Ashley Capps:
Big Ears Festival

January 23, 2009
Suzanne Thorpe

So, you say you like musical crossover, adventurous presentations and exploratory performances? Lucky for you, the creators of the Big Ears festival heard you loud and clear! On February 6, 7 and 8, 2009, the Big Ears festival will present a dynamic array of performances, installations, discussions, and interactive experiences by a wide range of avant-garde artists, including established composers, such as Philip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, and Fennesz, and the cult phenomena of Dan Deacon, and The Necks. This exciting event will take place in the unlooked for location of Knoxville, Tennessee. When asked about the unusual location, Ashley Capps, creator of the festival, relayed a responded resoundingly with, “Why not?!?!?” Further explanations (and exclamations) resounded during AE’s recent chat with Ashley, below.

AE: Ashley, as a concert promoter, you are known for starting the concert promotions company AC Entertainment, managing the historic Tennessee and Bijou Theatres, and co-producing the Bonnaroo Music & Art Festival. What made you turn your sites toward the electronic avant-garde?

AC: I have always had eclectic taste in music, and have always maintained an interest in all music. Curating a festival like this has allowed me to fulfill a dream of promoting a diverse musical palette to a general public.

Big Ears Festival roster

AE: Why curate an event of this style now?

AC: A convergence of elements currently supports this festival. In particular, the Internet has allowed the public to explore a wider variety of music, and has simultaneously acted as a platform for the lesser-known musician. My position in my community as concert promoter has allowed me to take advantage of these circumstances and cultivate this event.

AE: You have a wide variety of artists appearing, presenting interesting juxtapositions such as alternative musicians Antony & the Johnsons alongside Matmos. Do you have a curatorial criteria that informed your selection process?

AC: Crossover. We see the potential in crossover, and use it as a tool. We believe that an audience member who is attracted to the music of Antony & the Johnsons will be open to hearing the music of Pauline Oliveros as well. We try to find the distinctive qualities in a musician’s sound that will open the way for a listener to access another’s music, and place both performers on the bill.

The emotive Antony of Antony & the Johnsons

AE: So really, why Knoxville?

AC: My first response is, why not? European festivals are held outside of large city centers often with great success, and we have looked to them as models. Knoxville has lovely restaurants, hotels, and beautiful venues, including two historic theaters, which I feel a responsibility to creatively program. The moderate size of the city allows for an immersive event, with a minimum of distractions and comfortable surroundings.

AE: Can you tell us more about the venues?

AC: We have the historic Bijou Theatre, with impeccable acoustics, in which we have programmed the chamber music of Philip Glass, among others, the Knoxville Museum of Art, where Pauline Oliveros will appear, a black-box within the Pilot Light, a traditional rock venue at the Catalyst and more. Each venue will be configured to meet the needs of the artists.

AE: Will there be other activities offered, beyond the concert schedule?

AC: Yes. Workshops and discussions will be presented, including a Deep Listening Workshop with Pauline Oliveros, a Architectural Tour of Downtown Knoxville with Neil Hamburger, and a Hacking Workshop with Nicolas Collins. Downtown will also be peppered with unexpected surprises, like installations and presentations in area coffee shops and restaurants.

Pauline Oliveros

AE: What has the response been to Big Ears so far?

AC: The response has been great, with a lot of positive feedback from the community. Our goal is to build a solid base for our festival, and we are encouraged by the fact that people from around the world are purchasing tickets.

AE: How do you think you’ll be developing the festival in the future?

AC: We are still working on the answer to that question. We have so many ideas, that utilizing only one will be simply scratching the surface. We see Big Ears as something to repeat, and to build a community behind, with lots of room for creative expansion.