Slow Down, Music Fans, for Singular Visionaries

Slow Down, Music Fans, for Singular Visionaries

Date posted: 2009-02-12 14:07:00

"The experimental composer Pauline Oliveros performing at the Knoxville Museum of Art as part of the Big Ears Festival."
Photo by Shawn Poynter for The New York Times

By Ben Ratliff
February 9, 2009
New York Times

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The rule of programming music festivals is to specialize but go lateral. As the organizer, you're usually dealing with that smoky, powdery idea, a "scene": the cosmos around a single artist, or the musical culture of a time and place, or an aesthetic mind-set. You start with particulars, the hooks to hang it on, and then you spread outward.

One obvious example is Bonnaroo, the annual four-day outdoor festival in central Tennessee. The core participants of that festival, roughly, are musicians who set their watches to the music and ideals of the Grateful Dead. But Bonnaroo also has its own lateral movement, extending all the way to, say, Metallica. It brings in 80,000 paying customers to the state and has become, for a certain kind of teenager, a national rite of passage.

Last weekend Ashley Capps, the organizer of Bonnaroo, put on the first edition of a major new three-day festival in Knoxville, where he bases his production business. The festival is held at theaters, clubs, restaurants and other places throughout the city, including the main art museum. He called it Big Ears, and programmed it with performers like Philip Glass, Antony and the Johnsons, Jon Hassell, the Necks and Fennesz.

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