For a certain type of music fan, the 2020 Big Ears Festival was one of the first American casualties of the coronavirus pandemic.
The fest, which takes place in Knoxville, Tenn., announced its cancelation a few weeks before its scheduled run in March. During the months since, the Big Ears team has rallied and regrouped around an online presence.
“These are unprecedented times and, as such, they demand a creative response, the exploring of new ideas and the launching of new initiatives,” said Big Ears founder Ashley Capps in a press release. “This is the heart and soul of what Big Ears aspires to as an organization. It’s the essence of our mission.”
The core new initiative has been a digital series called Sites & Sounds From Big Ears, which kicked off in early October with a stream by The Bad Plus, at the historic Bijou Theater. (That performance will be repackaged as an archival stream on Christmas, and offered on demand from Dec. 27 through Jan. 1.)
Sites & Sounds from Big Ears also teamed up with a consortium of partners —MAI:JAZZ (Stavanger International Jazz Festival), the Sentralen Performing Arts Center, and Hes & Falck — to present a Norwegian Digital Jazz Festival, with 15 performances. The series was so well received that Big Ears is offering an encore presentation, from Christmas through New Year’s Day. A full pass is $50, plus a service charge; each day’s program is also available for a standalone fee.
The fest begins on Dec. 25 with a double bill featuring pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, performing solo, and drummer Gard Nilssen with his band Acoustic Unity. Among the other highlights is another double bill on Dec. 30, with the Hedvid Mollestad Trio followed by the Eivind Aarset Quartet.
The finale, on New Year’s Day, pairs Elephant9 – the fusionesque trio previously known as Storløkken/Eilertsen/Lofthus — with the Nils Petter Molvær Trio.
The 2021 Big Ears Festival has tentatively been announced as a scaled-back affair, possibly the weekend of May 27-30. “Moving two months later will enable us to expand the festival’s traditional footprint, incorporating some beautiful outdoor spaces along with some of our traditional venues,” reads an official announcement. “There will be fewer performances than in the past few years — allowing us to open up more space in the overall schedule. We will also cap festival attendance at less than half of those we admitted for recent festivals.”
There is also the possibility of a second festival weekend around Labor Day. “If the virus prevents us from staging a festival in late May, we will use this period to reschedule that event; otherwise, our goal is to create a second weekend of unique programming.”
In the meantime, here is the full schedule for the Norwegian Digital Jazz Festival:
Fri, Dec. 25 Double Bill: Bugge Wesseltoft, solo (7 p.m.) / Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity (8 p.m.)
Sat, Dec. 26 Tord Gustavsen Trio (8 p.m.)
Sun, Dec. 27 Double Bill: Bendik Hofseth’s Woodland (7 p.m.) / Mathias Eick Quintet (8 p.m.)
Mon, Dec. 28 Double Bill: Silje Nergaard (7 p.m.) / Ketil Bjørnstad, solo (8 p.m.)
Tues, Dec. 29 Double Bill: Mats Eilertsen, solo (7 p.m.) / Trygve Seim ‘Rumi Songs’ (8 p.m.)
Wed, Dec. 30 Double Bill: Hedvig Mollestad Trio (7 p.m.) / Eivind Aarset Quartet (7 p.m.)
Thurs, Dec, 31 Double Bill: Beady Belle (7 p.m.) / Arild Andersen Group (8 p.m.)
Fri, Jan. 1 Double Bill: Elephant9 (7 p.m.) / Nils Petter Molvær Trio (8 p.m.)