Pictures and words by Rrita Hashani and Zoe Evans.
Alright, we’re finally almost done talking your ear off about Big Ears. The 2019 festival has come to a close, after a refreshing set of events on Sunday.
The Grand Bizarre by Jodie Mack
Jodie Mack’s film The Grand Bizarre is like a magic carpet ride through the textiles industry of several different countries, backed by a pulsating, breathing electric score. Various textiles come to life through animation: handkerchiefs shift within a suitcase, scarves climb around train windows, small rugs switch positions on a boat. They’re all so brightly colored and joyful, they seem like the happiest travel companions in the world. In addition to animations, Mack uses long still-shots of textiles within natural environments, or shots of nature, sandwiched between textile imagery. This juxtaposition leads viewers to think about the origins of these textiles, the resources used to create them, and their potential decay and return to nature. Textiles are drawn to several comparisons within the film, other than nature: texts of various languages, music composition sheets, tattoos on the body. Mack collages these components with textiles, and symbols of textiles. The lines dividing language, symbol, pattern, and physical objects are intentionally blurred to create an autonomous creature from these common, yet stunningly unique and mystifying inanimate objects. The Grand Bizarre was absolutely gorgeous, and it made me appreciate the details of the textiles I wrap myself in everyday.
The light in St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral is, well, angelic. Fitting enough, since Mountain Man, who performed there on Sunday afternoon, is a band full of three angels. They carry themselves with confidence and ease, and obvious friendship. The band arrived on stage, gathered around one microphone, and sang in perfect harmony. Sometimes it seemed like they were barely moving their mouths, and still, soft, bright, sound echoed through the cathedral. The crowd can’t help but giggle and smile when they talk between songs. Amelia Meath (you might recognize that name -- she’s Sylvan Esso) told us about the best part of her day, which was making truffle oil and raising pigs in Stardew Valley on the way to Knoxville. Molly Erin Sarle followed up that her favorite part of the day was doing a little stretch in her bed after waking up. Alexandra Sauser-Monning said hers was eating a croissant, at Pearl on Union. They continued to serenade the packed room, leaving everyone feeling glowy and full, like an angel just blessed them for the rest of the day.
The best shows at Big Ears are the ones you accidentally stumble upon. While I was bummed I couldn’t make it to Irreversible Entanglements, I was so happy to have gone to Gabriel Kahane.
Kahane, following the 2016 election, went on a 13-day train voyage to escape the Internet, meet his fellow Americans and “Take a step beyond what’s familiar.” He traveled a whole 9,000 miles and wrote some of the most beautiful songs. They’re heart-wrenching but exactly what many need to hear during these divisive times.
Kahane is first and foremost a storyteller; as he introduced his song “Singing with a Stranger,” he shared a beautiful encounter he had on his travels. Kahane was in the observation deck with a group of Amish men, of a Christian denomination that I do not remember the name of, who rarely spoke, so he found no way to casually come into the conversation. He notices later on that they have a book of hymns open ready to sing and he asks if he can join. After silent deliberation between the men, one slid over his book to Kahane. He described the experience as one of the most exceptional experiences in his life. After this bridging experience, one of the men asked Kahane about his faith. He replied that he was Jewish. Silence fell and Kahane said he excused himself from the awkwardness that fell, “I mean, I had killed Jesus!”
The next night, a train attendant found Kahane and said that there was a group of men waiting to sing, asking if he would join them.
Besides being an exceptional storyteller, Kahane was also hilarious. I did not expect it, I mean, the guy is a composer from New York who writes dismal songs, yet, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He began the set by saying, “I’m usually the black sheep at festivals but at Big Ears… I feel like the most normal. Which is really saying something. I’m an albino sheep here.”
I want to be the Pinklets when I grow up and you probably will too.
I caught the Pinklets at Big Asses Fest, a Big Ears parody festival made up entirely of local bands. I had definitely heard about the Pinklets -- the sister-band had played Bonnaroo years ago when they were pre-teens, so they’re popular among Knoxvillians.
This was my first time seeing them and it was hard not to think “this is so cute.” There’s nothing wrong with being cute -- but the Pinklets definitely don’t let you put them in a “cute” box. They were badass, professional and so fun.
Some have said their lyrics precede their years and I would say that they’re wrong. As a former teenage girl, I can attest to the fact that the girl’s lyrics speak to everything we go through and you shouldn’t underestimate them. You can easily marvel at how awesome the Pinklets are without attributing their creativity to being out of the ordinary just because they’re “young girls”. The validity of The Pinklet’s lyricism comes from, not their age, but their abilities.
The Pinklets also focus on issues that exist within teenagerhood and beyond, like catcalling and unwanted sexual advances. In the “Ballad of the Catcalled,” they sing “It’s gonna take a lot to shut me up” and “If I’m timid... there’s no way I’m admittin’ and defendin’, submittin’ to [some] random hypocrite.” Their sound bites, while still providing dance worthy tunes and an anthem for everyone.
You’ll definitely be seeing and hearing more about the Pinklets so keep your ears and your eyes open.