds relationships, and connects across communities through genre-defying music, film and arts programming, and interactive experiences.

Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American, Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings in the world, bringing together a virtual who’s who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators and influencers with younger artists who are synthesizing their own experiences into fresh, new creative work. Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville – and taking place in its world-class historic theaters, excellent clubs, and unique alternative performance spaces – all within easy walking distance of one another and intermingled with superb restaurants, bars, and shops – Big Ears offers an unparalleled experience for adventurous artists and audiences alike. While primarily focused on music, Big Ears is also developing a strong independent/experimental film component while also presenting installations, exhibitions and interactive experiences.

Big Ears is created and produced by AC Entertainment, recognized as one of the foremost independent promoters in the United States. Founded in 1991 by Ashley Capps, the company books, markets and presents over 1,000 events per year. In addition to Big Ears, AC Entertainment is the force behind internationally renowned events including Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival®, Forecastle Festival, and many more.  For more information on AC Entertainment, visit

The 2019 Big Ears Festival is made possible by the generous support of The Aslan Foundation, ArtWorks/National Endowment for the Arts, Visit Knoxville, Tennessee Department of Tourism, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, Red Bull Music Academy, SouthArts and Tennessee Arts Commission.

Carla Parisi / Kid Logic