Your head can be a space for everything if you’re willing to gift yourself the truth you need to survive these clips. I walked with fire eyes, I birthed the new, and the backdrops played fantastically as our inner demons feasted. The revelation lines thick, and the thesis was centered. My limbs carried my salty year up the gentle hills of a town receiving new members by the second. I was alive with you, and I’m alive now after you, after the fade. When it falls to shade and the air tilts colors, I see it all standing in the streets.
Big Ears 2017 felt like a throwback year. A young festival shouldn’t feel this way, but experimental trips allow themselves some course correction. Last year was my least favorite of all, not a bad time, just comparatively less fun seeing the music. My brother and I were more about the concrete and earth growing over it, we were too chatty and needed more than music, we needed to operate outside the confines of schedules, and release the messy realism we know so well. But this year felt gigantic on a scale of whats been right in the past regarding Big Ears. The social aesthetic, the shine on all the new flare of the city, the co-mingling scenes, new faces, and feeling good. It felt similar to four days in a weird spaceship packed with folks, yet this ship only traverses a couple of square miles, and hovers about 20 ft off the ground, until the night when it feels like you’re at 20,000 ft, and you never want to come down again. It’s safe to keep your festival characters up there though, so go ahead and let them be.
I quit my job last year to stay home with the kids, and work on this whole “struggling” Artist life. My Wife teaches Art in downtown Knoxville, she’s the real thing, and marvelous at her work. We have days of wonder and beauty, we have days of darkness, and regret. But this is life, this is how it works. Well beyond the blog posts, the art, the music, we all have that moment in the day when you truly see life, and you realize its happening, its all happening right now, and you need to peel back layers to feel good about being lost. Because buried in the truth, out there in your head, we are all lost, and that’s a beautiful reality if you learn to explore it. It’s just really scary, so we fill our little buckets of “to-dos” and we work away the soft unspoken stillness in the air. We collectively, and intentionally repress it. The expressions are loud, the movement in the mannerisms say it all, you just have to be willing to see it, and believe it. I think we try to on this weekend b/c the inspirations are so thick and there for us to sponge into our own mind trip, our own curation.
My brother Lee makes the trip every year from Michigan, that’s where I’m from as well. He’s an agricultural professor and organic farmer who launched his first hybrid business of sustainable building and farming last year, called Live Edge Growers. He’s been a farmer for twenty plus years supplying produce to Whole Foods and the like. He’s also a gifted guitarist, and one of my mentors. Big Ears has turned into our weekend, a time for us to melt in the fabric of collective consciousness, to fit into the pretty showing of experimentations, mutated by the creative purveyors at A/C Entertainment. Our discussions cover almost everything, and we own the city free, somewhat able to allow our weird animal spirits a platform to be themselves. This time we added a bit more “spark” to our mix, and my good friend Adam came from Chicago. Adam’s a city rat, he works in marketing and has the type of gig where he can play ping-pong before he opens his laptop. It’s the kind of spot they have cocktail parties at the end of the day. A white “B-boy” clowning, whose record collection takes up more space in his crib than the furniture. He also produces music, and has been a DJ for close to twenty years. We met in the music world, throwing parties and deejaying together, real underground shit. This was my mixtape for the weekend, my extreme sides of each half of myself. The quiet meets the loud, the whimsical meets the straight tough lines, with a chameleon in the middle ready and willing to change.
The lineup this year was curated so well, and thoughtful. It was a steady climb up into musical BPM, starting early, and ending late. We caught Sir Richard Bishop on Saturday at the newest venue. “The St Johns Episcopal Church has been an anchor congregation of downtown Knoxville since 1826.” The quiet setting, and history behind the performer and the venue couldn’t have been suited better. I wasn’t familiar with him, but Lee had to see him, since he was someone he looked up to as a player. We caught about half the set. It was pleasant and odd being in the old church. Another great addition to our group this year was Lee’s daughter Iris. It was her first time at the festival, and she’d had a smile most of the day. Perplexing her for well after the show, was the Jeff Tweedy meets Chika Morachi whose soaring noise improvisations left the young girl feeling the buzz and visceral vibrations for much of the day. To see the younger youth feel so much from one show, is certainly a highlight for me. I’m sure she will be back, I hope she will.
Saturday at this point was still very much low-key. I was still stung and beaten with Joy from seeing Tortoise the night before, at the Mill And Mine. John McEntire might be my favorite drummer. His career, especially in the Chicago Indie outfit The Sea and Cake, is responsible for much of my musical taste and inspiration in the Arts. They cranked up the festival to a place I yearned for the rest of the weekend. It was never matched but others certainly touched the line in my head. They just flattened things out to normalcy so we could boogie for a while. Likewise, was the booty house set on Saturday Night. I had to miss a few things to dance but seeing Jace Clayton, PKA DJ Rupture was worth it. His track selection and mixing were good, but I was more curious about him and his philosophy in music. He just released his second book called Uproot: Travels in 21st Century Music and Digital Culture. He appears to have the kind of career in interdisciplinary Art that I seek as well, or at least I admire him for it. The mix of his contribution across the spectrum in creative works made him the most interesting to me. I’m looking forward to reading his book, and I wish I would have caught his lecture at Big Ears. His Deejay set was a dance party, pure and fun as hell.
There are so many notable mentions from the weekend. I could talk about how I use to think Wilco was just a popular college rock band I was never going to like. But after seeing them live, I’m blown away, and embarrassed I ever doubted their brilliance. I’m a fan now, and I’d love to see them again. They might have put on the best performance of the weekend. I could also talk about how I gave Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) directions to the Standard, not knowing it was her. Then after being told it was, I saw her several times hanging out around the city and festival, she stood out like a regal force swaying gracefully amongst the attendees and patrons. In this same city I could go on and on about the moment we walked from the Standard to the Mill and Mine with a group surrounding us, as we beat boxed, sang, and flowed to the movements and sounds of the evening. We felt alive, we owned our night, and it felt like the prelude to an auspicious year. I could talk about how this was the second year our Dad came for a night, and how awesome he is to participate in this festival. He loves his kids, and his family, so willing to get his ears laced up with sounds he will most likely never hear again, and maybe wouldn’t want to. But there he was, until the late night, a champion for his kids beliefs, and proud of us for being ourselves. He is now part of the tradition, he is now part of the collective creative consciousness we profess our devotion to, as the willing kinds.
Big Ears has so many great things going for it. The weekend is truly a unique experience into the creative mantras of the performers and the attendees. The earth, and build of Knoxville feels special, the city doesn’t turn off for Big Ears, it turns on, and turns up. If you ever get a chance, you should come through our “Scruffy City” and see the “wildlife,” feel the history, and be accepted from whatever part of the world you come from. The arms are open, the feels are real. See you next year!