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Big Ears Festival Is Canceled

The Knoxville event bows to the inevitable and calls off proceedings due to the coronavirus scare

Jenny Scheinman's Mischief & Mayhem (credit: Andy Feliu/courtesy of Big Ears)
Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief & Mayhem at the 2018 Big Ears Festival (photo: Andy Feliu/courtesy of Big Ears)

In a move that would have seemed hasty last week but now feels inevitable, the organizers of the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., have announced its cancellation due to the outbreak of COVID-19, a.k.a. coronavirus, which has rapidly spread across the globe since its emergence in China beginning in December. So far, the virus has effectively shut down two countries, China and Italy; at the time this story was posted, the death rate from the virus in the latter nation had jumped more than 30 percent in 24 hours and stood at 827. In the United States, the virus has been diagnosed in 38 states and the District of Columbia, and at least 38 people have died.

Big Ears now joins the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, the South by Southwest conference/festival in Austin, and the Coachella festival in the California desert on the list of large music events that have been either canceled or postponed in the wake of COVID-19—and the likelihood that more names will be added to that list soon is high.

The following statement was issued this afternoon by Ashley Capps, Big Ears’ founder and executive director.

“It has become clear that we must cancel Big Ears 2020, scheduled for the weekend of Thursday, March 26 thru Sunday, March 29.

“Just 48 hours ago, we were optimistic that there was a path forward; but with events surrounding COVID-19 developing rapidly along with the obvious need for urgent steps to contain its spread, we simply cannot move forward with the festival as scheduled.

“This has been a tough decision. Not only is the principle that ‘the show must go on’ woven into our DNA, but the impact of this cancellation on the community that makes Big Ears possible — the artists, the festival attendees, our staff and production teams, and the Knoxville community with all of its businesses and workers — cannot be overstated.

“We will be offering refunds to all ticket purchasers (assuming you purchased your tickets from our authorized vendor, Front Gate). Within the next day or two, we will be emailing ticket holders with information about the process for securing your refund.

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“We are grateful to those of you who have inquired about converting your ticket purchase to a tax-deductible donation. This is indeed possible and we will include details about that option as well.

“We are very grateful for the kind words and support that we have received from so many of you. We believe in Albert Ayler’s proclamation that ‘music is the healing force of the universe’ with all of our heart and soul. A mere two weeks ago, The New York Times called Big Ears ‘…one of the world’s greatest music bashes.’ We will be back to live up to that accolade as soon as we possibly can. At the moment, it is too early for us to assess if we may be able to reschedule the festival for sometime later in 2020; for now, we need to pause and refocus.

“These are difficult times. We urge you to stay healthy and do whatever you can to help one another and to make this a better world. We’re counting on you.

“Please stay in touch.”