The line-up for the 2024 Big Ears Festival—taking place in downtown Knoxville, TN, March 21–24—has been announced, including more than a dozen Nonesuch artists past, present, and future, in celebration of the label’s 60th anniversary in 2024: Sam Amidon, Laurie Anderson, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Tyondai Braxton, Rhiannon Giddens, Mary Halvorson, Robin Holcomb, Wayne Horvitz, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Brad Mehldau, Ringdown (Caroline Shaw and Danni Lee), Davóne Tines, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, and Yasmin Williams.
The line-up for the 2024 Big Ears Festival—taking place in venues throughout downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, March 21–24—has been announced, including more than a dozen Nonesuch artists past, present, and future, in celebration of the label’s 60th anniversary in 2024: Sam Amidon, Laurie Anderson, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Tyondai Braxton, Rhiannon Giddens, Mary Halvorson, Robin Holcomb, Wayne Horvitz, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Brad Mehldau, Ringdown (Caroline Shaw and Danni Lee), Davóne Tines, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, and Yasmin Williams.
“Big Ears is conceived as an adventure,” says Founder and Artistic Director Ashley Capps. “It’s an opportunity to hear the world’s most exciting musical creators as well as to open up to new ideas and experiences. It spurs the imagination and nourishes the soul. That’s the real magic of Big Ears.”
Sam Amidon released his latest, self-titled album, in October 2020. On the album, which he produced and considers the fullest realization to date of his artistic vision, he performs radical reworkings of mostly traditional folk songs with his frequent band, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Chris Vatalaro, along with saxophonist and label mate Sam Gendel, guitarist Bert Cools, bassist Ruth Goller, and Amidon’s wife, Beth Orton, who adds vocals on three songs. Orton is also on the Big Ears in March.
Laurie Anderson and the band Sexmob bring their tour Let X=X, named after a track on her 1982 debut album, Big Science, to Big Ears. Big Science returned to vinyl for the first time in thirty years with a new red vinyl edition in 2021. The album foresaw the future, mixing performance art, pop, and electronics, most hauntingly on the hit single, "O Superman." "It's worth considering how readily Big Science stands alone, untethered from time and place," says Uncut. "And how, over the course of its near-40-year existence, it has been a record that has come to acquire new resonance with each generation, now standing as one of the most influential albums of the past four decades."
Composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue and his Secret Society ensemble bring music from their just-released Nonesuch Records debut, Dynamic Maximum Tension, to Big Ears. The album pays homage to some of Argue’s key influences with original songs dedicated to R. Buckminster Fuller, Alan Turing, and Mae West. On the record, Cécile McLorin Salvant joins the ensemble for “Mae West: Advice.” Dynamic Maximum Tension’s eleven tracks, also include a response to Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” titled “Tensile Curves,” among other originals.
Tyondai Braxton performs at Big Ears as part of Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music, a fourteen-artist, four-day program curated by King Britt. Braxton has released two albums on Nonesuch: HIVE1, from 2015, and Telekinesis, released late last year. That first studio recording of Telekinesis—an eighty-seven-piece work for electric guitars, orchestra, choir, and electronics—features the Metropolis Ensemble conducted by Andrew Cyr, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus conducted by Dianne Berkun Menaker, and chamber choir The Crossing conducted by Donald Nally performing what the Guardian calls "a superpower-themed symphony … a titanic composition." Braxton cites the Japanese manga classic Akira as a thematic guide, with its story of a young boy's discovery of his telekinetic powers and his inability to control it, leading to his own destruction. The Times exclaims: "It's remarkable."
Recent Pulitzer Prize winner Rhiannon Giddens will be in residence at Big Ears performing several different programs. You’re the One, her new album, released on Nonesuch in August, is her third solo studio album and her first of all original songs. This collection of twelve tunes written over the course of her career bursts with life-affirming energy, drawing from the folk music she knows so deeply and its pop descendants. The album was produced by Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Alicia Keys, Valerie June) and recorded with an ensemble including Giddens' closest musical collaborators from the past decade, a string section, and Miami Horns.
Brooklyn-based guitarist, and composer Mary Halvorson returns to Big Ears with music from Amaryllis, one of her two 2022 Nonesuch debut albums (along with Belladonna). Amaryllis is a six-song suite performed by a newly formed sextet of master improvisers, including Halvorson, Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet). The Mivos string quartet joins for three of the songs on the album, making this the largest ensemble for which Halvorson has written to date. The suite showcases Halvorson’s many musical influences from jazz, experimental, new music, and beyond.
Singer, songwriter, and pianist Robin Holcomb released four albums on Nonesuch Records between 1990 and 2002: her self-titled album, Rockabye, Little Three, and The Big Time. The New York Times says: “Her music draws on both the old-time Americana of parlor songs, waltzes, blues and ballads, and the modernism of jazz harmonies and formal twists.” You can hear her complete Nonesuch discography on a Spotify playlist here.
Composer, pianist, and electronic musician (and Holcomb’s husband) Wayne Horvitz brings his own Gravitas Quartet to Big Ears. Horvitz, who released three albums on Elektra-Nonesuch between 1987 and 1992—This New Generation and two albums with The President, Bring Yr Camera and Miracle Mile—and produced and/or performed on several Nonesuch albums by Robin Holcomb, Bill Frisell, and John Zorn.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, aka Alynda Segarra, made their Nonesuch debut with the release of their 2022 album, LIFE ON EARTH, a departure for the Bronx-born, New Orleans-based singer/songwriter. Its eleven new "nature punk" tracks on the theme of survival are music for a world in flux—songs about thriving, not just surviving, while disaster is happening. The album was recorded during the pandemic with producer Brad Cook (Waxahatchee, Bon Iver, Kevin Morby). While making it, Segarra drew inspiration from the Clash, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Bad Bunny, and the author of Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown. "A major step forward for one of today's most vital artists," exclaims Uncut.
Pianist and composer Brad Mehldau released a live solo album, Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles, earlier this year. The album features interpretations of nine songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and one by George Harrison. Although other Beatles songs have long been staples of Mehldau’s shows, he had not previously recorded any of these tunes. Recorded in September 2020 at Philharmonie de Paris, the album ends with a David Bowie classic that draws a connection between The Beatles and pop songwriters who followed. "A great improvising pianist takes on The Beatles," says Mojo. "An inspired set that reveals new ways of hearing pop classics." His acclaimed 2002 album Largo was released on vinyl for the first time this spring.
Caroline Shaw returns to Big Ears with Ringdown, her new project with Danni Lee, which they’ve described as “an electronic cinematic pop duo.” They add that others have described the group “as the love child of Johannes Brahms and Brandi Carlile—if they were born in the same century and if Brahms was a queer woman.” You can have your own say when Ringdown releases new music in the not too distant future. Shaw’s latest album, Evergreen, performed with Attacca Quartet, was released in 2022 and won the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.
“Davóne Tines is changing what it means to be a classical singer,” the New Yorker’s Alex Ross has said of the bass-baritone, whom the Los Angeles Times heralded as one of “the most powerful voices of our time. His work blends opera, spirituals, gospel, and anthems to tell a personal story of perseverance and human connection. Tines, with Nonesuch artist Julia Bullock, is a member of the core ensemble of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC). Details of Tines’ Nonesuch debut are to come.
Singer, songwriter, and musician Molly Tuttle and her band Golden Highway’s new album, City of Gold, recently landed at No. 1 on the Americana radio chart. It follows their acclaimed 2022 record, Crooked Tree, which won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. Produced by Tuttle and Jerry Douglas and recorded in Nashville, City of Gold was inspired by Tuttle’s near constant touring with Golden Highway and their growth together as musicians and performers, cohering as a band. These 13 tracks—mostly written by Tuttle and Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show)—capture the electric energy of the band’s live shows by highlighting each member’s musical strengths.
Yasmin Williams “is one of the country’s most imaginative young solo guitarists,” says the New York Times. “[Her] radiant sound and adventitious origins have made her a key figure in a diverse dawn for the solo guitar.” NPR Music named her its Breakthrough Artist of 2021. On her most recent album, Urban Driftwood, released on SPINSTER in 2021, Williams referenced the music of West African griots through the inclusion of kora, which she had recently learned. Stay tuned for news of her first music to be released on Nonesuch.
Among the many other 2024 Big Ears performers familiar to Nonesuch Journal readers are Aoife O’Donovan, who can be heard on Chris Thile’s 2017 album Thanks for Listening; Christian McBride, who can be heard with Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, and Brian Blade on LongGone, RoundAgain, and MoodSwing; Edgar Meyer, who joined Thile for a self-titled duo album, Bass & Mandolin, and Bach Trios (with Yo-Yo Ma); Fatoumata Diawara, whose World Circuit album Fatou Nonesuch had released in the US; Shabaka Hutchings, who can be heard on Yussef Dayes’ Black Classical Music and Tom Skinner’s Voices of Bishara; Kassa Overall, who remixed Cécile McLorin Salvant’s take on Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”; and bassist Dave Holland, who, with drummer Elvin Jones, performed on Bill Frisell’s fifteenth Nonesuch album in 2001.
The full lineup of artists and programs can be found at bigearsfestival.org with new additions and details found each week in the festival’s newsletter. Big Ears passes go on sale Thursday, September 14, at 9am ET at bigearsfestival.org/passes.