Thursday, March 24
When I go to New Orleans one of my favorite places to eat is The Ruby Slipper. I was surprised to discover that Knoxville has a sister restaurant called Ruby Sunshine so that is where I went to eat today. When I pulled out my wallet to pay for breakfast I was one credit card short of a full deck.
Where did I use it last? Was it to buy all the crap at the Bargain Center; the T-shirt at Festival Registration; the clothing store where I bought a dress shirt because I failed to pack one; or the restaurant I ate at last night? If you guessed, Koyo Restaurant you win. As soon as the manager saw me he said, “Oh, yeah, I got it.”
After a short walkabout, it was time to head over to the Tennessee Amphitheater om the World’s Fair Grounds for the first show of Big Ears. Please note: Big Ears did not let cameras into their events so all of these photos of the musical acts are festival photographers' work and I am grateful for their skill in capturing the musicians.
From 4:00PM to 4:30 PM I heard Kronos Quartet made up of David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello). After an outstanding set (my favorite number was Death Is the Road to Awe), for the next hour, the quartet was joined by So Percussion, composer/singer Caroline Shaw, breath artist Shodeke and the Percussion Department from the University of Tennessee for nine numbers that merged everyone’s talents into a sound symphony.
I stayed in my seat there (after getting some food from a food truck) because from 6:00PM - 7:00PM was Dos Santos, a Latino group out of Chicago who blend various styles including some heavy guitar solos to make a unique danceable sound.
Next up was St. John's Cathedral from 7:00PM - 8:00PM to hear James McVinnie on the church organ playing the piece of modern music (including sampling) by Tristan Perich. I love when those big pipes get cranked and this was minimalism with a kick so it all worked out.
My next church was First Baptist where I caught the last two songs of a performance by pianist and singer Areni Agbabian who celebrates her Armenian heritage in her music.
From 10:00PM - 11:00PM I heard John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood) do solo piano improvisations that were intense.
All in all, a pretty good first day.
Friday, March 25
Today began with two surprises: I wrench my knee rolling out of bed—yes, no dramatic wear and tear from all the driving and walking I have been doing, rather just to quick out of bed in the morning. The second surprise was finding Pete’s for breakfast, a great diner where someone should have called me baby or honey.
The music today began from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM at First Baptist Church where I saw the world premiere of False We Hope with Ellis Ludwig-Leone, Attacca Quartet and Eliza Bagg. The choral work based on the poetry of two woman writers was balanced with chamber music by the Quarter who proved to be as entertained as Kronos.
From 3:15 PM to 4:15 PM I was at the Bijou Theater to hear Dafnis Prieto’s Sí o Sí Quartet. To say that the Cuban born Prieto is a drummer does not due his talent justice. Wowzer.
Next up, from 4:30PM - 5:45PM, was one of the top things I wanted to see here: Caroline Shaw & Sō Percussion in the Tennessee Theatre. Having been denied the opportunity to play this in 2020 or 2021 by the Covid pandemic, today they did the album release party for Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part. Pretty good stuff.
After a quick dinner of chicken soup and tacos at Soccer Tacos (only the finest restaurants for me), I had to stand in the longest line ever at the Tennessee Theater because tonight was Patti Smith and Her Band. I have never seen Patti Smith in person until tonight but I have to say from where I was sitting she looked and acted like a 30 year old rather than the 76 years young she is. Still delivering the punk style (and slightly embarrassing her son who is in the band), she rocked. Here are my favorite quotes from the evening:
While the band was trying to get organized starting a tune mid-set, she strolled up to the mike and said, “Hey, it’s been three years since we did this. Its not like fucking or riding a bike, we have to figure out a few things.”
During a quiet lull, when a man yelled out “I love you Patti!” she gave the man a withering stare. Then she said, “Three years quarantined in my apartment and you show up now, you pathetic second rate Shakespearean character!”
I did not expect the power, the magnetism or the quality of rock that was going to be delivered but it was actually appreciated in a weekend of rather challenging and different music styles.
The last thing I did tonight was to walk to the Tennessee Amphitheater (an outdoor facility) to stand on the bridge above it and listen to Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Having had multiple times I have seen the house band at Preservation Hall, I was expecting to bit more traditional NOLA music but these guys were more like Kool and the Gang with a light show, fake fog and a lot of up tempo stuff. All of this despite the fact that it is freezing cold here at night with a stiff wind—I have no idea how they can even play out there.
Saturday, March 26
After breakfast in the hotel this morning, I hiked over to the Old Town area where Big Ears was presenting a Mardis Gras style parade called Krewe du Cattywampus led by Preservation Hall Jazz Band and an assembly of musicians from New Orleans plus musicians from Haiti performing the Haitian rara kanaval tradition. The Cattywampus Puppet Council built marmotas, or giant moveable parade puppets, and multiple schools and organizations build papier mache heads to march under.
My first stage of the day from 3:00PM - 4:00PM was St John’s Cathedral where Attacca Quartet played the music of Caroline Shaw who joined the group to sing three songs. This was pretty magical.
Not so much the next experience from 4:00PM - 5:30PM at the Tennessee Theatre where I went to see Meredith Monk and the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Monk was one of the highlights of my experience here in 2019 where she performed vocal wonderments with two other singers. Today with a full band I found it hard to engage with her vocal works and left disappointed.
Even more disappointing was the performance at St. John’s Cathedral by keyboardist Sarah Davachi which was a drone piece that only used the notes A and D. Man, I was thinking when I left early it could have used a few more vowels or consonants.
Dinner was two slices of pizza tonight as I wanted to make sure I was early in line for what proved to be my last event at Big Ears this year: Kronos Quartet at the First Baptist Church from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. I got in there one hour before the concert as I wanted to make sure I got in and had a nice discussion with two guys from L.A. about art, music and life in general.
What a magnificent way to end my Big Ears experience. From the 5 pieces Kronos Quartet played from their 50 For the Future collection, the 1983 piece Cadenza on the Night Plain by Terry Riley and finishing with God Shall Wipe All Tears Away by Mahalia Jackson, it was spectacular.
Sunday, March 27
Two thing made a change in my plans for this day. I need to get home today because by Tuesday I have to deliver a different piece of art to a gallery in Kansas City for a show there. The other problem is the medical convention being held in the has scheduled a marathon in front of our hotel that will limit the access to our vehicles in the morning. I am sorry to leave Big Ears before the last day but honestly there was just one performer I had scheduled myself to see, Bill Frisell, but I am blowing him off for an easy return home.
So to beat all the excitement, I decide to leave at 6:30 AM (ET) to drive back to Milwaukee. I did have to drive the Federal Highways home in order to make it today but I did manage to make one pretty cool stop. A sign on the highway indicated that in Taylorsville, IN, there was a place called Vic’s Antiques and Uniques. That sounded promising and it proved true. Inside I only found a carved vintage hot rod to purchase but outside I spent awhile photographing the awesome antiques vehicles in the parking lot.
I finally got home 13 hours after leaving Knoxville.
Total miles for the day: 683.
Total miles for the trip: 1835.
Go to the next blog to see how after one day off I go to Kansas City and then Make What Ya Brung in Mineral Point, WI--or maybe not.