"I think the unexpected nature (of Knoxville) gives the festival a certain relief that it wouldn't have if it was where everybody expects it to be."
- Ashley Capps, Founder/Artistic Director, Big Ears Festival
When most people think of Knoxville - if they think of this east Tennessee city of less than 200,000 at all - they might think of the University of Tennessee, which has its main campus in town, or of the surrounding Appalachians, which gave us both moonshine and Dolly Parton. But, for some time now, Knoxville has transcended its relative obscurity with its outsized cultural offerings: it has its own orchestra, its own art museum, and in the past year alone, more than two dozen restaurants and breweries have opened downtown.
But, if there's one thing that's put Knoxville on the international map more than anything over the past few years, it's the Big Ears Festival, the ear-bending festival of new and adventurous music that just wrapped up its sixth edition this past weekend. This was my third consecutive Big Ears, and everything seemed both bigger and more accessible this year. Indeed, it was difficult to walk anywhere in downtown Knoxville without feeling that you were in the middle of a musical theme park. I mean, where else can you bounce from jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, to Meredith Monk, to Wilco? And, that was just on Friday.