KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Haven't you heard?  Thursday the critically-acclaimed Big Ears Festival kicked off and the music continues in Downtown Knoxville through Sunday.

Before noon Thursday, fans formed a line that extended from the Knoxville Visitors Center to the TVA Towers for a chance to see the free WDVX Blue Plate Special concert.  That's where Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi gave the standing-room crowd a free taste of the eclectic sounds the festival offers.

Giddens, well-known as a founding member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, is doing her best to entertain all types of audiences through this weekend.

Rhiannon Giddens on-stage Big Ears Festival 2019 Blue Plate WDVX
Rhiannon Giddens (right) with Francesco Turrisi on-stage at the WDVX Blue Plate Special to begin the 2019 Big Ears Festival.
WBIR

"I am in Knoxville doing several things," smiled Giddens.  "I am here for the Knoxville debut of the ballet 'Lucy Negro Redux' with the Nashville Ballet at the Tennessee Theatre, which I co-composed the music and also perform on-stage with Francesco Turrisi. We're also here to do our own duo shows because we have a new record that comes out in May."

Giddens can entertain just about any audience.  She can sing opera, compose music for ballets, play old-time fiddle and banjo, and belt out lyrics in several languages. She is just one of more than 120 musical acts performing through Sunday at Big Ears.

Giddens says you can hear the difference between Big Ears and a typical music festival.

Rhiannon Giddens Face and Hair Big Ears 2019
Musician Rhiannon Giddens performs at the 2019 Big Ears Festival.
WBIR

"It's incredible. The nice thing about this festival is it is an indoor festival. It's a venue festival.  So, it allows different kinds of music that wouldn't really work for an outdoor festival.  I think it allows musicians to actually go see other musicians," said Giddens.  

The lineup this year allows Giddens to both perform and be a fan.

"We're here the whole weekend.  I specifically requested that we could be here through Sunday so that we could see some of the amazing folks that are lined up here," said Giddens.

This festival that now draws fans from around world to Knoxville only began 10 years ago.  In 2009, it was the personal pet project of AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps.

Ashley Capps AC Entertainment Big Ears
Ashley Capps (left), founder of AC Entertainment and the Big Ears Festival.
WBIR

"Big Ears is a visionary festival. What Ashley has done is brought all these kinds of music together from all over the world. It brings a lot of things to Knoxville people would never see all together in one weekend," said Giddens.

"At last check, we had people from 23 countries and 48 states at the festival so far," said WDVX general manager Tony Lawson.  "Just think about it economically, what it brings to East Tennessee.  It brings a lot of money here.  It also brings a lot of culture.  It brings a lot of folks here to discover East Tennessee."

The musical feast has something for fans of all tastes to relish the art that resonates with everyone. 

Francesco Turrisi Rhiannon Giddens WDVX Blue Plate Special Big Ears 2019
Francesco Turrisi and Rhiannon Giddens perform at the WDVX Blue Plate Special to begin the 2019 Big Ears Festival.
WBIR

"What music does is it's the great leveler.  It's the great 'bringer-together' of people. A music festival this diverse, I think is a beautiful thing," said Giddens.

The Big Ears Festival features more than 100 performances from local and regional artists and runs March 21-24, 2019.  The festival also supports film, visual arts, and poetry. 

General admission day-passes to the festival cost around $75.  However, there are many free events throughout the next few days, including WDVX events at the Knoxville Visitors Center as well as Barley's. 

LINK:  2019 Big Ears Festival schedule

Big Ears 2019 will include the second edition of its all-night, 12-hour drone concert and a series of panels and workshops.

The Big Ears film festival was recently dubbed one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the United States.

Big Ears Newspaper 2019 Festival
Newspaper at the Knoxville Visitors Center with the 2019 Big Ears Festival lineup.
WBIR

Knoxville native Yves Tumor is also someone to keep an eye out (or ear out) for at this year's festival.

The festival said "an experimental answer to SXSW” will return under the direction of Paul Harris and Darren Hughes of Knoxville’s Public Cinema.

In 2019, Big Ears presents more than 10 distinct special programs that are unique to the festival altogether or are in some of their earliest performances.

LINK: Full 2019 Big Ears Festival lineup

  1. ABSTRACT BLACK
  2. ABSÎNT (AURORA NEALAND, BILL FRISELL, TIM BERNE, DAVID TORN)
  3. ACME
  4. ALIEN FLOWER SUTRA
  5. ALTERED STATESMAN
  6. ALVIN LUCIER
  7. AMIRTHA KIDAMBI’S ELDER ONES
  8. THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO
  9. ARTIFACTS TRIO
  10. AVEY TARE
  11. AVISHAI COHEN QUARTET
  12. BÉLA FLECK
  13. BÉLA FLECK & EDMAR CASTAÑEDA
  14. BILL FRISELL & THOMAS MORGAN
  15. BILL FRISELL AND THE MESMERISTS FEATURING TONY SCHERR, KENNY WOLLESEN AND THE FILMS OF BILL MORRISON
  16. BILL FRISELL’S HARMONY FEATURING PETRA HADEN, HANK ROBERTS & LUKE BERGMAN
  17. BLACK DUCK
  18. B|_ANK
  19. BROOKLYN RIDER
  20. CAPS
  21. CARL STONE
  22. CARLA BLEY TRIOS WITH ANDY SHEPPARD AND STEVE SWALLOW
  23. CARLA KIHLSTEDT
  24. CARNIVAL OF SOULS WITH LIVE SCORE BY MERCURY REV'S CLEAR LIGHT ENSEMBLE FT. STEVE SHELLEY, TIM BERNE, BEN NEILL, MIMI GOESE, JIM SCLAVUNOS, JESSE CHANDLER, JONATHAN AND GRASSHOPPER
  25. CHRIS ELDRIDGE
  26. CLARICE JENSEN + JONATHAN TURNER: FOR THIS FROM THAT WILL BE FILLED
  27. COLUMBIA ICEFIELD
  28. THE COMET IS COMING
  29. COUPLER
  30. DARK INSIDE THE SUN
  31. DAVID TORN
  32. DEJOHNETTE COLTRANE GARRISON
  33. DEREK GRIPPER
  34. DRAGNET GIRL WITH LIVE SCORE BY COUPLER
  35. EVAN PARKER / MATT WRIGHT TRANCE MAP+
  36. EVER PRESENT ORCHESTRA FEAT. STEPHEN O’MALLEY AND OREN AMBARCHI PERFORM THE WORKS OF ALVIN LUCIER
  37. FIRE!
  38. GABRIEL KAHANE
  39. GIRI & UMA PETERS
  40. HAROLD BUDD
  41. HAWKTAIL
  42. IAN CHANG
  43. IE
  44. INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ENSEMBLE
  45. IRREVERSIBLE ENTANGLEMENTS
  46. JACOB CLARK
  47. JERUSALEM IN MY HEART
  48. JLIN
  49. JOAN LA BARBARA PERFORMS WORKS BY ALVIN LUCIER
  50. JOAN LA BARBARA: VOICE IS THE ORIGINAL INSTRUMENT
  51. JOEP BEVING
  52. JON MUELLER
  53. KARA-LIS COVERDALE
  54. KAYHAN KALHOR
  55. KAYHAN KALHOR & BROOKLYN RIDER
  56. KIERAN KANE AND RAYNA GELLERT
  57. KIM KASHKASHIAN
  58. KIM KASHKASHIAN AND ROBERT LEVIN
  59. KRISTÍN ANNA VALTÝSDÓTTIR
  60. KTL
  61. KUKANGENDAI
  62. LARRY GRENADIER
  63. LONNIE HOLLEY WITH NELSON PATTON
  64. LONNIE HOLLEY AND THE MESSTHETICS
  65. MAKAYA MCCRAVEN
  66. MARY HALVORSON'S CODE GIRL
  67. MARY LATTIMORE
  68. MATHIAS EICK QUINTET
  69. MATT NELSON
  70. MATT WILSON'S HONEY & SALT
  71. MERCURY REV
  72. MEREDITH MONK & VOCAL ENSEMBLE CELLULAR SONGS CONCERT
  73. THE MESSTHETICS
  74. MIMI GOESE & BEN NEILL
  75. MOOR MOTHER
  76. MOSAIC INTERACTIVE
  77. MOUNTAIN MAN
  78. NASHVILLE BALLET: LUCY NEGRO REDUX CHOREOGRAPHY BY PAUL VASTERLING WITH MUSIC BY RHIANNON GIDDENS & FRANCESCO TURISI AND POETRY BY CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS
  79. NATE WOOLEY
  80. NIEF-NORF
  81. NIK BÄRTSCH’S RONIN
  82. NILS FRAHM
  83. OREN AMBARCHI
  84. PARKER / SCHLIPPENBACH / LYTTON TRIO
  85. PETER ASKIM
  86. PETER GREGSON
  87. PUNCH BROTHERS
  88. RACHEL GRIMES: THE WAY FORTH
  89. RAFIQ BHATIA: BREAKING ENGLISH
  90. RALPH TOWNER
  91. RHIANNON GIDDENS AND FRANCESCO TURRISI
  92. RICHARD THOMPSON: KILLED IN ACTION
  93. ROBERT LUNDBERG
  94. ROOMFUL OF TEETH
  95. SERPENTWITHFEET
  96. SETH HOPPER
  97. SHAI MAESTRO
  98. SHANE PARISH
  99. SIMA CUNNINGHAM
  100. SONS OF KEMET
  101. SPIRITUALIZED
  102. ST. JOHN’S CHOIR: ARVO PÄRT’S PASSIO
  103. SUN OF GOLDFINGER (DAVID TORN, TIM BERNE, CHES SMITH)
  104. TASHI DORJI & TYLER DAMON DUO
  105. TATSUYA NAKATANI
  106. THEO BLECKMANN: BERLIN - SONGS OF LOVE AND WAR, PEACE AND EXILE
  107. THEO BLECKMANN: HELLO EARTH! THE MUSIC OF KATE BUSH
  108. THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT
  109. THIRD MAN BOOKS PRESENTS CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS, KENDRA DECOLO, CIONA ROUSE
  110. THUMBSCREW
  111. TIM BERNE’S SNAKEOIL
  112. TIM STORY PRESENTS THE ROEDELIUS CELLS
  113. TRIPTYCH (EYES OF ONE ON ANOTHER), FEATURING ROOMFUL OF TEETH, COMPOSED BY BRYCE DESSNER, LIBRETTO BY KORDE ARRINGTON TUTTLE, FEAT. THE WORK OF PATTI SMITH & ESSEX HEMPHILL, DIRECTED BY DANIEL FISH, PRODUCED BY ARKTYPE / THOMAS O. KRIEGSMANN
  114. UNCLE EARL
  115. VERY VERY HOT EVIL
  116. VIJAY IYER AND CRAIG TABORN
  117. WADADA LEO SMITH SOLO: REFLECTIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON MONK
  118. WADADA LEO SMITH’S NDA, PERFORMING “DIVINE LOVE” WITH BOBBY NAUGHTON AND DWIGHT ANDREWS
  119. YUNOHANA VARIATIONS WITH YOSHIMIO, SUSIE IBARRA, AND ROBERT AKI AUBREY LOWE
  120. YVES TUMOR
  121. 12-HOUR DRONE ALL NIGHT FLIGHT: DREAMS OF THE WHIRLWIND