Big Ears Recap: National Edition

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All right, there’s one last Big Ears round-up before we’re done: a compilation of all the national coverage that has appeared so far.

• In The New York Times, Ben Ratliff sounds a note of caution: “The Big Ears aesthetic of openness wasn’t entirely original, or entirely open. … Every efficient institution becomes centralized, but Big Ears sometimes leans on powerful external filters of taste to shape its personality. That’s something to beware; that’s how festivals become predictable.” But Ratliff, who has attended all four editions of the festival, recognizes the “positive confusion” of Big Ears. “What’s being sold is an impulse toward curiosity, not a particular style,” he writes, praising, in particular, Tanya Tagaq’s Saturday afternoon concert and “magnificent (and aggressive) performances by the New York bands Zs and Swans.”

• At Consequence of Sound, Carson O’Shoney files an exhaustive report on the weekend—judging by the 12 web pages of reviews he wrote, he saw about as much music as it’s possible to see at Big Ears—and declares it, quite simply, “for those with experimental tastes in music and adventurous ears … the best music festival in the country.”

• Christopher R. Weingarten, another Big Ears veteran, declares it, in a Rolling Stone review, “[a]n ambitious avant-garde festival with toe-dipping stations for 20th-century composition, contemporary indie-rock, abstract electronics, jazz, folk, ambient and Syrian pop.” Weingarten notes Mayor Madeline Rogero’s apparent fascination with the festival and singles out Tagaq, Kronos Quartet, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline and Norton Wisdom, Rhiannon Giddens, and the Bad Plus for special consideration.

Senior Editor Matthew Everett manages the Knoxville Mercury's arts & entertainment section, including the comprehensive calendar section—Knoxville’s go-to guide for everything worth doing in the area. You can reach Matthew at

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