Trains in Knoxville, Tennessee
Train yard in Knoxville, Tennessee

The upholstery in the Ford Focus was all cracked. That’s the first thing I noticed and once our Uber pickup was confirmed the driver played “Only the Good Die Young” through the tiny speaker in his phone. I hate that song. He must have called up Pandora’s Billy Joel station because before we arrived downtown “Still Rock n Roll To Me” was playing “through a cheap pair of speakers.” We were in Knoxville for the Big Ears Festival.

We started with a few short films by Beatrice Gibson. We sat on the floor in the UT Art Gallery and marveled at the sound system. It might be time to upgrade our home system before we loose our hearing. We had a salad in a bistro near the gallery and  spotted Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan walking by. Frisell is playing all four nights in a different configuration each night. In Saint John’s Cathedral we heard the cellist, Peter Gregson, play lush reinterpretations of Bach concertos. We stuck our heads in the Mill & Mine to hear someone who has apparently played on every Animal Collective album. Mercury Rev is playing here tonight and Spiritualized tomorrow. This is a very walkable city.

Joan La Barbara started with something she called “a real time composition.” She made a sound with her voice and followed it. She did a composition of hers that was used in the movie, Arrival, and told us she is working on an opera based on the life of Virginia Woolf and Joseph Cornell. She reimagined what Woolf’s voice would be like in setting based on Cornell’s journals.

Artifacts Trio, cello, flute and drums, have steeped themselves in the AACM, ancient to the future, tradition. This trio played so well together and covered so much rich musical terrain, they are going to be hard to top.

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