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Big Ears Festival announces addition of Aaron Greenwald as managing director

February 4, 2020

Arts programmer and administrator Aaron Greenwald is joining the Big Ears Festival as managing director, effective February 1, 2020.

Aaron Greenwald
(Photo by Alex Boerner)

Greenwald will work closely with festival founder, artistic and executive director Ashley Capps on all aspects of Big Ears, the Knoxville-based not-for-profit organization responsible for producing the Big Ears Festival. Specifically, Greenwald will be charged envisioning the evolution and growth of the festival over the next 3 to 5 years.

Prior to joining Big Ears, Greenwald spent a dozen years as the executive director of Duke Performances, the professional performing arts presenter at Duke University. While at Duke Performances, Greenwald was responsible for all aspects of the organization and oversaw its growth from a small regional presenter to a world-class program involved in commissioning, producing, and showcasing upwards of 100 presentations per season. In addition to a robust roster of public presentations, Duke Performances offered more than 100 residency engagements annually on Duke’s campus and in the Durham community.

“We are delighted to have Aaron join the staff at Big Ears,” said Ashley Capps. “I’ve been aware of his exceptional work and stellar reputation at Duke Performances for years. I’m thrilled to have him as a collaborator as we build on Big Ears’ tremendous success and envision a festival that has bigger impact and strives to do more good.”

“I’m enormously pleased to be joining Big Ears and relocating to Knoxville,” said Greenwald. “Ashley Capps has built one of the most important music festivals in the country, an event lauded by music fans and musicians alike. As it moves into its second decade, Big Ears is poised to become a world-class platform for forward-thinking art of all variety — it’ll be my job to make certain the festival grows effectively while deepening its engagement with artists, audiences, and the city. In the pursuit of this aim, the festival benefits hugely from its spot in Knoxville, a place renowned for its hospitality, enthusiasm, and vision.”

During Greenwald’s tenure at Duke Performances, he produced the world’s largest celebration for Thelonious Monk’s centenary, hosted the Merce Cunningham Company in their final-ever North Carolina performances, and engineered a groundbreaking three-year partnership between American Ballet Theatre and Duke. In addition, Greenwald commissioned, produced, and premiered work by Pam Tanowitz, Steve Reich, Jason Moran, and Meredith Monk, amongst many others.

Artists-in-residence programming was a hallmark of Greenwald’s time at Duke Performances. These efforts included a half-decade-long NEA supported Hip-Hop initiative; a multi-year Doris Duke funded program focused on residency and performance with Muslim-American artists, and over a decade of ensembles — including The Bad Plus, yMusic, and JACK Quartet — working intensively with Duke composers. Further, Greenwald made substantial efforts to advance and promote the work of world-class and locally based artists including Branford Marsalis, Tift Merritt, Hiss Golden Messenger, and The Mountain Goats.

Greenwald left Duke Performances in February 2019 and worked as a consultant providing programming and project support to institutions and individual artists including Jason and Alicia Moran, the Onassis Foundation USA, and the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, amongst others.

Prior to arriving at Duke Performances, Greenwald produced the North Carolina Festival of the Book, initiated public programming in Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, helped produce The New Yorker Festival and the New York Comedy Festival. Greenwald began his professional career in Tennessee, production managing and producing country music videos in Nashville in the late-90s

Greenwald holds both a BA and an MFA in Theater Arts from Columbia University; he was the recipient of a post-graduate Fulbright award to study theater in South Africa.

About Big Ears Festival 
The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is to bring artists and audiences together to create and share transformative experiences.

Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American, Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most xciting and imaginative cultural gatherings in the world, bringing together a virtual who’s who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators and influencers with younger artists who are synthesizing their own experiences into fresh, new creative work. Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville – and taking place in its world-class historic theaters, excellent clubs, and unique alternative performance spaces – all within easy walking distance of one another and intermingled with superb restaurants, bars, and shops – Big Ears offers an unparalleled experience for adventurous artists and audiences alike. While primarily focused on music, Big Ears is also developing a strong independent/experimental film component while also presenting installations, exhibitions and interactive experiences.

“Contained within a walkable radius of historic downtown Knoxville—in a range of ornate landmark theaters, refurbished industrial spaces, art galleries, churches, and clubs—it creates its own atmospheric climate, along with a center of gravity,” describes NPR Music.  “From its first iteration in 2009, the festival has been a locus of expedition, defined more by a go-anywhere ethos than by any style or genre allegiance.”

Big Ears Festival 2020 Lineup
75 Dollar Bill
A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Andrew Cyrille
Annette Peacock
Anthony Braxton
Areni Agbabian
Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince Ensemble
Astrid Sonne
Aurora Nealand & the Royal Roses
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Bell Orchestre
Ben Lamar Gay Quartet
Caroline Shaw
Caterina Barbieri
Che Apalache
Christian Scott
D. Scot Williams
Damo Suzuki Network with the Sound Carriers
Dan Weiss Starebaby
Daniel Pioro & Valgeir Sigurðsson
Devendra Banhart
Diamond Curtain Wall Trio
Dos Santos
Electric Appalachia (William Tyler, Mary Lattimore, Eric Dawson of TAMIS)
Ensemble Dal Niente + Ken Vandermark
Gyan Riley
Gyda Valtysdottir
Harriet Tubman
Jacob Kirkegaard
Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die
Jason Moran & the Harlem Hellfighters
Jeff Parker & the New Breed
Joe Henry’s 115th Dream
Josephine Foster
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society
Kim Myhr
Kronos Quartet
Marc Ribot
Maurice Louca
Mdou Moctar
Meredith Monk
Moonlight Benjamin
mssv (Mike Baggetta, Stephen Hodges, Mike Watt)
Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret
MZM (Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins, Myra Melford)
Nadah El Shazly
Natalie Joachim
nief norf
Patti Smith
Paul Lazar’s Cage Shuffle
Peter Brötzmann
Sam Gendel Concert Group
Sarah Davachi
Saul Williams
Shabaka and the Ancestors
Sō Percussion
Sonja Labianca
Sons of Chipotle (John Paul Jones & Anssi Karttunen)
Sound for Andy Warhol’s KISS (Kim Gordon, Bill Nace, Steve Gunn, John Truscinski)
Spektral Quartet
Steve Coleman & Five Elements
Sudan Archives
Terry Riley
The Claudia Quintet
The Haden Triplets
The Necks
Theremin Noir (Rob Schwimmer, Uri Caine, Mark Feldman)
Thunder Music Ensemble
Xylouris White

For information and ticketing, go to

The 2020 Big Ears Festival is made possible by the generous support of The Aslan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Visit Knoxville, Tennessee Department of Tourism, Pilot Flying J, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee Arts Commission, and additional devoted sponsors, foundations, and individual donors.

Carla Parisi
[email protected]