I couldn’t make it to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, but luckily I had an intern who was more than willing to go down and cover it. Here’s my intern Liz Lane’s report (and photos by Linda Moorhead)
Big Ears Festival Day 2 :: words by Liz Lane // photos by Linda Moorhead
DJ/Rupture (@ Tennessee Theater)
Yet another DJ set stood between fans and the main act of the day. However, this guy had cameras trained on his boards so you can see him work, which added an innovative touch. His music drew on Eastern influences which he mixed with old school Motown and hip-hop. The best portion of his set was when he mixed the Supreme’s “My World is Empty Without You” with Bollywood beats. Though he was entertaining, a venue as large and formal as the Tennessee probably wasn’t the best place to take him in, as he seemed better situated for a typical standing-room only club.
Dirty Projectors (@ Tennessee Theater)
Brooklyn’s finest were well represented at Big Ears and most people I talked to were most excited to catch the Dirty Projectors. Their stage presence and the way the group played off each other was impressive—their energy extended to the back rows of the massive Tennessee Theater. Most of the selections were from Bitte Orca and getting to see their quirky, innovative rhythms performed live was quite a treat. The highlight of the set came when Angel and Dave Longstreth performed an intimate acoustic version of “Two Doves.”
Gyan Riley (@ Bijou Theater)
The opener for Clogs was a really young guy who could seriously shred some classical guitar. Riley captivated the audience with his pieces he wrote in homage to J.S. Bach, stating the composer was a hero of his. At one point during the set, we were totally silent in the audience, merely because we were in awe of Riley’s abilities.
Clogs (@ Bijou Theater)
The project of the National’s Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner, Clogs was a refreshing dose of chamber-based music. Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond lent her astonishing vocal abilities to the project, showing just how versatile she is, ranging in vocal stylings from opera to lullaby (then rocking with her band later in the festival.) The stage slightly resembled a high school band concert setup, crowded with instruments: a bassoon, banjo, violin, xylophone, ukulele, steel drum, and more. Though some might consider Clogs genre sleepy classical music, the group’s arrangements were modern twists on ancient melodies and chords were delightfully refreshing.
A mellow and low-key show, various guests joined Clogs on stage and weaved in and out of the tangle of instruments. Festival performers the Calder Quartet, the National’s Aaron Dessner and Sufjan Stevens hopped on and off stage from song to song keeping the set fresh. Sufjan took to the piano stool and produced a moving rendition of his song “Barn Owl, Night Killer,” the only solo performance by Stevens at the festival. Overall, the group took traditionally dry and dusty chamber music and turned it into a robust musical experience that an audience of all ages enjoyed.
Vampire Weekend (@ Tennessee Theater)
I have to say that Vampire Weekend was the most energetic and engaging show of Big Ears. I’m not a huge fan of Contra, but the boys put on a great show with a good mixture of material from both their self-titled and new albums. Impressively, they had most everyone in the crowd on their feet for the entire show, engaging the audience in sing-alongs and urging everyone to “keep movin’!” Despire the majority of the audience being made up of teenagers who had lined up around the block hours before the show started, Vampire Weekend still managed to appeal to the older, curious attendees that shuffled in and out of the show.
Jens Hannemein (@ Bijou Theater)
Going in, I had no idea who this guy was and when I first sat down, I figured he was some famous solo drummer who we had never heard of. Yet something about this guy looked familiar. Turns out Jens Hannemein was Fred Armisen from SNL, clad in a long brown wig and performing in character as a stereotypical European “drummer dude.” He was absolutely hilarious, talking about themes of war, tigers, and making obnoxious comments about his “drumming style” and “rocking-ness.” “This next bit here is in 23/9 timing,” he joked. “Feel free to count along.” Grabbing his iPhone, Jens proclaimed, “let’s just do away with instruments!” and proceeded to spin the device from its chord above his head, windmill style. This was followed by a kick drum solo (sans hands) and ended with a jaunt through the crowd with a snare drum strapped on Revolutionary War soldier style, with a three corner hat and all.
Joanna Newsom (@ Bijou Theater)
I’ll admit, I appreciate Joanna Newsom’s music but just can’t quite get into her completley. It just won’t happen. However, after seeing her at Big Ears, I can safely say that I respect her, I just don’t consider myself among her fans, whom are much more loyal and adoring. She came out on stage and made cute, witty banter with the crowd and continued to be sweet and charming throughout. Her backing band was well-oiled and the arrangements they played were beautiful. Newsom is certainly talented, but also not for everyone. I considered myself lucky to see her undeniable musical talent in person and was blown away by her songwriting abilities—something that hadn’t quite hit me until actually experiencing it in person. The members of Vampire Weekend also shuffled into the theater and watched her from the front row of the balcony.