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Big Ears Festival announces seven artists for 2019 lineup, more to come

June 14, 2018

When Big Ears Festival returns to Knoxville, Tennessee, March 21-24, 2019, attendees will have their choice of dozens of curated artists and performances to experience.

Big Ears has announced seven of those artists:

  • Nils Frahm
  • Mary Halvorson: Code Girl
  • Lonnie Holley
  • Rachel Grimes: The Way Forth
  • The Messthetics
  • Irreversible Entanglements
  • Derek Gripper

“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.”

Big Ears is thrilled to share the first 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. Festival passes are on sale now.

“We’re over the moon about the response to the 2018 festival,” says Executive Director, Ashley Capps. “We have an amazing weekend taking shape for 2019.  It’s going to be another mind-blowing experience, and we’re excited to start sharing the details sooner, rather than later.”

About the artists:
Since his stunning 2014 performance at Big Ears, Berlin-based pianist and composer Nils Frahm has continued to mesmerize with his unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, played contemplatively and intimately, and on an epic scale through his vast stage shows. His most recent record All Melody has a massive sonic landscape, combining hushed piano with epic electronic processing, which inspired Pitchfork to call it his “grandest statement yet.”

After first appearing at Big Ears in 2016, with Anthony Braxton and playing solo, Mary Halvorson returned to Big Ears in 2018 for a mesmerizing set with Jason Moran and Ron Miles in BANGS. Next year, Halvorson will return once again, this time with her brilliant and imaginative new project, Code Girl.  Built around a unique collection of songs penned by Halvorson, Code Girl features the powerful young singer, Amirtha Kidambi, along with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and the potent rhythm section of bassist Michael Formanek & drummer Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Lonnie Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity since 1979. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound, as seen in the mini-documentary The Man Is the Music.   Holley’s journey seeking healing in the transformative power of art has lead him to collaborate and tour worldwide with artists like Animal Collective, Bon Iver, Bill Callahan and Deerhunter, to name just a few, and his artwork has been exhibited widely from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the White House.

Kentucky-based pianist and composer Rachel Grimes returns to Big Ears in 2019 to present her breath-taking folk opera and film The Way Forth, written for voice, strings, piano, harp, narrator and choir. The Way Forth weaves through voices of generations of Kentucky women from 1775 to today, as Grimes traces new perspectives on key historical events through poignant personal recollections, letters, photos and intimate portraits from her own family line. Amidst stories of hard-working, loving people, a quieter theme emerges: the systemic prohibition of the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and enslaved and subsequently freed African-Americans for the sole purpose of amassing wealth and the exploitation of resources. As a counter narrative, The Way Forth presents the emotional legacy of the silenced, the holistic, and the eternal grace and redemption of time as essential to how we may envision our future. Rachel Grimes has toured the world as a solo pianist, and with numerous ensembles, and as a primary composer and performer in the groundbreaking chamber ensemble Rachel’s.

Bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty – the rhythm force of Fugazi– have united with jazz and experimental guitarist Anthony Pirog to form an all-star trio. The result is The Messthetics, a band dedicated to the live ideal, where structure begets improvisation.

Irreversible Entanglements is a liberation-oriented, free jazz collective formed in early 2015 by saxophonist Keir Neuringer, poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother), and bassist Luke Stewart, who came together to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, organized after the slaying of Akai Gurley by the NYPD. The instrumentalists explore and elaborate compositional ideas, but the tone of each piece is driven decisively by Ayewa’s searing poetic narrations of Black trauma, survival and power. This is music that both honors and defies tradition, speaking to the present while insisting on the future.

Hailing from South Africa, guitarist Derek Gripper’s work explores the dialogue between numerous disparate styles of music from around the globe. In one concert, it is not uncommon to hear his solo guitar transcriptions of Toumani Diabaté’s kora compositions and Bach’s violin works, along with South African jazz and avant-garde Brazilian songs. Gripper’s concerts are at once intimate and explosive, improvised and composed, traditional and entirely new.

All this and more information, including full 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 The 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