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Big Ears 2016 festival to be bigger than ever

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-20 09:18:56-04

Big Ears 2016 will have bigger ears than ever.

The lineup for the Knoxville festival, which will be held March 31-April 2, was released today and will include John Luther Adams as artist-in-residence, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Andrew Bird, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Necks, jazz legend Anthony Braxton, rock acts Yo La Tengo and Sunn O))), classical greats eighth blackbird, Irish supergroup The Gloaming and many, many other artists.

The Big Ears Festival, which was begun in 2009, has been hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as “the most ambitious avant garde festival to emerge in more than a decade” and “the classiest, most diverse, festival in the country.” The New York Times called it “an extraordinary music festival.” The event utilizes several downtown Knoxville venues and draws thousands of music fans from around the globe.

“It’s really affirming and inspiring to see the reputation that it has around the world,” said Ashley Capps, president of the Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, which promotes Big Ears, Bonnaroo and many other music festivals around the country.

Capps said sometimes music fans were confused because Big Ears embraced so many different styles of music rather than being specifically a classical, rock, folk, jazz or bluegrass festival. He said the programming was akin to a film or art festival.

“You don’t expect to go to a film festival and see all science fiction films. It’s about the culture of filmmaking. If you go to an art festival, you don’t go to see just sculpture. You go see the work of the best artists working today. … There’s a lot of different threads and themes. We’re weaving a tapestry, not building a box.”

Capps said he was excited about several events during the festival, in particular having classical composer John Luther Adams as artist-in-residence and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra performing Adams’ Grammy-winning work “Become Ocean.”

Capps said eclectic favorite Laurie Anderson specifically asked to participate in Big Ears 2016 to perform a piece with classical composer Philip Glass that the two had premiered in Italy in August.

“It will be the first performance in America and probably the only performance of it in 2016,” Capps said. “We really are having performances that you can see nowhere else.”

Another special show will be Tony Conrad and legendary progressive rock band Faust performing the music from the 1973 cult album “Outside the Dream Syndicate.”

Capps said the group has indicated that it might be the final performance of the work.

Another show Capps was particularly meaningful to him was one by jazz players Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith.

“Leo Smith is one of the first artists I ever brought to Knoxville,” Capps said. “I booked him for a show at the Laurel Theater in 1980. It’s really exciting for me to bring him back.”

The 2016 event will include a less inexpensive line of tickets, a free outdoor concert and reserved seat events.

Capps said the ticket structure was designed to be inclusive for as many music fans as possible and to give patrons the best experience. The base price of the ticket is $135 for the weekend or $45 per day (cheaper than in years past), but shows at the Tennessee Theatre will be an additional $30 per night and, for the first time, will require reserved seats. There will also be a “Sonic Explorer” weekend package for $450 that will include priority seating for Tennessee and Bijou theater shows and special private events. Weekend pass tickets go on sale at noon this Friday at www.bigearsfestival.com.

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