BIG EARS FESTIVAL 2023
Monday, March 27, 2023
After going out to breakfast with Denice and doing some last minute packing, I hit the road from Milwaukee (WI) to the 2023 version of Big Ears in Knoxville (TN) at 10:30 am (CST). Normally I do my best to avoid Chicago and Federal highways but today I did the opposite. I did not get on a blue highway until I was in Northern Indiana.
My major distraction of the day was a stop at America’s Antique Mall in Highland, IN. This is a sprawling complex that mixes modern, non-antique stuff with the kind of goodies I am looking for. I spent about two hours in this place buying old advertising tins, metal doodads, some vintage mousetraps and a large amount of gorgeous wood trim for future projects.
I got off the road early today. By 4:00 p.m. (CST) I was checked into a Holiday Inn Express in Valpariso (IN). Dinner was a Chinese buffet and it was an early night. I think I am saving myself for the upcoming rigors of the music festival.
Today’s Mileage: 173
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Day two of the road trip portion of this trip started out with me giving up on my search for a unique place to eat breakfast and just going to the Bob Evans next door to my hotel.
My antique stop today was Countryside Antiques in Larwill, IN, where I bought an antique fire engine toy, some buttons and a photo album full of cabinet cards.
My goal today was to be off the road in time to watch the WI Badgers in the NIT. I stopped in Dublin, OH, grab some KFC and saw Wisconsin lose in the last minute to cap off a disappointing season.
Today’s Mileage: 267
Mileage for the Trip: 430
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Today I had breakfast at Mom’s Restaurant in Franklin, OH. Over breakfast I heard this story: The local FFA students had to raise a pig for the yearly assignment. The FFA teacher got a call from one concerned parent who asked, now that they pig had grown to over 200 lbs., how the family was supposed to get it out of their basement.
My antique stop of the day was at Peddlar’s Mall in Lexington, KY, which could politely be called a trailer park estate sale cleanout. However, I did find one small decorative clock that I bought for $5.
The purpose for coming to Lexington on this trip was to go to the The Loudoun House where the Lexington Art League has its home. They have assemblage artist Raymond Papka: Remains to be Seen on exhibition until May 6th. I am familiar with Raymond’s work from Facebook but there is nothing like seeing 25 or so pieces close up to really impress. An impress they did. There was one piece I probably should have bought (the first shown below) and shipped home when the exhibition is over. Here are three pieces that hung in the exhibit that I really liked.
I also enjoyed the exhibition Fault Lines by Nico Lund.
Today’s journey was all on Federal Highway 75 which was not fun but got me to my destination: the Marriott Knoxville Downtown. I checked in at the hotel, registered for Big Ears, went to the Asian fusion restaurant Koyo for dinner and got all set for the Big Ears big adventure that starts tomorrow.
Today’s Mileage: 301
Mileage for the Trip: 731
Thursday, March 30. 2023
Today I enjoyed breakfast in the hotel at the Market Exchange which has a really elegant breakfast selection. There are other good breakfast venues here in Knoxville and I will take advantage of them as the weekend goes on.
My first stop today was the Knoxville Museum of Art. While it is not a large facility they always have quality exhibits. Currently they have the first of what they hope to be many Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art; this year’s is called RE-PAIR and it features a multiplicity of artists whose works are designed “to heal, suture, and recompose fractured bodies.” One of the artists in the exhibit is assemblage artist Betty Saar which was cool for me as I got to see two of her early works close up and personal. The piece pictured below is an outsider work of art in front of a painting by Lonnie Holley who is participating in Big Ears this year.
The other major exhibit is “Landfall Press: Five Decades of Printmaking celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of one of the country’s most renowned printers-publishers.” There is also a permanent collection of Eastern Tennessee art history as well as an outdoor sculpture garden.
Then it was time to wander downtown Knoxville on a nice warm sunny day.
I grabbed a light dinner at the Asian restaurant Kabuki on the mall so I would be ready for the start of the music.
Attention: Because my camera has detachable lens, it is considered professional equipment and is banned from all the Big Ears venues. The photos you will see of the acts is either a Big Ears Photo or from my cell phone.
I have a Premier 4-Day wristband that I wear that lets me get priority seating at venues. My first stop today was St. John’s Episcopal Church for the 6:00 p.m. concert by Yarn/Wire: The Music Of Lucier, Mcintosh & Mochizuki. The two-piano, two-percussion quartet presented these three works in a minimalistic style I am familiar with from attending the Present Music concerts in Milwaukee.
Concert number two tonight was the Bill Frisell Trio (bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston) with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra: North American Premiere. This minimalist Americana guitarist never fails to entertain and working with the orchestra worked rather well.
The last concert of this first night was the 50th Anniversary tour of Los Lobos at the Tennessee Theater. They rocked the house with their garage band geezer music.
Home by 11:30 p.m. and after a quick snack I was off to dreamland to be ready for the first full day of music tomorrow.
Friday, March 31, 2023
Breakfast today was at Pete’s Restaurant which is only three blocks from my hotel. It is one of those counter driven hash slinging diners that I love to find when I am traveling.
The first band I saw today was at the Bijou Theater (my favorite act of Big Ears 2023): Gatos Do Sul (Brian Marsella With Tim Keiper, Jorge Roeder, Cyro Baptista, Felipe Hostins, John Lee, Itai Kriss, Jon Irabagon). This ensemble played Marsella’s music plus he was a monster on the piano. However each musician proved very talented and entertaining with the backup award going to percussionist Jorge Roeder. I loved this band and so did the audience.
Next up was the Appalachian flavored folk music of Bonny Light Horseman seen at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. This quintet was very impressive. A program description said the two lead singers were reminiscent of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and I cannot disagree.
At the Bijou Theater I caught Mary Halvorson’s Belladonna. Here is my confession: I have never warmed up to the guitar work of Halvorson on any of her recordings and live it did do much more for me.
Another extreme highlight of the day (and my very close second favorite musical experience) was Tarta Relena: the Catalan vocal duo of Marta Torrella and Helena Ros. Using their voices, their microphones, looping and sound effects these two created a tornado of beautiful vocal works that reminded me of the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir’s work. This was an absolute treasure and it did not hurt that I sat in the front row.
My last concert of the day was at the St. John’s Episcopal Church featuring the guitar work of Gyan Riley.
Saturday, April 1, 2023
When I visit New Orleans a must-stop for breakfast is Ruby Slipper so it makes sense that I have breakfast at the sister restaurant here, Ruby Sunrise.
There is a lot going on in Knoxville this weekend including a concert by The Eagles and a marathon (run on Sunday). Today on the mall it is a chalk festival and it was fun to see the art.
Still in the bar area of the Knoxville Downtown, I went to the Old City Performing Arts Center to hear Jeff Coffin (who was the horn player for 15 years in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), Jordan Perlson (drums), Viktor Krauss (bass) with Leo Genovese on the piano. This was perhaps the most straight ahead set I heard and it was a relief to enjoy without having to put in to much Big Ears tolerance.
Dinner tonight was 2 slices of pizza running from one venue to another.
Ichiki Aoba, a Japanese nylon string guitarist and singer, performed at the St. John’s Cathedral. Her performance was helped when she was joined by a chamber quartet.
I knew all along that the highlight for me was going to be Bela Fleck: My Bluegrass Heart at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. This performance was one of the few two hour time slots and it was worth every minute. Each musician in this band (Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz Music, & Bryan Sutton) could play masterfully, at lightning speed when needed and took solos that were awesome.
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Today I wanted to go back to Pete's for breakfast but discovered it is not open on Saturdays and Sundays. So without too big a disappointment, it was back to Ruby Sunrise.
For the first time I went to The Standard venue (standing room only) to see the Niger band Etran de L’Air. This was one of the few things I saw that I thought the musicianship was not up to the standard of the festival.
The hero of Big Ears is a composer named John Zorn. For this tenth anniversary event, he was allowed to create multiple productions of his music. I chose to go today to see Bagatelles Part 3 at theTennessee Theater. In the first three number by the first trio, all played well but I was especially happy to see the pianist from Gatos do Sul, Brian Marsella. The second trio was also quite good but the highlight was seeing a guitarist I had only heard of: David Fiuczynski. Wow.
Next was the Bill Frisell Four at the Bijou Theater.
Back at the Tennessee Theater I saw the last two sets of John Zorn's Chamber Music.
I ate a quick dinner at Kabuki before heading over to the Bijou Theater for the last two events of my festival experience.
Both of these events were hosted by the Knoxville Symphony. The first was Tessa Lark and the Cycle of Life, a piece commissioned by the Symphony based on a work of art at the Art Museum. Lark proved to be a dynamic performer on the violin and this was a highlight of the weekend.
The second performance was a long piece called The Blue Hour composed by five women: Rachel Grimes, Angelica Negron, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Shara Nova sang the pieces this evening.
And...that was it for this year. If there had been music on Monday, I would have went. I plan on attending again in 2024.
Monday, April 3, 2023
Today is was just about getting home which meant Federal Highways, roadside food and miles of highway. I did see one weird thing. For about one hour, I drove 5 miles an hour on Highway 65 south of Indianapolis near Whiteland. When the hour went by I got to what the delay was all about: a tornado had taken down one of those monstrously big warehouses that line our highways now a days. There was twisted metal and what was left of the building on the west side of the highway. On the eastside where I was, the right lane was blocked off as big cranes were lifting parts of the building off the highway where the tornado had blown it all the way across six lanes of traffic. Wow.
I left Knoxville at 6:30 a.m. (CST) and got home at 8:00 p.m.
Today’s Mileage: 734
Mileage for the Trip: 1164