Since launching in 2009, the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN has become world renowned for its boundary blurring showcases of experimental, avant garde and progressive art music. This year’s festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday, will add a new suite of events dedicated to the folk culture of its East Tennessee locale.
But this being Big Ears, it won’t be strictly your grandpa and grandma’s bluegrass and old time music.
For example: the guzheng and banjo hybrid sound of Beijing-born, Nashville-based musician and composer Wu Fei and famed folk artist Abigail Washburn. Their duo will be part of the lineup for what’s being billed as the Appalachian Happening, a series of indoor and outdoor shows that aims to make Big Ears less insular.
“This year they particularly want to engage the local community,” Wu Fei told WMOT last week. “Especially youth from the Tennessee area and the Appalachian folk traditions. And even for the experimental musicians or jazz musicians, I don’t know how many of them have really seen Appalachian culture or folk art. And this will be an amazing opportunity for them to see what this part of the country offers and may bring a lot of cool collaborations.”
Abigail Washburn will also perform as part of her duo with her banjo playing husband Bela Fleck. Other Happening artists include refined folk singer Sam Amidon, percussive dancer Becky Hill, dobro legend Jerry Douglas and the event’s curator Anna Roberts-Gevalt of the ensemble Anna & Elizabeth.