‘Indie’ or ‘alt’ can be prefixed onto any genre of music, but in recent times, one of the most prominent combinations has been ‘indie-classical’, taking the alternative styles of Brooklyn and the classical inspirations of Manhattan. Some venues/festivals in the Big Apple are trying to build upon it, such as Lincoln Center’s ‘American Songbook’ (QRO live review) and Brooklyn Academy of Music’s ‘Sounds Like Brooklyn’ (QRO live review). But last year, it was Knoxville, Tennessee that vaunted to the forefront of the indie-classical movement, with the inaugural Big Ears Music Festival.
2010 looks to be even bigger & better, with in-demand artists that run the gamut of indie-classical, indeed music as a whole, from top-name alternative artists like The National & Vampire Weekend to long-serving, acclaimed musicians such as Terry Riley & Adrian Belew, not to mention venturing into everything from punk (both ‘Spirit of ‘77’ & new), strings quartet, experimental, singer/songwriter, black metal, electronica & more…
It’s all happening at a cluster of venues in downtown Knoxville:
|Iva Bittova w/ Calder Quartet, Sam Amidon: Knoxville Museum of Art, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Terry Riley Quartet (featuring Gyan Riley, Tracy Silverman, and Ches Smith): Bijou Theatre, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Nobody’s working harder at Big Ears than the influential Terry Riley. Riley’s In C began the marriage of psychedelica and classical that preceded indie-classical by half a century, inspiring everyone from Phillip Glass to The Who. And he starts off Big Ears with his first of a quartet of performances (see below), this time with his own quartet of musicians.
|The Ex, with Buke & Gass: Big Ears Annex, 8:00 PM – 10:30 PM
Before checking out the brand new xx (see below), make it a XXX-rated night with the anything-but-brand new Ex. The Dutch punk band started way back when punk started, the late seventies, before some of Big Ears artists were even born. Like fellow punk originators who are still around, Wire (QRO live review), The Ex have never limited themselves to punk, drawing from a wide range of sounds & influences. They’ve also endured line-up changes, including the departure of charter Ex G.W. Sok last year, after three decades in the band.
|The xx, with jj, Nosaj Thing: Bijou Theatre, 10:30 PM – 12:00 AM
Almost overnight, south London’s The xx went from little known to massive acclaim. Even before debut record xx (QRO review) actually came out, the dark, post-punk revival act was garnering lots of attention (QRO photos at a festival). They quickly jumped from opening to headlining (QRO live review), as they were overshadowing the headliners. They also saw Baria Qureshi depart (QRO photos with her), leaving them a three piece. Certainly subdued, they’re much better suited for an artsy, respectful crowd like at Big Ears, than at chattering rock clubs (QRO video).
Videohippos, with Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Damaged Patients: Pilot Light, 11:00 PM – 3:30 AM
Andrew W.K., with Calder Quartet: Square Room, 12:00 AM – 2:30 AM
No artist in this millennium has done as many different things, worked with as many different people, while staying true to who he is, than Andrew W.K. He started as a party-rock impresario with 2001’s I Get Wet and “Party Hard”, but has since built a wide list of accomplishments, from founding his own NYC venue, Santos Party House (QRO venue review), to doing self-help & motivational speaking, his own MTV series (and guest-appearing on Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force), even recently dancing on stage with Peter Bjorn and John (QRO photos).
For Big Ears, Mr. K. is teaming up with Calder Quartet (who are getting a lot of work at this festival – see below), reviving their ‘Wordless Music Series’ collaboration for what is sure to be a one-of-a-kind performance. Just what that kind of performance that will be still remains to be seen…).
Ben Frost, with DJ/rupture: Big Ears Annex, 12:30 AM – 2:30 AM
Another artist doing multiple performances at Big Ears is the multi-genre Ben Frost.
|Bang On a Can All-Stars: Square Room, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
The original meeting of indie & classical has been the annual twelve-hour Bang On a Can Marathon (QRO photos), which now kicks off lower Manhattan’s River-to-River Festival at World Financial Center (QRO venue review). Somewhere between chamber & rock, the ensemble is a natural for Big Ears.
802 Tour: Bijou Theatre, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
Vermont’s (802) area code has birth indie-classical artists like Sam Amidon, Doveman, Nico Muhly, and Nadia Sirota, who teamed up in 2008 for the 802 Tour. This Big Ears appearance is their only second reunion since then.
Iva Bittova, with Liturgy: Big Ears Annex, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
|Adrian Belew, with Short Wave Society: Square Room, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Long-lived guitar legend Adrian Belew is still best known for fronting King Crimson, but he has also worked with such greats as David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, The Talking Heads, and Frank Zappa.
Dirty Projectors, with DJ/rupture, William Basinski: Tennessee Theatre, 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM
What began as a solo project by songwriter David Longstreeth has become so much more. His Dirty Projectors (QRO photos at a festival) have not only grown in size (with three female co-vocalists), but also acclaim, thanks to last year’s Bitte Orca (QRO review). Their arrhythmic stylings married to pitch-perfect harmonies take some getting used to, but many have (QRO photos at a festival), and the classical experiments (like Rise Above, Longstreeth’s ‘reimagined’ back-to-front cover, from memory, of Black Flag’s seminal punk record Damaged) fit well in the classical setting (QRO photos at a festival).
|Clogs (with Sufjan Stevens, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner & Shara Warden), with Gyan Riley: Bijou Theatre, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The indie-classical project from Bryce Dessner & Padme Newsom of The National (see below), for the new The Creatures In the Garden of Lady Walton, Clogs recruited a murder’s row of indie-classical vocalists, including Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond – see below), fellow Nationals Matt Berninger & Dessner’s brother Aaron, and Sufjan Stevens (QRO live review). And this is the only time to catch them all together.
DJ/rupture, with Andy Moor, Ahleuchatistas: Big Ears Annex, 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Sam Amidon, with eric-jon, The Paper Hats & Mountains of Moss: Square Room, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
|Vampire Weekend, with Abe Vigoda: Tennessee Theatre, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Overnight successes like The xx (see above) should take a lesson from Vampire Weekend. The band went from opening for the likes of White Rabbits (QRO live review, when Vampire Weekend opened) and Tokyo Police Club (QRO live review, when Vampire Weekend opened) in 2007 to massive success after they opened the following year with their self-titled debut, headlining Central Park SummerStage (QRO venue review), playing Saturday Night Live (QRO Indie on Late Night TV), and much more.
This, of course, earned them legions of haters, often focusing on their preppy look & history, though others just grew enraged at the music from “the whitest band” (according to stuffwhitepeoplelike blog) being called ‘afro-pop’, and the comparisons with Paul Simon’s iconic Graceland. They wisely slipped from view for a while, but returned to Jeff Curtin’s (QRO interview) Tree Fort Studios, faced up to the haters & the sophomore jinx to put out Contra (QRO review) in January, and reached #1 in the charts (only the twelfth independently-released record to do so in the last twenty years).
While Big Ears ain’t exactly a punk rock fest, there’s at least a few, such as Chino’s Abe Vigoda (QRO photos at a festival), but their so-called ‘tropical punk’ isn’t that special or interesting.
Konk Pack, with New Brutalism: Big Ears Annex, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Terry Riley pipe organ concert: Cox Auditorium, 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM
In 2008, Terry Riley was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create and perform an original piece, to christen the new pipe organ at Disney Hall. Big Ears 2010 will be the first time it’s been performed outside of L.A.
|Joanna Newsom, with Jens Hannemann: Bijou Theatre, 10:00 PM – 12:00 AM
One of the few ‘indie-harpists’ out there, California’s Joanna Newsom garnered serious attention with Van Dyke Parks-produced Ys in 2006 (QRO Top Records of 2006), but she’s only been seen sporadically in the last few years, often not having to do with music (she’s been dating SNL’s Andy Samberg, and has even worked as a model). But 2010 looks to be a big year in the Newsom household, thanks to her new three-disc Have One On Me (QRO review).
William Basinski, with Ben Frost, Villages: Square Room, 10:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|Liturgy, with Warband, Argentinum Astrum: Pilot Light, 11:00 PM – 2:00 AM
There’s even a place for black metal at Big Ears, thanks to Brooklyn’s Liturgy (and they’re playing twice – see above), who take the sound farther in their debut, Renihilation.
|Terry Riley’s In C, performed by Bang On a Can & special guests, with Terry Riley performing Autodreamographical Tales: Tennessee Theatre, 12:00 AM – 2:30 AM
Not only is Terry Riley doing four shows at Big Ears (see above & below), but he’s also doing double-duty at this one: first comes Riley performing his latest, Autodreamographical Tales, then he teams up with Bang On a Can All-Stars (returning to Tennessee Theatre for their second performance there that day – see above) to play his monumental classic, In C.
|Gang Gang Dance, with Javelin, Forest Magic: Big Ears Annex, 12:00 AM – 2:30 AM
The more experimental side of New York indie comes late at night, in the form of Gang Gang Dance (QRO photos at a festival). Swimming in the same divisive, experimental pool as the likes of Animal Collective (QRO album review) and Boredoms (GGD ran the New York event of the Boredoms’ 88Boadrum on 8/8/08), just for yourself.
Cousins Tom Van Buskirk & George Langford remix natural & world sounds as Javelin (QRO photos at a festival), and are out with debut No Mas in April.
|Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, performed by Bang On a Can All-Stars, with The Books, Tim Hecker: Tennessee Theatre, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
New York’s Bang On a Can All-Stars, Inwood’s The Books, and Canada’s Tim Hecker come from all around to get together to perform Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.
Ahleuchatistas, with Destroyed by Magnets: Big Ears Annex, 1:00 – 3:00 PM
|St. Vincent, with Nico Muhly, Doveman, Bijou Theatre, 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM
The one-and-only Annie Clark (QRO interview) is at the forefront of the indie-meets-classical wave. After making 2007 her break-out year, both as part of The Polyphonic Spree on The Fragile Army (QRO review) and with her own debut as St. Vincent, Marry Me (QRO review), she followed that up with an even-better year last year, gracing festivals (QRO photos at a festival), charming and surprising crowds with winning humor live (QRO live review), and bringing a stable of new songs (QRO live review). Those new songs, like “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” (QRO video) and “Actor Our of Work” (QRO video) formed into last year’s Actor (QRO review), which vaunted her into the even bigger time (QRO photos at a festival). Clark (QRO photos) has already made her name in the indie-classical world, having just performed Lincoln Center Bryce Dessner (The National & Clogs – see above & below), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and David Byrne (QRO live review).
Ben Frost, with Tim Hecker, Shaking Ray Levis & Shelly Hirsch: Big Ears Annex, 5:00 PM – 7:30 PM
|Terry Riley, with Calder Quartet: Bijou Theatre, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Because neither have worked enough at Big Ears (see above), Terry Riley & Calder Quartet team up.
Konk Pack: Big Ears Annex, 8:00 PM – 10:00 PM
The National, with My Brightest Diamond, Tennessee Theatre, 9:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Cincinnati-by-way-of-Brooklyn’s The National hit it big in 2007 with Boxer (QRO review) and tracks like “Fake Empire”, “Mistaken For Strangers”, and “Apartment Story” (QRO video) – and again in 2008 with The Virginia EP (QRO review). An impressive and much-in-demand act (QRO live review), they’re fitting in nicely as a festival headliner (QRO photos headlining a festival). The National (QRO photos at a festival) are doing some select dates in the run-up to the release of their much-anticipated new record this summer, but no date is as ‘select’ as this one.
While Shara Worden has shined in her collaborations, like those with Clogs and Sufjan Stevens (see above), she’s still best known as My Brightest Diamond (QRO album review), and returns to it on the last night of Big Ears.
For festival website, go here: http://www.bigearsfestival.com/2010/