A few more acts have been added to the lineup for the Big Ears music festival, including big-time New York indie bands the National and Dirty Projectors. (The National's guitarist, Bryce Dessner, is curating part of the festival, and he was already scheduled to perform solo and with his chamber-pop quartet side project the Clogs.) They'll be joined by Canadian sound artist/ambient composer Tim Hecker, the Australia-born and Iceland-based experimental composer Ben Frost, and the New York new-music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars (with cellist Wendy Sutter, who played at last year's Big Ears), who will perform Brian Eno's Music for Airports and part of Terry Riley's In C. (Riley, the grand old man of minimalism, has been named as artist in residence for Big Ears.) Other additions include Czech violinist Iva Bittová, electric violinist Tracy Silverman, and avant-folk duo Buke & Gass.
The National and Dirty Projectors, recent favorites of music critics, bloggers, and other tastemakers, won't do much to quiet criticism that the festival has gone commercial. Dirty Projectors' latest album, Bitte Orca, appeared on critics' best-of-2009 lists at Pitchfork, Time, The New York Times, and, yes, Metro Pulse. (I described it as "shimmering, cerebral, slightly off-kilter pop that draws from contemporary R&B, jazz, chamber music, and African pop without ever sounding anything like any of that, or like much of anything else, either.") The National's 2007 album Boxer received similar mainstream acclaim. The two groups are joining a rock- and pop-intensive roster for the March 26-28 event that already includes Vampire Weekend, the xx, Andrew W.K., Gang Gang Dance, and Joanna Newsom.
Those acts make the lineup so far considerably different from the inaugural Big Ears in 2009, which featured far more jazz and improv performers. Some people are concerned that Big Ears has become an indie-rock festival, and the most prominent rock and pop bands for 2010 could easily appear together at All Tomorrow's Parties or Coachella. But don't forget that Riley's the headliner for the festival, and the addition of Hecker, Frost, and Bang on a Can—plus already-announced appearances by the Calder Quartet and the oddball 802 Tour, with composer Nico Muhly, violist Nadia Sirota, Thomas Bartlett, and Sam Amidon and rumors that a couple of underground metal bands will be announced soon—means there will be plenty of challenging underground music that weekend.
Advance sales for Big Ears seem to be up over last year, too, with the initial allotment of weekend passes priced at $199 selling out in early January. Weekend passes are still available for $249. Tickets for individual shows will go on sale in the future. Visit bigearsfestival.com for more information.