Preview: Big Ears Festival brings a welcome and chaotic free-for-all to Tennessee

Beginning in 2009, Big Ears Festival has been bringing a wide range of musical artists together within the Southern city of Knoxville, Tennessee, and this year, they’ve assembled another round of musicians who have conquered all manner of genres. The festival is known for its often-chaotic blend of electronic music, indie rock, noise, and classical sounds. Rising above the Sunsphere Tower, James White Fort, and Neyland Stadium, these intermingled rhythms create a roar of melody and history, a rush of adrenaline-fueled artistry that stands as one of the most diverse festivals in the United States.

The lineup for this year’s festival, the first since 2019 due to COVID precautions, reads as a who’s-who of indie rock and electronic stalwarts and finds some truly iconic artists revealing their voices across a dozen different venues throughout the city. Check out the full lineup below:

Punk poet laureate Patti Smith will be bringing her Words & Music presentation, an audio-visual blur of performance art including poem readings and musical detours, to the Mill & Mine on opening night. She will also perform with her band the following evening. L’Rain will bestow glimpses of her experimental work while Arooj Aftab entrances the audience with her beautifully hypnotic sounds. Animal Collective will be performing selections from their latest record as Low hammers home the details of their latest noise-drenched opus.

But Big Ears is more than just an expansive musical word view packed into a fistful of days. There will be a selection of writers and poets on hand, including Nikki Giovanni, Saul Williams, Marcus J. Moore, and Hanif Abdurraqib, who are set to headline various onsite activities. There will also be opportunities to catch some movies, as the festival is collaborating with The Public Cinema to show films from directors Peter Glushanok, Chantal Akerman, and Claie Denis – they’ll also be screening Blackalachia, a concert film featuring Moses Sumney, who is also set to perform.

A highlight of the festival will be a spotlight on the work of avant garde saxophonist John Zorn, a prolific and challenging artist who has destroyed just above every genre boundary that can be approached. Across eight programs, he and a rotating cast of musicians (including Bill Frisell, Petra Haden, John Medeski and others) will collaborate to reinterpret some truly astonishing works of sound. There will also be a series of interviews and conversations featuring L’Rain, Marc Ribot, Dawn Richard, Bonny Light Horsemen, Sudan Archives, Saul Williams, and many others that dig into the origins of their respective works.

Like its past iterations, this year’s Big Ears Festival is set to redefine the idea of what a festival can offer in terms of navigable artistic material. Developing into one of the preeminent festivals for fans of adventurous music and arts, it places an emphasis on musicians who stand outside the usual musical thoroughfares and who have personally contributed to the lasting histories of their particular genres.

Beats Per Minute will have coverage of the various upcoming festivities and will report back on the sights and sounds of Big Ears in 2022. For more information, check out the festival’s announcement video below.