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Live Review: Big Ears Festival 2019

The eclectic, all-encompassing Knoxville fest is capped by 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and ECM Records

The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Roscoe Mitchell performs at Knoxville’s Big Ears Music Festival. (photo: Nathan Zucker)

Knoxville, Tenn.’s determinedly eclectic Big Ears Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with a packed long weekend of boundary-stretching music from March 21 to 24. Rather than spend too much time trumpeting its own first decade, the festival chose to shift the spotlight to two even more impressive landmarks: the 50th anniversaries of both ECM Records and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

While those two marquee celebrations put different strands of jazz’s far-reaching tradition at the forefront, calling Big Ears a “jazz festival” would be ignoring a significant portion of its open-minded mission. While founder Ashley Capps rejects the “avant-garde” tag, it’s as good an umbrella as any for the range of music and art that takes over Knoxville’s downtown for that early-spring weekend.

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